Bangkok's infamous gem scam has ruined the holidays of many, many visitors to Thailand and it is an important thing to be aware of beforehand if you want to avoid becoming yet another victim. The scam is no secret - there's warnings about it in every guidebook and in posters put up around Bangkok by the Tourist Authority, yet many people are still caught unaware of it. Though it does happen occasionally in other parts of Thailand, the vast majority of incidences take place in Bangkok.
The con-artists always targets the new, first time arrivals to Thailand and consequently you find them hanging around the main tourist attractions, particularly Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun and the National Museum. New arrivals are often somewhat surprised at the friendliness of people in the Land of Smiles, and unfortunately can become a bit too trusting of strangers which leaves them vulnerable to this scam. What we've described below is a typical example, but there are many variations.
It usually starts with a male stranger approaching you on the way to or nearby any of main tourist attractions, and telling you that you can't go in at the moment. They can come up with dozens of reasons why: "Oh didn't you know it's a Buddhist holiday today", "closed for cleaning", "closed for repairs", "only Thai people can enter in the morning", "closed because the monks are chanting now", "it's only open on Wednesdays" etc. By far the best approach is just to ignore anyone trying to talk to you on the way in, which may seem rude but it can be very difficult to get away if you start any conversation with them. In the vast majority of cases, there is absolutely no truth in what they are saying, it's just a ruse to get you started in conversation with them. If the place really is closed, find out for yourself from the entrance and don't take anyone's word for it. No one is going to be offended if you try and enter, even if it really is closed for a holiday.
Not wanting to offend or appear ignorant, you may let them talk you out of going to Wat Pho or wherever it is you really intended to go. But not to worry, your new friend knows somewhere equally impressive that is still open - "the famous 100m high Standing Buddha temple". It's not mentioned in your guidebook for some reason, but he will kindly mark the location of it on your map for you. He may also casually talk about a special promotion on gems or jewelry that is on today, but will put no pressure on you to buy any.
After another 5 or 10 minutes of conversation, he will usually offer to arrange a tuk-tuk ride for you to the new temple at a bargain price (10B/20B, say, or even for free) explaining that tuk-tuks overcharge tourists and so he can get that the price that cheap for you because he is Thai. Alternatively, they claim that by taking you there and then to a special export shop they get free petrol/gasoline coupons and so that is why it is cheap.
Either way it's worth remembering that tuk-tuks are no cheaper than taxis in Bangkok, and even the shortest of rides starts at around 50B. If you're offered a ridiculous price like 100B (or less) for a whole afternoon's worth of sightseeing, it's only because they know they can make much more out of scamming you.
At the new temple (the so-called 'Standing Buddha temple', 'Lucky Buddha temple' etc - really just an average temple in an out-of-the-way location), the tuk-tuk driver waits outside while you go in. Inside you'll be fortunate enough to meet a smartly dressed Thai man who speaks excellent English, and claims to be a university professor / business man / student / tourist official etc. You'll chat for a while (they often have excellent knowledge about your home country), and eventually the conversation gets round to jewelry and gems, confirming the special deal on at the moment that the man on the street mentioned earlier. Essentially, this special deal involves bulk buying gems at a low price in Thailand in order to resell them for a vast profit in your home country. This is dressed up in any number of ways - you don't buy from a shop but from a special "international export center", today is a special export day, it's an opportunity previously only open to Thai students to finance their studies abroad but now tourists can do it as well, there's a special tax break today, it's part of a tourism promotion, it's a wholesale factory price, backed by the government, you get a certificate of authenticity and a money back guarantee etc etc...And if you don't want to buy, why not come along anyway because the experts are happy to teach you about the famous Thai gems for free ?
This is all an elaborate set of lies of course, and you're simply being set up to spend a small fortune on the 'bargain' gems. The man will even mark the location of the gem shop on the map in your Lonely Planet guide for you, so you can tell the tuk-tuk driver where to go. The tuk-tuk driver, who ten minutes before could barely speak any English let alone read a map written in it, looks at your map and strangely enough knows exactly where to go.
