Stickman's Weekly Column May 19th, 2019

Dear Stick, Regards Rick



Rick has been emailing me for several years. Like a lot of people who send me email, I’ve never met him but I almost feel like I know him. But Rick is not a reader of Stickman, rather he is what I think you call an investment advisor.

Rick doesn’t email me that often and his emails come out of the blue. The emails are not personal in nature but they are addressed to me. Rick’s emails are an offer to invest in a money-making scheme in Thailand. After the first few emails from Rick I replied, and asked him to refrain from emailing me. But he didn’t stop. The emails continued, so I blocked him. But that didn’t stop him either.

Each year or so Rick would email me with a new investment proposal, similar to the last. Each email was sent using the same name, but from a new email address. That’s why I was having trouble blocking him.

When blocking Rick didn’t work, I called him a spammer. That didn’t work either and Rick continues to email me.

Rick’s first email came several years ago. Here are some unedited excerpts, save for the removal of the name of the company.

Are you looking for a 10 year fixed income? Do you like alternative investments that are non-correlated to financial markets and also has environmental and social benefits for Thailand?

If the above is true, you should look at <company name removed> investment which has returns on offer from 14-18% p.a which is paid twice yearly in April and November.
Please be aware the returns on offer will change from January 2014 to 11-15% p.a

Whilst it sounds a little different it is based on a 6 year research program at <name removed> University in and a 10 year history of export prices of the highest quality mangos.

We are not just an investment company we also own the world class <name removed> technology. If you have land in Thailand or know someone who has land with the use of the system the harvest yields will be overwhelmingly increased.

Our goal is for all parties to benefit, the local community, investor and the planet.

Normally I wouldn’t reply to such email but for whatever reason I did. I asked Rick where he’d got my details from. He said we had been friends on LinkedIn. Oh, really, Rick? I don’t use LinkedIn. Rick was a liar.

I get annoyed with bullshitters so I responded to Rick telling him that he was a prick. The email bounced. I checked the website at the bottom of his email. It had disappeared. Had his investment sold in full? Had Rick hit the jackpot, cashed out and was enjoying life?

I forgot about Rick until several months later when I got another email from Rick using a new email address from a new company. It was a similar spiel to the previous. Here are excerpts from that email:

Are you looking for a 10 year fixed income?

Do you like alternative investments that are non-correlated to financial markets and also has environmental and social benefits?

If the above is true, you should look at <name removed>investment which has returns on offer from 14-18% p.a which is paid twice yearly in June and December.

Whilst it sounds a little different it is based on a 6 year research program at <name removed> and a 10 year history of export prices of the highest quality mangos.

It was the same guy with what sounded like the same deal, now being sold by a different company. A few details in the sales pitch had changed but it was much the same.

The email mentioned collaboration with a university in Thailand so I responded to Rick, asking which professors from the university were involved in the project. Here is an excerpt from that reply:

Do you live in Chiang Mai? 

I am not at liberty to give out names of the professors who work on the project.

That was an unusual response. Why did he want to know whether I was in Chiang Mai, where the project was supposedly based. And why was he not willing to name the professors involved? Rick was avoiding a really simple question which is never a good sign.

Another year or so would go by before my next email from Rick. Once again it was from a new email address, promoting investments in a new company. Same name, same style, different company.

I responded. I accused Rick of not just being a spammer, but a scammer.

His reply was mildly amusing, and he claimed that scammers would not have a website.

I checked out the website which was linked in the email. It was slick and had been designed by someone who knew what they were doing. Initial impressions of the site were very positive. But you didn’t have to drill deep to find holes in it.

There were no staff profiles, nor a single name or photo of any key or senior personnel in the company. And while the physical address for the company was listed as a high-end downtown office building, Googling the address revealed it was actually shared office space and not a proper physical address. That was suspicious.

I ignored Rick’s persistent emails and thought that would be the end of him but no, our relationship was only beginning.

Various emails of a similar nature came in. I’d block them but Rick would email me again from a new company, using a new email address. Rick emailed with a new email address from a new company promoting a similar sort of investment every 12 – 18 months.

In late 2017 Rick emails me again:

We are delighted to offer two more Fixed Income Bonds to add to others that are currently available via the Bond Ladder.

