One of the things I discussed with my counsellor was that I’m too trusting. I like to see the good in people and I don’t always notice when they are trying to screw me over.
Well today I very nearly got caught in a scam thanks to my trusting nature. Now I know what you’re going to say, that I’m travelling alone and should be a bit more wary, but once I was in the following situation I did click on to what was going on. I do feel a bit stupid, but don’t worry, I’ll not be falling for this sort of thing again.
Scams are rife in this area of the world unfortunately and I’ve made sure that I’ve read through the common ones in the guide book. Don’t fall for cheap overnight bus trips, they will steal your stuff. Don’t agree to hire a driver for a cheap amount for a ‘personal tour’ as you’ll get harangued into buying jems and silver that you don’t want.
What I didn’t expect was to almost be caught up in a gambling scam.
What happened was very similar to the following description:
Card gambling scam
Risk zone: Southeast Asia, especially Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Bali
This scam is normally quite sophisticated and extremely well executed. First, you are approached by a friendly local who invites you home for some reason (kid’s birthday party, niece is moving to your home country, whatever). Back at his/her place, which is likely to be far out in the suburbs, an uncle shows up and tells you he is working as a dealer at a casino and of course knows some great tricks.
He will invite you to start practicing Blackjack and you will quickly pick up his hand signal system so you can tell what the other players have. Now with the two of you being close pals and working as a team, the dealer suggests cheating this “rich guy” who is supposedly arriving for some VIP Mahjong later on. When this guy, now presented as coming from Brunei, Singapore or even the Middle East, shows up, he does not mind some petty card gambling before his real gambling, but of course you will have to play for real money. No worries though, your old mate the dealer pays up and you start to play. Because of the dealer’s earlier learnt hand signal, your cheating system is wining you a lot. At some point, you get 21 and know that the “rich guy” has 20.
Suddenly his bets get insanely high and you, of course, can hardly believe your luck. He takes out a large bundle of cash (as in USD 10,000) and requests to see some real money from you too. You are asked to just put in as much as possible, while your dealer friend will cover the rest. With this cash now placed in a safe, the scam can go different ways. Either the game will be momentarily postponed so you can be taken to an ATM for more money, or the game will be postponed to the next day so you can bring more money from your hotel or you actually win the game but are forced to continue gambling and suddenly start losing. There is also the risk of being drugged. No matter how the scam plays out, the point is to part with all your cash (possibly including a forced ATM withdrawal).
In my case, the rich lady is ‘from Thailand’, ‘runs a rice import business’ and brought along $22,000.
Now I admit that I’ve been stupid in falling for this but I thought I was going to be learning a little about the local culture and talking to someone about what it’s like in England. I know this was naive and that I really shouldn’t be headed to people’s houses. I wouldn’t do it at home, so why do I think it’s a good idea to do it in a strange country half the world away from home? I don’t know. I like to help people, I like finding out how people live and I’m too bloody trusting. But I’ll not be again.
As soon as the brother-in-law started talking about working in a casino and how they often scam wealthy politicians and business men i knew something was up. I said I wasn’t interested in gambling, it’s not really my thing but he showed me some tricks anyway. The way they demonstrate what the opposing player has, the next card in the pack etc. I felt really uncomfortable when the rich lady showed up, but at this point i knew it was a scam as who would really bring that amount of money to a random card game in Laos? I played along but tried to give in a lose the game without causing suspicion.
The lady I’d first met was playing my hand with me though, so I wasn’t able to lose. All of a sudden we were in the final game with a potential $40,0000 on the table. I had 21 as the dealer had cheated and the rich lady had 20. I was going to win and potentially get $10,000 for doing very little. The rich lady asked to see my share of the money and the dealer postponed the game. She left and he asked what money I could put up.
Now when you are looking at $10,000 it’s very tempting but I knew I wasn’t going to hand over any of my money – I don’t have any and I hadn’t even agreed to play. I thought if I were to win then I would probably be mugged as soon as I left, or there would be a police raid or something. I could just picture myself in a Laos jail. I’d not do well.
More importantly than that, for me anyway, I don’t like lying, I don’t like cheating, I don’t want to cheat someone out of money even if they are loaded and stupid with betting. It’s not something I’m willing to do and I told the hosts this. As I had been saying all along.
This was when the brother in law started saying he thought it was too hard to raise this money and perhaps we should just end the game, but he’d try to sort something out and get his sister in law to meet me in town at half past 7. It’s nearly 9. I didn’t go back, I’ve reported them to the hostel i’m staying at, but I’m not sure the owners really understood.
I feel like a dick. I’m lucky that I’ve not been scammed, that I’m safe as obviously this could have had a very different ending but I feel that it’s important to share this for others to be warned.
So please, be careful, think before agreeing to go to people’s houses and make sure you read up on what you could fall for.
The description above I took from this website. If you are thinking of going travelling, save it to your favourites and read it every so often to remind yourself!