On to the gem shop, and you are well looked after with personal service from
the manager, free drinks etc. There then follows a high-pressure sales pitch,
after which far too many people are persuaded to spend in the region of 100
000B (US$2500), 200 000B (US$5000) or more on gems which they hope to resell
at a profit in their home country. The gem shops often pay lowlife foreigners
to linger in their shop posing as a customer and casually mention to you that
for years they have bought Thai gems from this shop, sold them back in France
/ USA / Singapore / etc, and have made loads of money doing it. A bit too
conveniently, they'll have
receipts and documentation on them to back-up their story.
For many people, the knowledge that a fellow foreigner has done it successfully is what finally persuades them to buy. To ensure you get the gems out of Thailand safely, with no problems from customs, the shop will offer to mail the gems to your country for you. When you actually come to buy the gems, you may find the shop doesn't have the facilities to accept credit cards itself (a warning sign in itself - Visa and Mastercard have cut them off for high levels of fraudlent transactions). You may have to go and buy gold from a nearby shop with your card and then pay them in the gold you just purchased.
What most people find out soon enough when they try and sell them is that
the expensively purchased "gems" are really only worth a tiny fraction
of what you paid for them. You're actually more in luck if you've been sold
worthless bits of cut-glass masquerading as gems,
as this is actually illegal and gives you a legal leg to stand on. Either way,
virtually all the money that
was spent on the gems is now lost. The receipt, money back guarantee and
of authenticity are barely worth the paper they're printed on.
The reason the shop wants to mail them abroad for you is, of course, to stop you coming back and demanding your money back when you realise what's happened. Though chances of getting your money back aren't great even when you still have the "gems" with you, they are non-existent if you have mailed them abroad. For a similar reason, after you've made your purchase they may take you out for sightseeing around Bangkok or even nearby provinces for free. This is all to try and reduce the amount of time you have to realise you've been scammed.
The shops are well aware most tourists only have a few days in Bangkok at most, so any time they spend taking you sightseeing is using up the precious time you have of realising what happened and getting the police involved, or getting to the mail center on time to intercept your package before it leaves the country.
Avoid being a victim
The easiest way to avoid falling victim to this scam is: never buy gems or jewelry from a shop you're taken to by a tuk-tuk, or next a temple a tuk-tuk took you to.
There is no such place as the "Lucky Buddha Temple" or "Standing Buddha Temple", no such thing as a gem-related "Government Export Center", "Thai Trade Center", "Gem Warehouse", "Gem Education Center", "Government Gem Export Promotion For Students", "Government Tax-Free Jewelry Export" (etc, etc...) . Anyone, Thai or foreign, who mentions anything about any of these or about a jewelry-related promotion on its last day is definitely trying to scam you!
Thailand does, in theory, offer bargains on gems and jewelry, it's just that buying them is such a risky proposition that it is not recommended unless you really know what you are doing. If you are planning to purchase, the comments below should help to ensure you are not ripped off when buying:
When reading about the gem scam, it's easy to assume only gullible people get taken in by it. But it is done in such a sophisticated way, with so many seeming coincidences, that a lot of people fall for it even having read all the warnings beforehand. Be aware that the con men are not above dressing in official-looking uniform and even as monks to try and get your money.
It's easy to get a fake ID in Thailand. If someone recommending you buy gems from a particular shop tries to show proof that they are from the Tourism Authority of Thailand or some government department, the ID is bound to be fake.
It is not really in the Thai culture for a lone person to approach a stranger or strangers and start a conversation. If 'normal' Thais do just want to talk to tourists, it is almost always done in a group. Therefore if you are approached by a lone individual, particularly one who speaks English well, be very wary. It's also worthwhile looking at what the person talking to you was doing beforehand, as very few people without ulterior motives linger alone outside tourist attractions just hoping for a friendly chat.
This is basically common sense as few people would talk to strangers on street corners in their home country, but they let their guard down with the relaxed atmosphere in Thailand.
The Thai government and/or the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) does not own, sponsor, promote, endorse or authorize any gems stores in particular and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is lying.
It is impossible, even for a qualified gemologist, to tell the difference between genuine gems and a clever cut-glass fake without the proper equipment. If you buy without getting the gems tested independently, you are buying solely on the word of the shop.
Real gem shops very rarely offer sales, and 'one day only' or 'export special' deals are definitely a scam.