These are 10.75% p.a. for 3 years and 12% p.a. for 18 months respectively and are both capital protected.

The email did not include a local address but a Singapore office. Slick Rick knew that Singapore, the Switzerland of Asia, gives a better impression than Bangkok.

In previous emails I had called Rick a spammer and a scammer and told him to piss off, yet he continued to email me. I guess he probably has a long list of email addresses as I don’t think anyone would engage with someone who had previously called them a cheat and a thief. Yet he was still emailing me. I was interested to see where it would go.

I click on the link to the company website to see what crap he is peddling and notice that while one website is listed, the link went to an ever so slightly different website. I scratched my head trying to work out what that was about but never figured it out.

I go back through the many emails I have received from Rick and copy some of the terms he used and search my email account. What do you know, I find another guy who had been sending me the very same emails and sales pitch. It might be someone else working for the same outfit, or it might be Rick using a different name. This was getting dodgier by the minute. Bangkok + dodgy usually means there’s a good column in it, but I had stopped writing the column. This was late 2017 and I had said goodbye. There was no reason to engage with Rick, even though I sensed there could be a story in it. I left it at that.

But that would not be the end.

Like clockwork, I received another email from Nicholas recently, approximately 16 months after his last contact. This time he used a different surname. He was still Rick and the writing style was definitely him, but the surname was different. There was a new company name, of course, a new website, and new offices in yet another high-end downtown address, Central World this time. I Googled the address and just as I thought, it was serviced office space.

Excerpts from that email were similar to previous emails with a few new details added.

  Returns expected to be 12-16% 

  Diversification with an asset class that does not correlate with stocks or property markets

  Exposure to one of the largest industries (est. at USD $8 trillion per annum) in the world

  Passive, hassle free income every 6 months

  100% chemical free produce certification from <name removed> University

  Accredited by the United Nations & G.A.P.

The format was much the same as previous emails. The same university was mentioned and the promised returns were in a similar range.

In all of his previous emails Rick had used the same surname but this one was different. It was a reasonably unusual surname and when I did a search of my email inbox, I found an email from another investment firm back in 2013 from someone using that surname, but a different first name. The prose in the emails was the same. They had been emailing me under various names for years.

I responded to the latest email, asking Rick for more information. You’d think Rick would keep past correspondence – and had he done so he would have known I was a tyre kicker. I play with Rick and a few emails later I am referred to someone else who is trying to push me in to making a $35,000 investment.

Rick used to reply to emails within 24 hours but this new character was much faster, Some replies came back within an hour. But the emails just didn’t feel right. Rather too much info would be given. Some people talk too much and give away too much needless detail when they lie. It all felt very much like that.

I’ve led them to believe I am interested in making an investment and they go straight to chase, sending me details to send them $US35,000.

I make out I have a few concerns. They respond very quickly with screeds of info, some of it just plain weird. There are copies of telegraphic transfer application forms showing what are supposedly returns made to investors. Sending copies of what appear to be international bank transfers seems like a very unusual thing to do and I cannot imagine it’s something any major investment firms feel the need to do to convince clients that they are real.

I play along and say I am ready to proceed and just as they think I am about to send them the money, they say that while returns are paid biannually, the first payment won’t be made for 12 – 18 months. If I was a genuine investor alarms would be going off really loud now.

I reply, feigning disappointment and ask why there is a delay in the first payment.

It is just that first payment that takes longer. Once that first payment hits, you receive the returns every 6 months from then on.”

What an utterly unconvincing response!

While the emails estimate future returns, there is not a word about what the returns over the past 1, 2 or 3 years have been. I ask about that but the question is ignored and other information is offered. I notice this is a strategy they employ to questions they cannot answer – don’t answer it, in fact don’t even acknowledge it while maintaining a very friendly and helpful tone and offering information on something else about the investment.

Is Rick a lone wolf, masquerading as an investment advisor? Or is he just a small cog in a big wheel? There is a degree of sophistication so I suspect there are a fair few people involved.

The extent to which Rick and co go to reel suckers in is lengthy. They come up with a believable backstory with references to the issues of the day. Think green and renewable power sources, saving the environment, clean food and water etc. A few years ago their emails talked of green energy and the environment whereas now they have switched to clean food and water. They love to use words like renewable, sustainable, stable and green. And they use some terms that I think are an attempt to sound clever and to confuse the average person like non-correlated investment. They produce beautiful, professional-looking marketing materials and websites. It’s all very slick, but you don’t need to look that closely to find holes.

