One Bizarre Night — Poker Scam in Saigon

202 comments

A Very Close Call -- Poker Scam in Saigon

I met Mr. Giang in the park across from my hotel. He was a very amiable old guy and we spent a half hour chatting. He had to leave, but wondered if I’d meet him back here the next day so he could introduce me to his niece and we could all have a “nice conversation.” I warily agreed. It would turn out to be one of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had.

That night I met up with with fellow travel bloggers, Dave and Colin, and we spent the night drinking cheap beer and Vietnamese whiskey. Dave and I were comparing events of the day and he mentioned how he’d been befriended by a local who took him home for dinner to meet his sister who was a nurse and was about to move to New Zealand.

After a friendly dinner and chit chat, he’d been told a story about their sick grandmother and had give them $10 US to help with medical costs. He suspected that it was a scam, but had got a good meal and a taxi ride out of the deal so he wasn’t too worried about the money. I told him about my appointment to meet Mr. Giang tomorrow at 3:00. Dave laughed and said “I wonder if his grandmother is sick, too?”

Mr. Giang met me at the park as agreed and brought his cousin (whose name I forget) along. She was in her late thirties and was very interested in learning more about the US. As we crossed the park, I saw Dave sitting on a bench reading. He laughed and waved — his bus left at 7:00 and he was killing time.

I thought we were just going to meet for coffee, but they flagged down a taxi, explaining that they wanted to treat me to a real meal and introduce me to their family. I didn’t really want to go, but hated to be rude, so I went along. Traffic was heavy and the taxi took a good fifteen minutes to reach their house. I was, of course, completely lost.

Mr Giang introduced me to his brother, Woody, who worked on a cruise ship as a blackjack dealer

Their home was a nice two story concrete place with a living room area and small kitchen filling the lower floor. As I walked in, I smelled food cooking and saw a Vietnamese man sitting on the sofa watching the basketball finals. Mr Giang introduced us — this was his brother, Woody, who was a Lakers fan and worked on a cruise ship. Woody’s English was flawless and we chatted about Vietnam and his job as a dealer in the ship’s casino.

Woody worked on his days off as a dealer for the VIP room of a club here in Saigon and gave me the low down on rich people and their attitude towards gambling. “They don’t care if they lose a hundred grand gambling, but they’ll stiff you on tips every time.” He had run a game just last night with some foreigners and the agreement was that the dealer got 10% of the winnings, but a businessman from Singapore had won $80,000 and only tipped him $50.

About this time, dinner was served and the four of us sat down to enjoy rice, a couple of vegetable dishes, and baked fish. Woody asked if I was familiar with a game called “Poker 21″ and I admitted that I’d never heard of it. “After dinner, I’ll teach it to you.” I replied that I’d like to learn but that I wasn’t interested in gambling. Warning bells were starting to tinkle in the distance.

“No, no… I’ll just show you how to play,” was the reply. After we’d eaten, Woody led me upstairs to his room where he had a small table and chairs set up by his bed. He pulled out a pad of paper and drew a map of the casino where he worked, showing me how his job was to watch the tables for cheating and where the VIP room was, where he’d deal cards for an hour a night.

“Never play against me because you cannot win.”

Poker 21 turned out to be a form of blackjack where you could bet after each card and bluffing was an integral part of the game. He pulled out some cheap poker chips and I reminded him that I was not going to play for money. “Oh no,” he replied. “Never play against me because you cannot win.”

After we’d covered the basics, he said “Now, I will show you how to cheat.” He had me shuffle the cards, then dealt out two hands. The imaginary player’s hand was a twenty and mine was a twenty one. He dealt again and I had a twenty while the other hand was a nineteen. I watched his hands closely and couldn’t see any sleight of hand. He was good.

“I’m working the casino in Nepal in August. We could make a half million dollars in an hour, and split it 50-50.”

He then showed me his method of signaling what the other person’s hidden card was. After dealing, if he placed his hands together right over left, the down card was an ace. Touching his elbow was an nine, etc.

To further simplify things, he could tell me when to bet by touching his wedding ring. “I’m working the casino in Nepal in August. Maybe you can come visit and I’ll get you into the VIP room. We could make a half million dollars in an hour, and split it 50-50.”

“I’m afraid I won’t be in Nepal until much later in the year, Woody. And I don’t have the kind of money I’d need to even play.” “Oh, I could get you the chips as a loan. You’d repay me and we’d split the winnings,” he replied with a wink. “But before I could get you into the VIP room, you’d need to practice. And then I would want to test you to see if you can handle the pressure. With chips, it’s easy but real money makes a man nervous.” He wrote the word “TEST” on the sheet of paper.

He produced two $100 bills and laid them on the table. “I thought we agreed there would be no money, Woody.”

“This is just for learning. It’s my money, so there’s no risk for you.”

About this time, the phone rang and he spoke to someone for a minute. “That was the man from Singapore — he wants me to deal for him again tonight — says I’m his lucky dealer. Maybe this time he will pay me.”

He wanted me to come play at his table tonight, thinking we were going to scam some foreigners.

Now, it was starting to fall into place — or so I thought. He wanted me to come play at his table tonight, thinking we were going to scam some foreigners. I, of course, would be the one fleeced in the end. I started looking for a way to wrap this up. His cousin had joined us and was telling me how good a dealer he was and babbling on about this or that.

There was a knock at the door and a sweaty, spastic man in a shirt and tie walked in, carrying a small satchel. Woody said “Oh, you’re early,” and then introduced us. This was Mister Li from Singapore. Oh shit.

