We all know that scams exist in every popular travel destination and we all know that it’s human nature to let your guard down while on holiday. Thai people are naturally very hospitable but the bad apples count on you not speaking a word of Thai, knowing that this leaves you in a weak position.
But just where do you draw the line between cowering in a hotel room for fear of getting ripped off and going out and having a rip-snorting active holiday at the risk of being scammed? Getting wise to the scams beforehand is the obvious answer and staying sober enough to maintain your judgment certainly helps. You won’t fall for local scams if you’re pre-warned about them: Here are Phuket’s five most obvious scams.
The Notorious Jet-ski Scam
The long-lasting jet-ski scam has received worldwide media attention yet paradoxically on any given day you can still see visitors out on jet-skis at several Phuket beaches. How it works is this: The jet-ski is hired out and when it is returned the jet-ski owner will feign astonishment and anger at perceived damage to the bodywork. What he doesn’t let on is that the jet-ski was previously damaged.
Huge amounts of compensatory money are demanded and so the hirer, taken aback by the sheer vitriol hurled in his direction, naturally calls the police, not realising that, in some cases, they are also involved in the scam and will insist that you pay up. Unfair? You bet. The best solution is simply do not play into this scam and don’t use a jet-ski. A similar scenario unfolds with motorcycles, but sometimes motorcycles, unlike jet-skis, are necessary to get around on – the solution being to photograph the vehicle in detail before hiring it.
Everyone enjoys their couple of weeks on the beach and pretty much everyone wishes it could be longer. Unscrupulous scam artists - particularly in Patong, Kata and Karon - prey on that wish. The approach might come from a random European guy riding up to you on a motorbike or a couple of Thai girls asking you to fill in a quick survey. The potential for a prize or reward will be included and you'll always win. The kicker is that, in order to claim your prize, you'll need to sit through a 90-minute presentation for a timeshare or a holiday club.
The deal they're offering will doubtless seem almost too good to be true, usually because it is. In return for huge sums of your hard-earned money, you get a worthless contract or meaningless vouchers you can never spend. Whatever prize they are offering is not worth 90 minutes of your holiday time, so you're better off simply saying 'no' at the introduction phase.
Arrivals at Phuket Airport naturally want to get to their accommodation by the cheapest means possible and when minivans cost a fraction of the price of a taxi it’s normal to go for this option. But some minivans (and even taxis) stop halfway to the requested destination at a ‘travel agent’ who informs the passenger(s) that their intended hotel is fully booked or simply closed, then suggest an alternative hotel – one of their choosing.
Of course the driver is in it for his commission and sometimes refuses to take his vehicle any further until alternative accommodation is booked through his pal, the travel agent. If the van stops simply decline any offer and insist on carrying on to your original destination.
Sick Buffalo Scam
Many bargirls in Phuket are supporting their families in poorer areas of the country and so are financially motivated to earn as much as possible. An unsuspecting and naïve male can sometimes confuse what Thai ladies see as ‘fun’ with love and get smitten with the love virus. When he returns back home he feels obliged to send regular money to his paramour, not remotely suspecting that she may already have several lovelorn men sending her monthly payments ‘to keep her out of the bar’. It’s not unknown for bargirls to have several mobile phones, so as not to get their suitors mixed up!
One of the most effective ways of relieving would-be Romeos of their dosh is to invent an emergency such as ‘the family buffalo is sick and we urgently need money for medicine’.
Over the years, the Tourist Authority of Thailand has received more complaints about this scam than any other. Typically, a taxi driver will offer to take you for almost next to nothing to a jewels store where you will be informed that gems here in Thailand can be sold for many times their value in your home country. Of course, the taxi driver receives a fat commission if you fall for it and yes, more often than not the ‘gems’ are fake or at the very least not worth the money you paid for them.
Please bear in mind that most scammers are successful because they play on the greed of their victims. If something seems too good to be true then it probably is. If you are not a gems expert, we strongly urge you not to take the word of a stranger on how much money you can make if you sell these gems on return to your home country.
Some good travel tips to avoid trouble
- Always clearly agree on the fare with your tuk-tuk driver, otherwise you’re more than likely to have an elevated fee of the “No, I meant 200 baht per-person” variety.
- Try not to let your drinks bill add up too much as it’s not unusual for ‘extras’ to be thrown in. Pay drink by drink otherwise your five-beer bill may mysteriously mutate into a ten-beer one.
- Padlock your rented motorcycle. Some unscrupulous motorcycle shops have been known to steal their own bike back and charge for the replacement.
- Never leave your passport as a deposit when hiring transport but by all means leave a photocopy. Thai law implicitly states that you must have your passport with you.
- Thai people are not normally forward so be sure to be on the alert when an aggressive, loud spoken local approaches you.
- If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Just in case, the Tourist Police telephone number is 1155.