The ruses they use play on an investor’s fear of missing out with comments in emails like “this will soon sell out” or “the first batch has already been sold”.

They’re good, but not that good. The email correspondence – the prose, the formatting and the grammar – contains enough errors and a lack of polish to put questions in your mind.

Rick has emailed me from several different domain names promoting similar products. All of those previous email addresses are dead, and the company websites have all gone. He has used two different surnames and briefly used a different first name. He has also changed mobile phone number more than once which is suspicious. That’s something you do when you don’t want to be found.

Direct questions aren’t answered because, I suspect, a satisfactory response cannot be made. Awkward questions result in them firing questions back at you to get your mind away from the original question and concerns you had, yet it still feels like they’re engaging with you and being friendly and helpful at the same time. They never get flustered despite all the questions you come back with.

I guess it must work and there are folks who fall for it because these guys have been emailing me for years. I have emails from different addresses at different companies offering much the same thing – and this has been going on for 7+ years. Seldom does a year go by without something coming in from Rick.

Just who is Rick? Who knows. Searches online don’t show anyone with that name and direct questions asking him why there is nothing about him on social media or in Google go unanswered.

Going back over the many emails I have from Rick, I believe the way it works goes something like this:

  1. They contact people via email. Just where they get these email addresses from, I have no idea – but they do seem to know the person’s real name as well as their email address.
  2. They reel in potential investors using slick marketing materials and professional looking websites from a company with an impressive sounding name (something like “Gold Star Investments”) with a physical address in a high-end downtown Bangkok office building. The websites they use look impressive. Google the address and it all appears real. The backstory is very well done.
  3. They promise solid returns – but not excessively high so as to cause disbelief. The numbers change with each new company but the returns are almost always within the range of 12 – 18%. Never below 10%, nor as high as 20%.
  4. One person makes the initial contact. Once they have a potential investor who appears to be genuinely interested, you are referred to a second person. That person appears more articulate and their role appears to be to close the sale. The prose changes and it feels like it really is a different person.
  5. With each new email from Rick at each new company, some of the script is the same – and sometimes you can see text has been copied and pasted because the text is a different size or font, an amateur mistake that makes emails lack polish and look unprofessional.
  6. While the marketing material states that returns are made twice yearly, just before they close the sale and you’re about to send them the money, they slip in a clause saying that the first payment will be 12 – 18 months away. That gives them time to continue the scam and con more suckers for a period before people become aware that something is up and the whole scam is closed down.
  7. Whether any returns are paid or not, I have no idea, but I would not be surprised if some of those who invest may receive a return if the scammers think that would increase an investor’s confidence who might then be willing to make a larger investment.
  8. At some point – probably when the heat starts coming in from customers asking where their returns are – the whole company just disappears in to thin air. The website goes offline, mobile phone numbers are thrown away and email addresses are turned off. With phone numbers and email addresses not working and the company never having had a fixed office, there is no way to contact them. The investor realises have been scammed.
  9. A new company is formed every 12 – 18 months and Rick emails from a new email address e.g. [email protected], [email protected] and so on. It is very much the same spiel with essentially the same product offered. The details change a little and tweaks are made based on what they learn works best.

Bangkok is a fun place to party. It’s not a bad destination for foodies. And it’s pretty good for shopping too. But it is not a place to make investments with unlicensed expat investment advisors.

Stick to investing through well-known, long-established firms in your own country. Firms with offices where you can go in and meet the team. Firms which are licenced. Firms which have been around for decades, centuries even. And if you want to invest in developing countries, do it from your homeland. There are also sorts of funds you can invest in developing countries which are managed by firms operating in your own backyard.

When I challenged Rick on what I thought he was up to, he denied it. He came up with some plausible answers to my questions, but when he said he had only ever emailed me from two different email addresses, I responded with a whole bunch of emails he had sent me, and communication stopped. Rick had finally been caught in a lie he could not deny.

 


Billboard Bangkok

 

Mystery Photo

bangkok-mystery-photo27

Last week’s photo was taken in the lobby of the Carabao office on Silom Road. Only one reader got it right. I knew it was tricky but was it really that difficult?! So I made this week’s a lot easier.


