The Consummate Traveler: Scammed in the City

May 21, 2013 Updated: May 21, 2013

I consider myself a savvy and well-seasoned international traveler. Over the years, I have earned my stripes and accumulated a basic level of street smarts. However, my perceived wisdom was not good enough to prevent being scammed on my first day in Bangkok. I will gladly share the details of what happened to my colleague and I, with the hopes that others can avoid similar encounters.

After a long journey and a few hours of rest, a female co-worker and I ventured out to explore some of the huge shopping malls down the street from our hotel. Literally, just a few steps after exiting our hotel, a man who presented himself as a police officer immediately approached us. He was so friendly and warm, asking us all kinds of questions about where we were from and when we arrived. Not suspecting anything, we replied back honestly.

After he fully understood that we were first time visitors and severely jet-lagged, he proceeded to tell us about an incredible 30 percent off sale going on just that day at a particular government-run gem and silk trade shop. He insisted that the sale was a “once-in-five-year” reduction of price to celebrate the anniversary of the king’s coronation. It was “not to be missed!” He wrote out the address for us and then escorted us to find a tuk tuk (a motorcycle with a seat for two attached in the back) who would take us there for a good price.

As if in a complete trance, the two of us (seasoned auditors mind you) agreed and obliged. We each expressed a slight sense of hesitation and asked each other why a policeman would so aggressively play the salesman role and almost force us to go to this shop? Despite our gut telling us otherwise, off we went.

When we arrived at the shop, practically nobody else was there. We entered a ground floor full of gem vendors and proceeded to walk upstairs to the silk goods section. After about 45 minutes, we both bought a few things and paid with credit cards. We managed to find a taxi and made our way back to the hotel in one piece. Although we felt the whole thing was totally weird, we seemed to escape successfully.

It wasn’t until a few days later, while checking my credit card transactions online, that I realized what the main objective of our gem and silk adventure was about. There were three fraudulent Internet charges amounting to just over $2,000 (US) one hour after I had made my silk purchases. Lucky for me, my credit card company recognized these as suspicious expenses and they were trying to contact me about them.

My card has since been canceled and any chances of them taking me for a further ride are over. In the end, they were not successful in their attempt to defraud me, but a few good lessons for sure have been learned the hard way. This includes never allowing anyone calling himself a cop to “bully” you into doing anything. Never fall for once in a lifetime sale or discount, and NEVER get into a vehicle to take you anywhere unless you are completely sure you know where you are going.

If I had only done a bit of Internet research on Bangkok scams before arriving, I would have learned all there is to know about this and other common schemes. This is surely going to become a step I will be adding to all my pre-trip preparations.

As always, I wish you all the happiest of travels!