If you are buying gems, you're well advised to simply buy for personal use the ones you like the look of. If you're not already a gem expert, buying with the intention of reselling for a profit back home is a recipe for disaster.
It's worth buying only from members of the Thai Jewel Fest Club, which is a non-profit organization set up by the TAT, the Thai Gem and Jewelry Traders Association, the police and the government. Members have to abide by a code of practice, which includes the provision of at least 80% refunds up to 45 days after purchase. The members are all reputable vendors and though it is impossible to guarantee there won't be any problems, it is much, much less likely than at a random shop a stranger takes you to.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand has more information and a list of members of the Jewel Fest club. A branch of TAT will also be able to give you more information. Do your research first and buy at a shop you've carefully chosen, not one a random tuk-tuk takes to you!
If you are scammed
If you act soon enough after being scammed, you may be able to get at least some of your money back:
- The first step is to make sure you have all the gems, receipts and documentation that you were given.
Go straight away to a branch of the Tourist Authority of Thailand or the tourist police (Tel: 1155). You will be referred to the police in order to make a report of the incidence, and you will have to try your best to persuade them to follow up your case. At present, no illegal act has been committed unless you have been sold fakes instead of real gems. The shops argue that you purchased the gems of their free will, and that their is no standard pricing for their products so they are free to charge whatever they like.
If it turns out that in essence you have simply overpaid for real gems rather than being sold fakes (as is most common), the worst that can happen to the seller is a fine of 1000B (US$25). With the laws as they stand, unfortunately it's barely worth the time of the police to pursue any cases. Even so, you may be able to get a proportion (sometimes almost all) of your money back if you can persuade them to return to the shop with you (providing you know where the shop is).
You're slightly more in luck if you've been sold fakes under the impression that they were real gems, as this is actually illegal and criminal action can be taken. However, this is a cumbersome procedure which will mean having to stay in Thailand for the duration of your case and depends on the willingness of the police to pursue it for you. Should it be pursued, the shop will very likely simply close and reopen elsewhere under a different name a bit later. It is then up to you to find it and identify the salesman who you dealt with previously. Again, this is hardly an encouraging situation but you are legally at least in the right and may be able to get a substantial amount of your money back if you can get the tourist police to accompany you back to the shop that you bought from.
From what we've heard, people's experiences with the tourist police in regard to the gem scam seem very mixed. Sometimes the police can be very helpful, other times unwilling to do anything and seemingly in the pay of the gem stores. A common situation is getting passed from one authority to another with no-one really doing anything to help, which can be very frustrating. With the monthly salary of a low ranking policeman under $500, it's hardly surprising that the gem stores manage to buy pay off some of the police to avoid investigating them. Nevertheless, it's a very hit and miss situation - if one branch of the tourist police don't seem to want to help, try going to a different one further away and it might be a totally different story.
If the police are unwilling to go with you and you go back to the shop alone, but with the 'gems' and receipt you may be able to get some of your money back. However, remember that these people are professional criminals with mafia connections, and you risk being intimidated, threatened or worse if you go back looking for a fight. A story in the Bangkok Post speculated that many of these shops are simply fronts for Burmese drug gangs.
To help your case, stay calm, be polite, patient but insistent, and you will probably get a partial refund in the end. Chances of a full refund are next to nothing, and you'd probably be well advised to take anything over 70%. If at all possible, go with someone else or in a group so it's less easy for them to intimidate and dismiss you. Whatever you do though, don't get agressive or start shouting - this rarely works in Thailand, and is only likely to inflame the situation.
If you have paid by credit card, then you should also contact the issuing company regarding your purchase as you may be able to get a refund from them depending on the circumstances. You may want to consider cancelling your credit card if you think the shop could have copied the details.
Although you're doubtless feeling angry, remember that the vast majority of Thais have no idea that this goes on, and are shocked and embarrassed when they are made aware of it. You're as well to keep a degree of cynicism in any future encounters with overly friendly strangers, but don't let it ruin the genuine friendliness often shown by the Thais outside the main tourist areas.