Nana Plaza

 

Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.

Indians driving a hard bargain.

The funniest thing I witnessed happened in a 7 Eleven store. One Indian man in a large group asked for a SIM card and was told that the lowest number of days of usage was 8 days worth. He then mentioned they were only in Thailand for 2 days and attempted to haggle the price down accordingly. Needless to say the young lass was unmoved. The downside was that I was behind them in the queue.

Building in Thailand, the end result speaks for itself.

I really couldn’t agree with you more about being careful when buying a house in Thailand. It’s not just that houses are built to a much higher standard in most western countries, they are simply built to standards i.e. standard rules and regulations for construction. Regardless of whether you buy a house from one of the best builders in Thailand such as Land and House, or employ a local builder for a bespoke build, they are essentially self-regulating. They decide what standards and construction methods to use because no one is really checking on them. In most cases the construction methods used are primitive and antiquated. Try asking a Thai builder to build cavity-insulated walls and most will look at you like you’ve asked them to build a space ship capable of flying to the moon and back, or they’ll say yes but not really have a clue and build their version. Just for a small garage conversion in the UK I had to get an architect to do full drawings which had to be approved by the local authorities who enforced the building regulations to the letter, required changes where appropriate and inspected the final work. It was a pain in the arse and seemed over top at the time. After trying to get an extension built on my wife’s house last year in Roi Et I really missed that culture of rules and standards and not having someone there with the power and the will to enforce and maintain standards. The end results spoke for themselves.

Sending the supply to where there is demand.

I spent some of this morning contemplating a CNN story about how Koreans are no longer dating. The reasons included a highly competitive job market, the cost of dating, the rise of porn, unrealistic expectations of the sexual experience (driven by porn presumably), more aggressive behaviour by males (possibly also driven by porn) etc. All of these, to my mind, suggest Korean males may be taking solace in alternative options such as prostitution, which cater to fantasies that a more conventional relationship may find hard to fulfil. This phenomenon has been happening in Japan for many years. I then wondered how much of that was driving the Korean sexpat industry around South-East Asia, especially in the Philippines and, increasingly, here in Thailand. Last year I visited the diving mecca of Puerta Galera in the Philippines which is entirely driven by a highly organized industry catering exclusively to tour groups of Korean sexpats. I would not be at all surprised if the hitherto local Thai prostitution industry is now being exported to Korea and possibly other parts of Asia where the traditional dating model is breaking down.

Thailand medical care now pricier than Western Europe.

After having been registered as living in Thailand for the last 35+ years, I have now registered myself as living in the Netherlands, for health insurance reasons. My premium for full coverage this year was going to be U$18K+ with the promise it would exceed 20K next year and exceed 30K within 5 years. I am now covered under the Dutch national insurance plan at 126 Euros per month. They will cover medical expenses made here in Thailand up to the maximum the treatment would cost in the Netherlands, which seems fair enough. A little while ago I had 3 spots removed from my skin as the dermatologist did not like them. This was done at a private hospital in Khon Kaen which has significantly lower prices than the main hospitals in Bangkok. The total including outpatient surgery and laboratory work was 25,000 baht.  According to my former insurance agent in Bangkok, the same treatment would have cost 70,000 – 80,000 baht in Bumrungrad or Samitivej hospitals in Bangkok. The insurance in the Netherlands only paid out 17,000 baht as that would have been the standard cost for the same treatment in a Dutch hospital. Medical treatment used to be cheap here in Thailand but that was a long time ago. Costs have been increasing 10 – 15% per year for a long time now and far exceed most European countries.

No issues with Immigration.

I have never had an issue with Immigration. I have been going to Thailand every year for a decade and I’m in my mid 50’s. But if, after 22 hours of travelling and an hour in their under-staffed Immigration lineups I was subjected to the third degree I wouldn’t take kindly to it. There are other countries in the area that I’m getting to know and like, and this treatment would at the very least dictate the time spent in Bangkok and the islands, as well as the frequency of my visits. I’ve never been harassed by the cops either and that would make me physically ill. As long as it doesn’t happen to me, I’ll go along my merry way and enjoy myself as usual. But if it ever does…

 


Spankys Nana Plaza Bangkok

 

 

There was confusion late this week when it looked liked legendary Bangkok bar CheckInn99 had said its final goodbye. But come the weekend there was clarity of sorts with word that the bar was transitioning which made things about as clear as mud. In recent months trade at CheckInn99 has appeared to have been snowballing nicely with more and more customers visiting so the whole closure thing was confusing.

