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Scams, confidence tricks and rip-offs are very common in the tourist parts of Thailand. Watch out for these well known scams and save yourself from being a victim.

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Photo © iStock/mmeee

The Thai people are overwhelmingly polite, honest, and friendly. However, there are many scams that target travelers in Thailand and, while very few locals swindle tourists, that minority is prolific. Based on my dozens of trips to Thailand, here’s guidance on how to sidestep the scammers, and what to look out for and avoid while traveling around Thailand.

Taxi rip-offs

The most common way a tourist to Thailand will be ripped off is while taking a taxi. In most of Thailand, taxis are very cheap. If, that is, they actually go by the standardised fare meter. Before you enter a Thai taxi, always ask “meter?”, then point at the electronic meter on the dashboard and wait for it to be switched on. Otherwise, once your journey ends, the driver is free to quote whatever price they wish.

If they turn off the meter mid-journey, which is rare, or ask for a ridiculous price because the meter was never activated, just stay calm. Attached to the dashboard is their photo and Taxi driver ID card. Get your phone, photograph the driver’s ID, show it to them and say: “Tourist police”. In most cases, this will frighten the driver into quoting a reasonable fare.

As for tuk-tuks, Thailand’s iconic three-wheeled taxis, I avoid them. Once you’ve done a tuk-tuk ride for the experience – and they are fun at first - they have no upside. They’re hotter, more dangerous and more expensive than regular taxis, and also provide no protection from Thailand’s heavy traffic fumes.

Whether getting a taxi or tuk-tuk, avoid catching one that’s stationary, waiting outside your hotel or a major tourist attraction. Such drivers often prey on tourists. They’re the ones most likely to refuse to use the meter or take you on an unnecessarily long route to inflate the fare. Instead, hail a taxi or tuk-tuk that’s passing by. Or, if you’re tech-savvy, download Grab, which is similar to Uber. I’ve never had any problems using that taxi app.

Watersports scams

Two of my friends had their Thai holidays ruined by separate jet ski scams. Both incidents were similar and involved threats of violence. Yet it’s so easy to safely enjoy watersports in Thailand if you follow certain rules.

Avoid the vendors on beachfronts that offer jet ski, banana boat, kayak or parasailing activities. Like countless tourists before them, my friends rented jet skis off such vendors who later claimed they’d damaged the vessels and demanded exorbitant compensation. These vendors often have local police on their payroll, and once these officers arrive at the scene you’re even deeper in trouble.

Instead, organize your watersports through a big four or five-star hotel. Even if you’re not a guest at that property, they’ll gladly accept your business. Luxury hotels don’t want their customers being scammed, so they use trustworthy vendors. And, on the off chance the vendor arranged by the hotel still tries to scam you, you won’t be alone, you’ll have the hotel on your side.

Hiring motorbikes and cars is risky in Thailand

Particularly in the beach areas of Thailand where taxis are expensive – Phuket, Krabi, Koh Samui and Pattaya – foreign tourists often choose to rent a motorbike or car. This is risky considering that, according to a 2019 New York Times report, Thailand has the world’s second-highest road deaths per capita, while ranking first for motorbike deaths.

Even if you avoid injury, having a crash in a rented vehicle or motorbike leaves you vulnerable to being scammed. If you don’t speak Thai, the other party in that crash has the huge advantage of being first to give their version of events to the Thai police, who typically have a very limited grasp of English.

There are so many ways such an event could turn nasty for a tourist that I don’t have space to list them all. Instead, I’ll cut straight to the solution: use a dash cam. If you’re hiring a car, either pre-book one with a dash cam or buy one of these surprisingly-cheap devices and attach it yourself. For tourists renting a motorbike, buy a camera you can mount on your helmet. Not only will it protect you from being scammed if you have a crash, but the footage will assist in any insurance claims you may need to make.

A dash cam will not, however, protect you from the scams run by some car and motorbike hire companies. Firstly, do not let the company keep your passport, a request many make. Only allow them to photocopy it. Because some unscrupulous companies use possession of your passport as leverage to scam you.

Secondly, take extensive photos of the hire vehicle or motorbike before driving away, and immediately email those photos to the company. This is proof of the condition of the car at the time of hire, preventing them from later charging you for pre-existing damage. 

Miscellaneous scams

These scams are less common than the others but you should be aware of them regardless.

Do not buy gems or expensive jewellery in Thailand unless you’re an expert in these items, or have a trustworthy expert by your side. You will get fleeced.

Bars in redlight districts are notorious for presenting inflated bills so confirm the price of drinks before ordering.

If a tuk-tuk driver offers you a tour for a remarkably low price they very likely will take you to lots of places you’re not interested in, including tailors, gift shops and gem stores. They get a kick back from each location.

In general, be wary of any Thai person who randomly approaches you in a busy tourist area speaking good English. Most Thai people with fluent English skills are too busy with their professions to hang around in public making small talk with foreigners.

Such slick scammers are particularly common outside major tourist attractions – famous temples or palaces - where they’ll warn you that either the palace is closed, or that your clothing is inappropriate and you shouldn’t enter. They’ll quickly suggest an alternate activity, one that will result in your money transferring to their wallet. Ignore them.

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15 Comments

  • Nik said

    Thanks for the 5th tip, I really didn't consider that such kind of a scam is also possible. I'll be careful now.