Gem scam experiences
We have received a huge volume of people sharing their experiences about this scam. Sadly this just goes to show how many people have been, and continue to be, caught out by it. We've got stories of the scam operating basically unchanged going back as far as 10 years, and it's known to have been going on for years before that too. Unfortunately naming-and-shaming those shops complicit in the scam is a futile practice, as they change names and locations frequently to avoid legal troubles. It's much easier just to remember the basic rule of never buy gems or jewelry from a shop you're taken to by a tuk-tuk, and that you hadn't planned to go to when you woke up that morning!
Thanks to Anna:There were 3 of us, myself and 2 of my male friends, and it was our last day in Thailand and we wanted to see a few sights just for some photos. So we asked our hotel concierge for any suggestions and he suggested we go to Wat Pho, a temple.
So we went there, and were stopped by a local guy just outside the front, and he told us we couldn't go in because of our thongs, skirt, singlets and shorts, as well as there were monks praying because it was the last day of Chinese New Year. So he asked us what we were doing, and suggested a few places to go to visit, marking them on our tourist map we had. The places that he marked were not marked on the map, which we should have realised was a bit weird. He then hailed down a tuktuk for us, and told us we would only need to pay 30 BAHT for the whole afternoon, and the driver would wait on us. So naturally we thought that was awesome, cos usually we have been getting ripped off about 100 BAHT for a one way trip.
So we were taken to a temple, where we again were stopped by another local, and he told us that monks were praying and would have to wait around 20 minutes. So he strikes up a conversation with us, about where we're from, what we're doing. And he then mentioned the Export Centre where we are able to buy jewelry tax free, and able to take it home and sell for 195% profit. As well as this, an American tourist came and pretended he was wanting to go inside the temple as well, and overheard us talking about this. He joined in the conversation, and recommended we go and buy something there, saying it will cover our expenses on this trip, and that he does it every year. He even gave us his email and contact number, making friends with one of my male friends, and kept saying we should buy something and split it between us.
So because of that, we really didn't think it was a scam, cos of the American. Added a nice touch to the situation.
So we went to the export centre, and the moment we stepped in, the place looked dodgy. The salespeople there just didn't look professional, and we also noticed dodgy photocopied paper signs stuck around the walls, which just didn't seem right for a jewelry store.
So we left, and were pretty convinced that it was all a scam. So we were then taken to another temple, which was really small and only had a tiny little prayer room we would look at. While we were there we noticed a man just hanging around, quite well dressed, looked respectable, and seemed to be watching the place for some reason. So we decided to ask him about the export centre, just to see if he knew of it. We figured it couldn't be a scam if we approached him, because he did nothing to urge us to go.
So we asked him about it, and he said of course. He claimed that he does it every year to support his family, that Thai students do this all the time to pay for their education, and he also had his documentation to show us. Mind you, the other 2 men at the other temple had theirs to show us as well. How convenient!
Anyway after all that, my friends were quite convinced it wasn't a scam, so we went back and my friend bought a ring worth around AUD$400.
We were then taken to a tailor, where we were approached by the shopkeeper that it was the last day of their CNY sale with 50% off all suits. So one of my friends purchased one, paying only a deposit upfront. The salesman wasn't really too happy about this but eventually allowed this. The suit was sent to our hotel the next morning where he paid the remainder of the price.
Anyway later on that night, we went out to Khao San rd where we met a nice backpacker, and we asked him to tell some funny stories of his stay here. He just so happened to tell us a funny story that 3 months ago he went to visit Wat Pho, and was approached by a local guy that told him to go to these other places, which included a few temples, a jewelry store, and ended up at a tailor.
My friend has not been able to sell the ring so far. =[
Thanks to Orchid from Japan:
When I arrived near Sao Ching Cha, I decided to go to Grand Palace, then I asked a man, who was just standing near me with his friend, how to go there. At first I did not know he was a driver. He said "Grand Palace is not open at the moment, so I offer you a lift only 20B for 1 or 2 hours." It sounded fishy to me, so I asked him why it was so cheap. He said he could get a gasoline coupon. At that time I did not understand what he meant. He said "I will take you to some temples and silk shop and jewellery shop." I insisted I would not go to such shops, but he said "You don't have to buy it. It is up to you." Then he circled where to go in my map.