Still on soi 33, deeper in to the soi the gentlemen’s club The Pent 33 appears to have closed. Again, it’s not 100% clear what the situation is. The lights have been off during the week so unless they have limited their opening hours to just the weekend, it looks like The Pent 33 might have found why soi 33 has a reputation as a bar graveyard.

4 more gay bars have opened in Patpong soi 2 in quick succession in the last few weeks as the area becomes more, what do they call it these days, rainbow. And they continue the tradition of using names which make it clear that these are bars for men who like men. Hot Male, Fresh Boys, Lucky Boy and Dream Boy Paradiso are the new names on Patpong.

Still on Patpong soi 2, a couple of bars closed recently seemingly for good, only to then reopen. One of those bars is Bada Bing which is doing well and has a good number of pretty dancers – and customer numbers to match which is pretty good for May, often the quietest month of the year. It’s not quite the same at The Strip where it’s taking a bit more time. In fairness to the new Japanese manager, he has acknowledged that he needs more girls and is working hard to do just that. I maintain that the Japanese have much better taste in women than your average white guy so with a bit of luck The Strip will be full of lookers real soon.

For those watching their baht, The Strip has a happy hour with 90 baht beers until 9:00 PM.

With prices in the bar industry for everything from drinks to barfines to lady’s fees having risen and reached new heights (and in fairness to bars, rents and wholesale liquor costs have gone up too), is there any hope for those who feel they are being priced out of the market? Could prices drop? That’s very unlikely. While some people do complain about prices, there are plenty more than willing to pay the asking prices. With all of this said, there is one farang bar which has cut some prices. Le Pub in Pattaya’s Soi Diamond actually reduced the barfine from 500 baht to 400 baht when it was taken over by the current owner / manager.

On the subject of barfines, what’s the story these days with barfines and the policy when a bargirl finishes her shift? Is it ok for her to go home with a guy waiting for her at the end of the night who did not pay the barfine? A few years ago a certain bar group in Nana Plaza (that largely doesn’t exist any more because the main guy passed away) imposed strict rules on all girls working in its bars. A barfine had to be paid if they went home with a guy after their shift finished, even if the girl met someone outside the plaza who she had never met / chatted with / known before. All girls working in the group were encouraged to inform management on any of these friends who met a guy at any time in the night without a barfine being paid. It all felt like Soviet era Eastern Europe. Remember, the whole idea of a barfine is to compensate the bar for the lost labour that night. Once a lady has finished her shift, there is no argument for the bar to be compensated because the bar is no longer relevant. I wonder if any bars try to impose this nonsense now. On the one hand I’d be surprised if they did given that these days the bars need the girls, and not the other way around. But then more than a few bars have such questionable practices that nothing would surprise me.

Some time in the last several weeks the bollards at the entrance to Nana Plaza were removed.

The street food place next to the Biergarten in Sukhumvit soi 7 is called The Vacant Lot Restaurant – and refers to itself as Bangkok’s most unique dining experience. Neither the owner nor a stallholder on Sukhumvit are aware of what the future plans for the area are.

So yes, the Biergarten is still going and is one of the longest-running farang bars in Bangkok that hasn’t changed name nor location.

Thais are taking on some unusual nicknames these days, often derived from English words. Some modern Thai nicknames are comical and would see them ridiculed in school playgrounds if their friends knew what the nickname meant. And now a lot of Thai women have a number for a nickname. And they mostly have the same number. 3000. Just go on Tinder and see how many Thai women have that nickname!

 

checkinn99transition-border

 

On Friday night the bars closed at midnight sharp for Saturday was a Buddhist holiday which meant alcohol could not be sold, yet another dry day. The bars couldn’t open Saturday and would reopen on Sunday night, right? Not quite. The clock struck midnight last night and 24 hours after Soi Nana had closed, some bars burst to life. Hooters and KS Bar opened, as did Hillary 2. And Strikers had the biggest crowd some have seen in its current location, a whopping 15 or so punters. Pretty much all other name bars were closed.

