What scams in Thailand should I be aware of during my trip?

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Answered by: Chas, An Expert in the Travel to Thailand Category
While scams in Thailand are not as common as in many other countries, they're still an unfortunate reality that all visitors to the country should be aware of. The vast majority of tourists in Thailand have a wonderful time, and all it takes to reduce the risk of falling for scams to the barest minimum are common sense, natural caution, and some knowledge of what the most successful scams are.

Even the idyllic islands of Thailand have their share of scams. One well-known scam to avoid is the 'jet ski scam' in Phuket, Thailand's largest island. Jet skis are rented out at several beach resorts on the island, but in some cases, when returned, the owner suddenly 'discovers' on the underside, large scrapes or scratches that he claims weren't there before he rented it out, and that the jet ski must have hit something in the water. Compensation is demanded and accompanied by growing threats of violence, so most victims of this scam, despite knowing they're completely innocent of causing any damage, pay up. In some cases, a 'conveniently close-by' policeman is called over. He sides with the owner and advises the victim to pay rather than face legal penalties.

As might be expected, Thailand's infamous nightlife in places such as Pattaya or Bangkok's Patpong district attracts scammers wishing to relieve visitors of substantial amounts of their cash. These mostly involve touts on the street inviting male tourists to visit their bar and enjoy low prices and raunchy entertainment with no cover charge. The bar is usually a dark, seedy upstairs room where the drinks and entertainment turn out to be nowhere near as cheap as the tout claimed. When the hugely inflated bill is received and contested, the management deny all knowledge of employing any touts offering low prices. Again it's a case of pay up or face the consequences.

Thailand has a thriving industry in precious and semi-precious stones, and most dealers are completely legitimate. A few unscrupulous dealers, however, have people working outside posing as buyers. Typically, one will strike up a friendly conversation with an unsuspecting tourist, and after the initial pleasantries, he'll mention that he's on his way to his regular dealer to buy gems, and that he makes up to 300 percent profit by selling them abroad. He then asks the tourist if he's interested in seeing how stones are cut in the dealer's workshop and invites him to come along. The scam happens at the dealer's shop when the tourist, seeing his new 'friend' handing over cash and choosing from a tray of sparkling blue sapphires, becomes seduced by the thought of easy financial gain and makes a purchase. The sold gemstone will be genuine but of very low quality, and worth far less than what was paid for it. Selling fake gemstones is highly illegal, but provided that the stones are genuine, a dealer can offer to sell them for any price he chooses. The onus is on the buyer to know the actual value of individual gemstones before buying them.

New scams are always being thought up and tried out, but the vast majority of scams in Thailand, old and new, are of the type that involve a friendly stranger offering something that, on the surface, sounds like it would be well worth taking - if only it were genuine. The common-sense advice given by the Thai Tourist Police Department is to be wary of such offers from friendly strangers, and that if an offer sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly isn't true.

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