Next, he took me to the temple. It was closed. I met an American man who was travelling in Thailand and talked to me. I do not think he was one of culprits, but he said today was the last day of good offer, so tuk-tuk is very cheap. At first I was very suspicious to a driver. But I became to believe "Today is holiday, so some temples close in the morning or evening! Today is the special day because of Royal Family Day!"
Next, he took me to another temple. There was a huge buddha, 40M. I wanted to make sure whether what the driver said was true or not, so I was listening to conversation between a Thailand man and an American couple. He said today is special day, so some temples open, some are not.
Then we headed for a jewellery shop. I do not remember the name. It was a quite small shop. I did not buy any. After that we went to the Chinese temple. When I entered inside, a woman was praying and taught me how to pray and left there. In few minutes, when I was about to leave there she came back with a man. He tried me to stay there, then conversation began. When I said I was Japanese, he started speaking Japanese fluently. I can speak English to some extent, so at first I talked to him in English. He said "My mother is from Thai, father is Japanese and lives in Tokyo." I asked him why the driver could get gasoline coupon or whether today is holiday, he said it was all true.
Today is the last special offer day. If tuk-tuk drivers take tourists to a jewellery shop, they can get gasoline coupon from the government, because the government want tourists to buy more jewellery with reasonable price. The government levies a 195% tax on jewellery, but until today you can get jewellery without tax. He have bought a jewel about 300,000 yen then went to Japan to sell it to where the jewellery shop introduced to him. He sold it for 600,000 yen. His aunt bought a lot of jewellery during special offer, then went to Europe to sell them. She went well. He asked me whether I watched this commercial on TV. He said I could trust the driver. Nobody has no intention of cheating me.
I trusted what he said completely, because I did not think Japanese will cheat Japanese.
After that, we went to the jewellery shop. At first I was not interested in jewellery, but I completed believed that the government was running. In the shop, a Thai woman was buying a set of jewel and said to me "This is the second time I have bought jewel at this shop. When I bought the jewel last time I went to Switzerland to sell it and earn a lot of money." She was filling in the documents.
When I decided which jewel I buy, a woman and a driver took me to ATM. I needed 115,000B, but I could withdraw 90,000B. It was limitation. The woman was a bit nervous. Then we went back to the shop, I paid money and filled in the documents. A man who are charged of the shop said to me, "We will send you your jewel by EMS. When you receive it, the shop you choose will contact you when I can sell it to the shop. You can get 180,000B worth yen." Unfortunately I do not have EMS sending copy. I am in panic now. I cannot get enough sleep and lost a lot of weight. I hope next victim never appear.
Thanks to Mandy from Hong Kong:
Unfortunately, I have just been scammed and realized it after reading your website. I just can't believe how sophisticating the organized crime is...to help other travellers not fall prey to the scum, here's my story to share.
I was walking around and wanted to go the weekend market, but the tuk-tuk driver convinced me that the market is quite far. He offered to take me around temples for 30 baht instead, and alright there I went to this Big Belly Buddha Chinese temple. There a respectable looking Thai speaking fluent English approached me. He asked where I'm from, and said that he works in Bangkok embassy in Hong Kong. Because I thought we came from same place, this is why he are very nice to me and tells me where I should go. And of course, he mentioned about the gem trade. Before I left, the Thai man offer to take me out for dinner at 6pm, and when we both back in Hong Kong, he'll take me to Tsim Sha Tsui. He can even name a reputable jeweller in Hong Kong. He also told me he's leaving on the same flight but hinting he's flying first class.
So I went to the store and the manager spoke to me. But a set of gems is expensive around 170,000 baht, I didn't have the money and thought the place was dodgy. The manager told me this is the last of the 7 day sale which is open to public, and the store will close at 1.30pm. i left and the tuk-tuk took me to another temple.
In that temple, two men approached me, one English speaking Thai, and an AMERICAN man who claim he works in the one of the listed tech company. They are friends and we were just chatting. Then i started to ask them about the trade and disgustingly, the white man claimed that he has already done it for 3 times. It is very safe and he have the company sent it back to the states. The Thai person confirms it's legit and they have both done it, it makes me think I'm a fool not to participate in it. So I look at my watch and there's still 1/2 hour to go, so I quickly went back. If it wasn't for the American, I could have escaped the whole episode.