If dry days are that big a deal to you and cramp your style, you might want to consider spending more time in Cambodia. While Thailand doesn’t allow the sale of alcohol on Buddhist days as well as some other public holidays, don’t go thinking that just because Cambodia is also predominately Buddhist that it’s the same across the border. It’s not. More often than not when bars are closed in Thailand it’s just another night to party in Phnom Penh.

I notice that more Thai restaurants in Bangkok are positioning themselves for wealthier diners, offering – for want of a better word – decadent versions of many traditional dishes. Don’t you hate it when your plate of, say, crab fried rice had no more than a morsel or two of crab? OK, it may only have cost 100 baht, but it was still disappointing. These days you’re just as likely to find it loaded with crab but priced accordingly, say 250 – 350 baht. It seems that more restaurants are going this way / meeting the market as Thais with money in their pockets demand better food – and they are willing to pay for it. Here in Kiwiland, the other half and I have been making a list of such venues to try out when we’re next in town. There will always be a place for 50 baht dishes, but when we visit Thailand for just a couple of weeks we want to experience something better than just average.

The market at Chuwit Park I talked up a few weeks ago has disappeared again with a notice posted saying it will resume on May 30th.

 

artbox-chuwit-park

 

I was always miffed at the way some Thais who consider themselves polite, well-mannered and perhaps even cultured would never stop for a moment to hold open the door for anyone walking right behind them unless they knew that person. That seems to be changing I saw Thais actually holding the door for those following them. The way many Thais appear to completely ignore others in so many situations was something I always found a bit, well, sad! It’s nice to see this appearing to change.

There was further tightening of Thailand’s immigration rules this week with the announcement that those on non-immigrant O-A visas will be required to have a health insurance policy. There’s been a lot of conjecture in recent times that foreign residents (i.e. those on one-year extensions – the married / retirees) would require health insurance which would be checked when they made their annual visa extension. I didn’t think this would happen because enforcing a health insurance policy on retirees is the one thing that could really cull the number of foreign residents, particularly retirees, in Thailand. There are a lot of older retirees, many in poor health and many who come close to running their bank account dry at the end of each month. Health insurance premiums rise with age and skyrocket around the mid 60s. I imagine many older guys would be faced with horrendously expensive premiums for a health insurance policy – that is they could find a company that would issue them with one in the first place. At this stage it appears that it is only for holders of non-immigrant O-A visas. A non-immigrant O-A visa is a multiple entry visa with a validity of one year that allows those aged 50 years or older to come and go to Thailand for stays of up to 90 days. It may be extended for 12 months in Thailand. Most retirees have a non-immigrant O visa (NOT  an non-immigrant O-A visa) and it would appear the requirement for health insurance does not apply to them….but will that change?

 

aussie-bar-bangkok

 

Brilliant quote of the week comes from a forum, “The one thing Thailand does better than almost anyone is put lipstick on a pig.

Reader’s story of the week comes from Jimmy, “Return To Farangland Part 5“.

A Norwegian woman was raped by a Thai man on one of the southern islands.

The suspicious death of a young Indian man on Ko Tao late last year never made the news until now.

If ++ is not already bad enough, some Bangkok bars are now adding +++ to the bill.

A Brit has fallen in to the sea and is missing after a drunken boat trip in Thailand.

Bangkok’s main airport gets the thumbs down in a review in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Bloomberg says there’s a glut of condos in Bangkok which could make it a buyers market.

So much for me mentioning a possible decline in farang suicides in Pattaya in last week’s column, a Brit jumped to his death in Sin City this week.

Rumour has it that the print edition of The Nation newspaper will be discontinued from late next month.

A good news story from Thailand where a disabled dog rescues a baby buried alive by its mother.

 

dollhouse-soi-cowboy-2019

You can find her at Dollhouse, Soi Cowboy.

 

I don’t always know what the next week will bring the column, but for next week’s opener it will almost certainly feature photos from my last visit to long-running Soi Cowboy bar, Dollhouse. I’ve spaced out the bar photo shoots about as much as I can and I need to get the Dollhouse photos up before they are out of date, and the ladies featured have moved on. After that, it might be a while before there are any more bar photo shoots. I’d like to write more column openers like the one today, but stories like that don’t fall in to your lap that often.

 

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]