  • Tammy Witherspoon said

    All in all. COMMON SENSE should prevail.

    If it sounds too good to be true it usually isn't

    Its good to trust BUT BETTER NOT TO. *** PERIOD***

    Especially if your traveling.

    NO said firmly is an amazing vernacular. It is definitive. Good people DON'T say it often enough.

  • Ra said

    You also forgot how nearly every taxi driver tries to scam you by not reseting the metre or not turning it on at all or my personal favourite takes you some place far and isolated (no taxis in sight for miles) and says hes out of gas probably has his buddies waiting for you, when some one does anyof this you can take foto if ghier liscence and taxi number then report them

  • We Are Not Tourists said

    This list is missing one of the most notorious scams: the TAT travel agency scam!

    We got ripped off 900€ because of being too naive.Here's the whole story!!
    http://www.wearenottourists.com/bangkok-travel-agency-scam/

  • Ross Mason said

    This place should be a tropical paradise, but I'm not wanting to go. Too many rip offs. The latest was the Rock hotel in Bangkok scammed 4350 baht for damage to towels and linen. Stuff was worth a tenth of that. I don't want to go to a place where westerners are hated and ripped off.

  • Tina said

    I also had a towel situation at the hotel where it was a bit more dirty due to the elephant sanctuary and they tried to charge us a lot per towel instead of washing it. I had to take it to a local laundromat to wash it myself and sure enough it came right off. We were also ripped off by the taxi drivers here in Phuket.

  • Owen said

    26 Nov 2018 - We were approached outside Pratunam Mall. A man told us that day is a special day in Thailand: Everyone heads to the temples to pray for their wishes to come true. That man, wearing a photo badge, claimed to be the traffic controller for the Princess motorcade passing through the road junction that morning. "Traffic controller" recommended that we visit a temple that is only open this day, once a year. What's more, for that day only, there's a special offer by the Thailand tourism board we must take advantage of: a two-way ride by tuktuk for 60 baht only.

    When we arrived at the temple, a young man greeted us and taught us how to pray. He then directed us to the other side of the temple to pray to the Buddha. There, we met a well-dressed man who claimed to be John Kwek, cousin of Kwek Leng Beng, Singapore's billionaire businessman. He said he is leading the Hong Leong Group's operations outside Singapore and Malaysia. "John Kwek" was very kind to tell us about the temple history, his life story and how he recovered from disease with the help of the red orange sapphire gem he's wearing. He recommended that we get the same gem before the end of day in order for it to absorb the positive energy. If we miss this, we have to wait for the same day next year. "John Kwek" was very convincing with the photos and videos in his tablet.

    After leaving the temple, without any instruction, our tuktuk driver brought us to a local gem store. "Tuktuk driver" insisted that we enter the shop to have a look. My family of 7, with 2 seniors and 2 children in tow, quickly walked through the shop and bought nothing. To much displeasure of "Tuktuk driver", we demanded to return to Pratunam Mall.

    We are fortunate not to lose any money, except our precious time. From this experience, we would like to urge all to be extra careful in tourist areas because that's usually where con-men prey on unsuspecting foreign visitors.

  • David said

    Thanks for sharing! If we can add from our community (https://travelscams.org/asia/thailand/), watch out as well for the khlong scam which can happen in 2 ways.

    Firstly, someone tells you that an attraction (e.g. Wat Pho/Grand Palace) is closed. He then offers you a discounted price on his friend’s longtail boat to explore Bangkok’s famous khlongs and floating markets which are only open today! You will be led to the tourist boat and charged 3-4x the normal price.

    Another version is to claim that the boat is leaving and that you need to hurry. The tout offers to send you to the pier on a bike, but actually brings you to a more expensive boat.

  • David said

    Thanks for sharing! Watch out as well for the khlong scam which can happen in 2 ways.

    Firstly, someone tells you that an attraction (e.g. Wat Pho/Grand Palace) is closed. He then offers you a discounted price on his friend’s longtail boat to explore Bangkok’s famous khlongs and floating markets which are only open today! You will be led to the tourist boat and charged 3-4x the normal price.

    Another version is to claim that the boat is leaving and that you need to hurry. The tout offers to send you to the pier on a bike, but actually brings you to a more expensive boat.

  • Carvell said

    ADD on more to the list - JET SKI SCAM.

    Here's the link of that video, where these scammers tried to SCAM foreigners & asked for $30.000 for a minor dent.

    https://youtu.be/yMIsVC7ijY8

  • Jeff said

    Rule #1 - DO NOT TRUST ANY THAI WHO APPROACHES AND SPEAKS WITH YOU.

    ALL OF IT WILL BE LIES - at least 99% of the time. They have created elaborate scams that can involve multiple people.

    This prevents most BS, with one simple rule. There is NO SUCH THING as a "curious, helpful or friendly Thai stranger".

    If someone approaches you - no matter what they look like or say, reply "OK Thanks". Do NOT ENGAGE.
    Afterward, keep walking or ignore them.

  • Richard said

    On.my first trip we.got. Hijacked. To a tailor shop




  • Richard said

    I am fluent in Mandarin Chinese. Putomgjua and fool them. With that and lol





  • John Dean said

    Is there any scrams linked to cosmetic surgery in Thailand?

  • Mary Vanien said

    Brits living in Thailand claiming to be registered English language business took money to provide students from China. Please look out for school iTEACH and ITEFL LTD.

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