I was going to max out my card to get the cheapest set, so they took me to ATM and gold shop. Luckily, both cards have limits set and my Visa refused the transaction, so I was only able to draw 20,000 baht from the bank.
So with that money, I bought 2 small sapphires and they convinced me to mail it home. I was very skeptical but was so tired, so I just let them. Later I went back and met the guy on Khao san road, and let him bring me around for dinner and drinks. During the drinks, he flaunted how connected he is and, that how he wants to make more money. He also said if I don't make enough money from gem trade, he can bring me to the headquarter where I can use my card. He gave me his number and reminded me to meet up with him in Hong Kong to sell the gem.
A couple of days later, I went back to Hong Kong and received my package. I have not yet checked the price of the gem but I don't think I even have to now...
Thanks to Matt from Washington, USA:
My friend and I were approached outside of the gates of the Palace by a Thai man wearing a shirt and tie. Since we both were wearing shorts, he told us that we wouldn't be able to enter the palace grounds unless we had pants on -- but it didn't matter because today the palace was closed... the one day the palace closes for a Monk's festival.
He introduced himself as the Manager of the Palace - to which we just laughed and said "Whatever". We didn't know who he was or what he wanted, but we knew that the real Manager wouldn't be outside dressed in long sleeve shirt and tie on a day when it was near 100 degrees, wandering around chatting with tourists.
Instead of seeing the Grand Palace, he said we should go to see another temple nearby or up the street. I don't recall the name of the temple, but he said it would just be 50 baht by tuk-tuk to get there. He flagged a driver down who was waiting in what appeared to be a tuk-tuk queue and gave him instructions in Thai, since he allegedly didn't understand English. This "Manager" of the Palace then told us that not only would we see a nice temple, but we'd be near a Government jewelry shop where we could purchase jewelry as part of a Government promotion that was only taking place that day.
Even though the "Manager" was a bit shady, we figured at least it would be a ride in a tuk-tuk through Bangkok and we'd get to see city life mid-day -- worst case, we could jump out of the tuk-tuk if there was trouble.
Since we were pressed for time, we went back to the tuk-tuk and waited for our driver, who seemed to disappear somewhere. While waiting, another Thai guy approached us and asked us all the typical tourist questions... and asked where our driver was because he wanted to "move his car". He claimed to have studied in the USA on a particular exchange program (AFS) in New Jersey and loved America... blah blah. Then of course, he told us about this special Jewelry sale. It seemed like everyone we talked to knew about this special sale, but we didn't really question it since we weren't going to be making any major purchases. The tuk-tuk driver came back and this former exchange student told him in Thai to take us to that jewelry story - or it appeared as if he was saying something like that.
When the tuk-tuk pulled away, we looked back and saw this man just walking around. Where was his car he had to move? We didn't see any car, nor was the tuk-tuk blocking any parking space. That was shady too, but we didn't realize or suspect all these people could be connected in a big scam. WRONG!
We got to the jewelry story and went inside. It was a non-descript cement storefront with no signage or anything to identify what it was. I suspected it was like that for security reasons, but in any case, it was air conditioned and we were dying of heat. We were the only ones in the store besides about 10 salespeople. They offered us drinks and one man claimed to be from Washington DC -- citing a location of his Jewelry store at 16th and K -- something we'd recognize.
Luckily, because we had a flight to catch, we only had about 5 minutes to browse around the store. I saw a silver ring I liked. I know it cost no more than USD $15 so I figured why not... it fit, it looked good and I bought it. I used my credit card (which I'm about to go cancel right now) and the sale was completed.
My ring...? Well, I noticed there was no sterling silver stamp inside of it. I guess it's really not silver, but I figure it's still nice and no one needs to know it's not real.
One more thing... I'm a very experienced traveler, work for an airline and have traveled to at least 50 countries, but I still fell prey to this scam for a two reasons: (1) I didn't do much research before my trip, (2) I didn't leave these shady characters when things didn't add up (e.g. "Manager" of Palace).
Perhaps my story here might prevent an unknowing traveler from spending money on something that just isn't real.
