Thailand scams / crime in Thailand
In general, Thailand is a safer place to be than most places in the West. Crimes against tourists are relatively rare and minor, but like anywhere in the world crime is present and sometimes tourists in Thailand are victims of crime. A few things to abide by when visiting Thailand is to:
- NOT trust any stranger that approaches you on the street
- To remember that nothing in Thailand is ‘FREE’
- And if an offer sounds ‘too good to be true’ then it most probably is (especially for a greenhorn/first-timer to Thailand).
Jet Ski / Motorbike Scam
The Jet Ski / Motorbike Scam is a simple scam in which you hire (in this example) a motorbike, and on return are accused of damaging it. These unscrupulous scammers have been known to recruit corrupt policeman that will show up and act as a mediator, negotiating on your behalf a ‘so-called’ reasonable amount of compensation for the vendor (the policeman – for his part in the scam, will receive a percentage of the amount scammed). Most hire places in Thailand are legitimate but it is a good idea before hiring anything to let the hire person know that you are aware of the scams that are perpetrated against tourists in Thailand. Also, always ask to look over the bike with the owner before hiring, pointing out and taking a note (preferably a photograph) of any scrapes or dents or imperfections you may see. Most scammers in Thailand are looking for ‘fresh meat’ (naïve first-timers to Thailand) and by verbalising that you are aware of the scams that go on is usually enough to put any would-be scammer off trying to fleece you. This scam is most common with motorbike and Jet Ski hire.
The sexshow scam involves being coerced / teased / tricked into a sexshow club (most notably in the Patpong area of Bangkok, or the east coast resort of Pattaya) by devious, slippery touts. Once inside and seated watching the show with a few drinks and possibly even a few girls, you are eventually presented with an exorbitant bill and threatened with serious violence if you don’t pay. Sexshows in Thailand are best avoided (especially as a first-timer to the country), and far from being sexy – they are actually quite depressing.
Do not buy gems (unless you have prior experience of buying gems and know exactly what you are doing). The usual method employed in this scam is for a sweet-talking tout to approach you in the street with a friendly smile and lots of local knowledge; he will ask you where you are from? And after you tell him – he will tell you that he’s been there, or that that one of his relatives lives or studies there; eventually, however, he’ll get round to business, delivering to you a line of ‘bullshit’, such as: ‘did you know that buying jewellery (or gems) in Thailand is cheap, and that you can make a lot of money by selling it in your home country?’ This is complete ‘balderdash’ of the highest order. Once the bait is accepted you will be taken to a shop/shops and sold jewellery or gems. 9 times out of 10 when the jewellery is valued back home it is found to be worth only a fraction of the amount you paid for it.
There are plenty of western conmen living in Thailand who prey on naïve tourists. Many have taken to the busy tourist areas with a myriad of sob stories designed to lighten the weight of your wallet. Don’t be too compassionate when approached by someone with a story similar to: ‘…excuse me – I was wondering if you could help me? I’ve just been robbed (by a ruthless Thai girl, usually) and I need to borrow 100 Baht to make a phone call back home for help.’ Foreigners are also involved in ‘timeshare’ scams on the islands of the south; previously (a few years ago), hordes of foreigners were involved in ‘boiler room’ scams (stock market scams) all over Thailand. Over the years crimes committed by westerners on westerners range from glorified begging – like the example above – to muggings, rape and murder.
Note: there are exceptions to the rule in regards to the above example see here for more…
Bangkok is over-run with taxi’s, and whilst most Bangkok taxi drivers are honest, there are others who are not. Before entering a taxi (taxi metre cab) always insist that the driver turn the metre on. If he says it is broken (or comes out with some other dubious reason for not turning it on), simply close the door and repeat the process until you find a cab driver who is willing to turn his metre on. If you follow this simple rule you will not get ripped off by piss-taking taxi drivers.
Drugs in Thailand
If you use drugs in Thailand you are taking a massive risk with your life. Thailand has one of the worst methamphetamine (Ice and Ya-baa) problems in the world and takes its illicit drugs laws very seriously (people are sentenced to death in Thailand for certain drug offences). If you are caught with drugs in Thailand you are going to jail (unless – and this is a big ‘maybe’ – you have lots of spare cash to plea bargain with police, and even then – if you don’t know how to negotiate properly, you may suffer a double whammy by having bribery charges brought against you after they pocket your money).
