African Scammers in Bangkok
In your weekly column you told about the African guy (most likely a Nigerian) in the skytain, and how he approached you and started a story. You bumped into a version of the so called "419 scam", or "Nigerian scam". This sort of scamming is named after an article of the Nigerian Penal Code (article 419). Scamming people is more or less the national sport in Nigeria, and one of their finest export products. Google it and you'll find all you want to know.
The version that the guy tried on you goes as follows:
There's a large sum of money stashed away somewhere because a wealthy relative died, or something like that. The crooks from the government (this can be the Nigerian government, but they mention countries like Liberia, Zimbabwe etc. too) are trying to lay their hands on it, but if they find a foreigner who can pretend it's his money there's a good chance to get the money out of the country. What they need from you is your bank account (to send the money to), your address details and a copy of your passport (with your signature on it). They will transfer the money, usually a few million US dollar at least, into your account where it's safe from the crooks and they will reward you with a nice cut, say 20 or 25%. That's where the greed comes in. Even usually sensible people become greedy and go for it. They give the requested details, because that's costing nothing (they think), and what the Nigerians will do is emptying your bank account…. Needless to say that the promised millions are not coming in….
Another version is the one where you won an enormous price in the lottery (one you've never played in or heard of!) but to claim the price you have to send a few thousand dollar first to "clean up the paperwork".
A very funny version is the "black money scam". In this version they were able to get the fortune out of the country, but only by making it unrecognisable by painting it black (!). They show you bunches of black paper and pretend they're bunches of painted 100 dollar bills. Then they pick a few, treat them with certain chemicals and, oh miracle, the paint disappears and they really are 100 dollar bills! The problem is however that these chemicals are very expensive and they don't have enough to whitewash all the bills. There you get a chance. If you pay them, let's say, 10,000 dollar they are able to wash all the bills, say 5 million dollar, and if this is finished they will pay you 1 million dollars or so.
Believe it or not, but greed does strange things with people and they buy these stories! I always say: if it's too good to be true then probably it ain't true. But I've seen intelligent people falling for it. I have a few businesses, among them 3 hotels. I was once asked information by a Spanish couple, who stayed in the hotel, where they could find the nearest police station. I asked them what the reason was, to send them to the right station. They told me that they thought they were scammed by 2 very nice African gentlemen in nice suits. It was the black money scam. They paid around 8,000 dollars for the chemicals, but never heard of the nice gentlemen again. This was after they were shown the trick with the whitewashing. They came all the way from Spain to Amsterdam after the contact had been established through the internet. This was an ordinary couple with decent jobs so they were no fruitcakes at all.
A version I encounter on a daily (!) basis in my hotels is the following: a person wants to make a reservation for, say, 10 hotel rooms for something like a group of priests (their favourite one) who are coming to Amsterdam for a seminar. Why priests? Because they try to win your confidence (the main feature for a good con artist) and priests are not crooks, aren't they? We're talking about 10 rooms for, say, 10 days. That's 100 room nights! Then they ask you how much the total amount is, and of course that's a very high amount. That's where the greed comes in. "Wow, what a lot of money!" They even make it better because they want to pay the whole amount up front. They want to do this by credit card. And now it comes. If the amount is $15,000 they ask you to deduct $25,000 from "their" credit card account. Why $10,000 dollar more? Because the priests have to rent, for example, a lot of cars too for the whole length of their stay and they don't trust the car rental agency, or they don't have the required credit card transaction machine, and they trust you enough to take care of this. You can keep your $150,000 and are kindly asked if you can send the other $10,000 dollar to a certain Western Union office, where most likely a black person who looks a lot like a Nigerian national will pick it up and disappear with it forever and ever….
You can do the credit card thing quite simply by tapping in the card nr. and expiry date of the card in the machine that you use for transactions. If I have your credit card nr. and expiry date it's simple as can be. Of course Sticky, pennywise as usual, will get a heart attack if he checks his credit card status report and calls his bank to stop this. But it has been done already so you can just make a claim through the credit card company which will take at least a few weeks, because they are going to contact the owner of the machine etc. Eventually you will get your money back because you never gave permission for this transaction and can prove that you had nothing to do with it. In the meanwhile, if I bought the trick, I have sent the $10,000 to the Western Union office, while I have to refund the full $25,000 to the rightful owner. I can't refuse because if I do the credit card company will take it from future takings.
I get requests for this on a daily basis. I receive the same e-mails in all 3 of the hotels, they just send them out to all the hotels in Holland and who knows where, and if there's a greedy person who thinks he can make some easy money just a few times a week it's a nice business. These sort of requests my staff always have to pass on to me or my manager and they are trained how to recognise them. Me or my manager throw them away then, after we decided that it's not a legitamite request that just looks like a scam. If you're not sure you can always answer that prepayments can only be made by bank transfer. Then they are traceable and you can decide yourself if you send the money back. If you do this you don't hear from them again. At least until the next, new request comes in….
Somehow Amsterdam attracts these Nigerians too, just like Bangkok. In Holland it's probably because of the fact that it's difficult to catch the offenders due to Dutch law, and if they get caught the penalties are rather light and the jails better that the average Nigerian hotel. That's not the case in Bangkok but probably the Thai Police gives no priority to finding the scammers and if they catch them it's probably easy to buy their way out of trouble.
Sometimes I have these guys in their business suits in my hotels too. Usually they are the bosses who are flown in if a big deal seems to come up. They never stay more than 1 night, otherwise they're traceable. I always tell my staff never to trust a black African in an expensive looking suit, because sometimes they try to scam the hotel too by paying with a credit card that's not in their name. So I tell my staff to ask them to actually show the card and to do an extra ID check. That's not racism, it's realism…. It comes from experience, not from the colour of their skin.
In Amsterdam, hotel employees are sometimes contacted by the Nigerians too, because they have access to credit card information of guests who use their credit card to secure an online booking. They promise the staff nice commissions for the details. Of course I informed my staff clearly of the very serious consequences it would have for them if they get tempted and decide to mess around with this information of my guests. Maybe that's why so far it hasn't happened in my hotels.
The Nigerians by the way look for credit card accounts of businesses and richer individuals because they usually have a high limit and enough funds on it. So don't worry Stick, you're safe! 😀
But now you know exactly why to stay away as far as possible from the people in and around Soi 3, especially if they approach you and are very nice and polite, and start a conversation.
Very interesting to understand how these scams work. Yeah, that lot in soi 3 do not look like they are up to anything productive!