Thanks to Jack:
The sophistication of this scheme lies in all the seemingly independent people who guide you to the goal of buying. I just didn't connect the fact that all these people were working together. Even worse, the initial contact was made by two (I still assume) independent people and they pointed out two different stores on my map. Thus when I went to the shop I thought that the fact that two people told this story about 195% tax and then pointed out different shops added veracity to the whole thing.
The second contact was made by a man claiming to work for the UN here in Bangkok.
The seller seemed very trustworthy and the whole scheme seemed so complicated and had so many forms that again, I thought this was adding authenticity to the whole thing. He also showed me the address of the dealer I could sell to for my great profit (George St, Sydney if I remember) and I got the impression that he would give me this information in the envelope with the receipt. I fully intended to ring the dealer immediately afterwards to confirm they exist, etc. I asked lots of questions, thought the answers were satisfactory and went ahead. They even said 'don't talk to the people in the hotel when you go to get your passport as they'll want a commission. In fact the people in the hotel would have told me it was a scam.
They paid for that taxi and sent an attractive girl with me (alarm bell) to assist in retrieving my passport and enough cash to pay. Other alarm bells did ring, but just not loudly enough. After the sale, the guy set me up with another girl to show me around the city for the rest of the day - take me to any temples, get a traditional Thai massage, eat a meal out together. All presumably to distract me from putting all the parts together and doing anything about it.
She was particularly keen to look after my books for me - especially my guide book. Guess why? Every guide book tells you about the scam. And so I read the little section on the scam in the book. Immediately I felt my stomach sink.
Firstly I asked the girl if I could ring the dealer in Sydney - she had previously been very accommodating in letting me ring my bank to increase my withdrawal limit. Getting in contact with the Sydney dealer though was next to impossible. First of all she got my salesman on the phone, but as soon as I said "I have a problem" he hung up - the girl said her battery must have died. So I called back on my mobile - he has just left. So I asked her why he would just leave when he knew I'd be calling back. So she rang again (on her suddenly working phone) and got him. I put it to him that I was worried this was a scam and would be reassured if I could ring the dealer in Sydney. "Yes, those details will be included in the package when it arrives". I said I'd prefer the number now. "No." Why not? "Because he is very busy man and would not have time." That's ridiculous, just give me the number and I'll discuss it with him. "No." Then he reverted to silence. He wouldn't talk to me but stayed on the line. The girl tried to talk to him but seemingly got no response either.
I said I'd prefer to go back to the office, and convinced her to go back to the store right away. She was compliant in the "everything's cool" way. However I changed my mind and decided it would be better to call back to my hotel first.
When I went to the safety deposit box room, I asked the hotelier if I had gotten dragged into a scam. When he asked me the details he confirmed probably, yes. I asked if I should call the police or go to the shop. He said it would be worth calling to the shop first. I'm not sure this was such hot advice.
Needless to say the "assistant manager" at the shop was most unhelpful. They said everything was okay. Can I see the salesman - no he took his commission and went. Can I call the Sydney agent - no we don't know which one he works with. I said I remembered the address - no, we don't have the number. After batting around the issues with them (one of them was either pretending to be or actually was asleep), I realised they weren't going to admit anything was wrong. What if they're fake? They're not. And if they are? Send them back to us and we'll refund you.
So I decided to go to the police, and they offered me the following advice:
1. There's nothing actually illegal about overpricing goods.
2. There's nothing they can legally do about it.
3. It happens all the time.
And then they offered me (in summary) these options:
1. Get the stuff posted back from Sydney and return it in person and try to get a refund - probably 50-60% (not an option as I was leaving the following day)
2. Send the stuff back from Australia after getting it valued - good chance I'd get nothing as they're conveniently 'lose' the package.
3. Get them (the police) to get me a partial refund and do no more about it (unless the jewellery turned out to be fake rather than overvalued - in which case I would have a criminal case).
I decided option 3 was the only decent chance I'd have of getting any money back. I got 20% of the price delivered in cash to the police station. The rest, I have to put down to experience - what I like to call a self-imposed stupidity tax. I'm only glad I can afford it. The way I see it, it's a week's salary and I deserve to pay it for being so dumb as to fall for this.
Thanks to Ichiro:
I never thought there would be any scams more elaborated than we see in a movie, but my experience in Thailand let me know I was wrong.