Many farangs (foreigners) smoke weed in Thailand, it has become part of the backpacker scene; some use ecstasy, some smoke Ice (Ya-ice) and Yabaa, and some use pharmaceutical drugs (which are also illegal to possess without a prescription). The best advice in regards to using drugs in Thailand is to NOT use them. There are many foreign prisoners (both male and female) banged up in Thai prisons like Klong Prem and Bang Kwang. Most are serving ridiculously long sentences for drug offences that would get you a slap on the wrist back in your home country (or, at the most, a year or two in prison). If you are a risk-taker by nature and disregard this advice, then be warned – Thailand is not a nice place to end up in the slammer, and you might even be unlucky enough to fall foul of Thai drug laws by failing a random ‘piss test’ see here.
Note: the following are a few true prison stories about foreigners who have fallen foul of drug laws in Thailand; they are worth reading, especially if you are a drug user who is thinking of visiting Thailand.
The following link is an information pack issued by the British Embassy in Bangkok that contains useful information on the Thai judicial system; the information is usefull not only for Brits but for anyone who finds themselves on the wrong side of the law in Thailand.
Information Pack for British Prisoners Arrested and Imprisoned in Thailand
Organized Crime in Thailand
Thailand has a large number of organized crime groups, although there is less information available about their size and structure than that of other Asian crime syndicates like the Chinese Triads or Japanese Yakuza. The Thai-based groups, however, derive enormous profits from activities such as gambling, drug dealing, and prostitution. The closest most tourists in Thailand will get to organised crime is frequenting sex industry establishments or being the victim of one of the aforementioned street scams.
The Thai Mafia
Profits from the illegal economy have contributed to the rise of ‘Jao Pho’ (Godfathers) in Thai society and politics. Not all of the local businessmen who are described as ‘Jao Pho’ are engaged in illegal businesses. But many of them are. They also conduct legal businesses as a front and as additional sources of income. In many cases they use their influence to gain lucrative concessions and contracts from the government. They enhance their social position in society by helping build local infrastructure, donating to temples and welfare services, and entertaining important local and national politicians. Most political parties at one time or another have looked for support from the underworld’s ‘Jao Pho’.
The Chinese Mafia in Thailand
The Ethnic Chinese (mostly Chiu Chow – Teochew, from the Swatow Province of Southern China) are the largest non-Thai minority, totalling six million plus people (approximately 14% of the population). Whilst the vast majority of Thai-Chinese are law-abiding citizens, and have contributed greatly to the advancement of Thailand, there are, however, a number of Chiu Chow (Teochew) groups operating in Thailand which are very actively and successfully involved in organized crime, particularly prostitution, people trafficking and the drug trade. Many Thai-Chinese Godfathers are described as ‘Jao Pho’.
International Crime Syndicates in Thailand
With its laid-back visa regulations and its reputation as a country where illegal businesses can operate lucratively, Thailand has attracted not only Asian criminals but criminals from all over the world. In Bangkok and Pattaya, criminal syndicates from China, Taiwan, India, Russia, Korea, Australia, Europe, Africa, and North and South America have all set up shop. Also, in recent years, the 14K triad, a Hong Kong-based syndicate, has established a strong presence in Thailand. The 14K triad are said to be the largest triad syndicate in the world but even they have limited influence in Thailand, largely due to the active role of the ethnic Chiu Chow (Teochew) Chinese criminal groups.
Over the last decade, policemen in Thailand have appeared in news reports as being involved in the illicit trafficking and supply of drugs; being share-holders in illegal gambling establishments; being major players in human trafficking; and for being entrepreneurs and employees of the sex industry. There are many good and honest policemen but overall the police in Thailand must be counted as one of the major components that make up organized crime in the country.
Thailand’s military government has stated that one of the reasons it snatched power in the military coup of 2014 was to crack down on corruption, which in many ways – on the surface, it has done. But military spending in Thailand is secretive and when anyone questions abnormalities in the country’s finances they are arrested. Corruption is ingrained in every level of Thai society and many influential people who operate illegal businesses are purported to be members of the Thai government.
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Copyright © 2016 Raymond Carroll
Thailand scams / crime in Thailand