On the way to Wat Pho, a very well-dressed man asked us where we are going to. When we said Wat Pho, he said it is not open to foreigners till 1PM, and the Thai government open several other temples for free today, and government has some tuk-tuks with white number plate other than the yellow one in a very low fee for foreigners to visit these temples.He also mentioned if we like we can visit jewelry shop. He showed us these temples in our maps, and asked a tuk-tuk occasionally running in the road to stop, and asked the driver to give us a tour only with 20 Baht.Because we didn't have other plan, and the friendly man and the driver didn't seem to know each other, I didn't doubt what he said.
Though my wife doesn't like tuk-tuk, we still got on the tuk-tuk. The driver was trying to talk with me in his very bad english to say he is working for government. He acted so kindly, I really thought we met a very kind guy. I only felt a little bit strange to his bad driving manner as to he was like a so kind person. But this didn't stop me to believe him.
The driver firstly took us to a small and quiet temple not worth for foreigners to visit at all. Though I was very disappointed, I still thought I should just give a quick look. Inside the temple, a very thin guy invited us to sit before the buddha, and started to chat with us. He said he is a businnesman, and has travelled to a lot of countries.He said every year the government will have one week export promotion, foreingers are allowed to buy gems limit to 5 pieces without taxes in the export center. He said he did it every year to sell the gems in other countries to earn at least 100% profit. Because we really didn't want to waist too much time in this small temple, we finished the chat. Till now I was not interested to the gem story at all.
We went back to the tuk-tuk driver, he asked us to wait for a moment because he needed to go to toilet. There are one Thai and one white guy standing nearby seemed like waiting for somebody. Then the Thai guy asked if there is any problem with the tuk-tuk driver because they usually cannot speak good english, and he said he is an officer here.(I felt a little bit strange here because I don't think he needs to tell me he is an officer.) Then he started to ask me where we are from, and the white guy said he is from Belgium. They again started to talk about the government promotion, the Belgian said He already did this to pay for his trip to Thailand several times, and the Thai guy even showed me his $6000 receipt he bought two days ago, and they said today is the last day. I confirmed the difference between white and yellow number plate tuk-tuk, they said just same thing as we were told at the beginning.
Just after we finished our talk, the driver came back. I felt a little bit strange why he went to toilet for so long time, but not strange enough to doubt the whole thing. The driver asked us if we like to go to the export center, we agreed. I told to my wife, if this is a scam, this network is too big, too elaborated, so it should not be a scam.
I thought it must be a good building with crowded people because this is a big chance to earn money. When we arrived to a very small shop with only "Export Center" on the glass door, I doubted if I am right to come here. Inside the shop, there are a big photo of a man wearing like a king and a newspaper on the wall. I don't know the standard price for the gem, but the price listed there was really expensive, so we tried to see some cheaper things. Again the salesperson said we can easily sell it out if we buy the gem stones. While we were seeing the jewelry, a white guy came and bought a 5-piece box, and showed his passport. After he left, I saw there is a box with a name on it showing that it is already sold. The sale person even showed us the whole receipt and EMS document of the whole customers (Later may wife said she felt it is strange they expose other customers' information to us). We spent much time there, wanted to make a decision to buy or not. Finally we thought we cannot buy a so expensive jewelry without even checking the price in other shops.
After leaving the "Export Center", it was already 1PM, according the first guy's saying, Wat Pho should be open. But the driver said Wat Pho is only open to Thai people in the afternoon, we didn't believe it and insisted the driver to send us back to Wat Pho. He said OK, but he needs to go to another shop to get free gas coupon. But after arrived to another jewelry shop, he asked us to stay there for 10 minutes. Now we knew he just wanted to take us to jewelry shops, so we paid him 20 Baht and took a taxi back to Wat Pho. When we bought the ticket for Wat Pho, we asked the ticket guy if it was closed this morning, and he said it was open from 8AM.
When we were walking around the Wat Pho, we thought through again the whole things happend in the morning, we suddenly realized the whole thing was a scam. We are so astonished there is so well elaborated scam exist in the real life. Just like a movie, this scam needs a well-written script, good directors and actors to make it like a real.