“We’re just playing a friendly game,” Woody explained to Mr. Li. “Perhaps you’d like to join in before we leave for the casino?” Mr. Li would, of course, be honored to play against an American. “America is a great country,” he declared. “But Singapore is number one!”

Should you ever find yourself in such a situation, this is the point where you stand up and walk away.

Should you ever find yourself in such a situation, this is the point where you stand up and walk away. Apparently, I’m not that smart. I wasn’t thinking quickly enough and was awestruck by how smooth and well-played this setup was. Deer in the headlights.

Within a minute, I had $200 in chips sitting in front of me and Mr. Li had produced $500 which he had swapped for chips. Woody was shuffling the cards. None of the money was mine, but I knew it wasn’t intended to stay that way.

I only had about $50′s worth of Vietnamese dong on me, but visions of me standing at an ATM with a knife to my back were starting to flit around my head. Mr. Li was a damned good actor, playing to role of a arrogant –but stupid– businessman. He had a greased-down hair, thick glasses, and a cheap tie. There was always a hint of spittle hanging around the corner of his mouth.

The cards were dealt and I realized only then that I was trapped. I couldn’t fold the hand and walk away, because then I would owe Woody his $200. Woody was winking at me furiously but Mr. Li was somehow oblivious to it. I, of course, won the hand and now had $600 in chips.

Looking back, that was the moment to give them the chips back and walk away, but it didn’t occur to me at the time — I was so busy trying to think of a way out that I couldn’t see the obvious. They kept the pace up and any quiet moment was smoothly interrupted by a question from the cousin or Mr. Li. The cards flew again and I won again. Mr. Li got another $1,000 in chips.

Mr. Li was dealt a blackjack and won the ante. On the next hand, I drew a twenty-one, beating his twenty. “I’m sorry, but I have an appointment to go to,” I lied. “This is my last hand. Mr. Li was disappointed, but agreed. Woody was shaking his head — apparently, we hadn’t ‘taken’ Mr. Li for enough yet. I was done with the whole thing and was tired of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

In just ten minutes, things had spun completely out of control. I had no money in the game, but knew it was just a matter of time.

For the last hand, Woody touched his ring again and I drew a card to give me a twenty one. Mr. Li had a ten showing. I bet low and he raised me so that I had to go all in.

Woody slipped up then and announced that no more cards would be dealt, despite the fact that Mr. Li had not indicated whether or not he wanted a card. A real gambler would have caught it. If I’d had any doubts about their collusion, that would have answered them.

Mr. Li reached into his bag, pulling out a brick of $100 bills that was at least eight inches thick. “I bet $50,000″ he said.

It was Mr. Li’s turn to bet and he reached into his bag, pulling out a brick of $100 bills that was at least eight inches thick. “I bet $50,000″ he said with a big smile. The shoe had dropped and it was one hell of a big one.

“I thought this was a friendly game, Mr. Li. You’re trying to buy the pot.”

“I like to win,” he replied, grinning wide.

I had two choices: fold and owe Woody $200, or agree to match a $50,000 bet. Woody was winking furiously again, as if he had something stuck in his eye. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have that kind of money on me,” I explained. Woody jumped in and said that he would guarantee my bet, as I had plenty of cash back at my hotel room. Mr Li insisted on seeing the money and we waited patiently while Woody left the room to get his stash. How the hell am I going to get out of this?

He returned with $18,000 in cash, but Mr. Li was still not satisfied — he wanted to see all of it. “I’ll accept any currency — I am a business man. Gold is good, too.” Woody did one hell of a job of looking annoyed and feigning insult that Mr. Li wouldn’t take him at his word. Seeing my chance, I asked “Perhaps, you have time for me to go to my hotel and get my money?”

Mr. Li thought this was a great idea — he would leave, too, and we’d call him when I returned. Woody pulled two envelopes from a cabinet and we sealed our cards inside with a glue stick that just happened to be lying around. The cash and cards went into the cabinet, which was locked. Mr. Li insisted on holding the key. “I have $50,000 in that cabinet. Maybe someone tries to help themselves to my money.” Woody glared at him.

“This is very exciting! What will you do with your $25,000?”

Woody led Mr. Li out of the room and the cousin started complaining about how rude Mr. Li was, insulting Woody in his own home.

I tried to tune her out, calculating the odds of my escaping the situation. When she noticed I wasn’t paying attention, she said “This is very exciting! What will you do with your $25,000? Stay in Vietnam longer?”

Woody returned and calmly explained that he had friends who would loan him money for a short period of time, but he wasn’t sure he could come up with the full $50,000. “How much can you contribute, Johnny? I might not need it, but a reserve would help — even if it’s only six or seven thousand.”

“The banks are closed, Woody — I can’t get that kind of money.”

“He said he would take gold. You can buy gold with your card from a shop. Just get a receipt.” Woody was a resourceful man.

“Okay, I’ll get what I can. Can you call a cab?”

The cab arrived and Mr. Giang and the cousin climbed in with me. Everyone had been asking what hotel I was staying at, but I’d conveniently forgotten the name, so we agreed to meet at the same spot in the park again. Traffic was very heavy and it took nearly half an hour to reach the park.

The cousin peppered me constantly with inane questions about the US — how much a cab costs there, how far away Mexico was from my home town, and such. Mr. Giang joined in with more of the same, always keeping me busy so I wouldn’t have time to think. Neither of them seemed overly excited about the fact that their family was about to win $25,000.

I think the plan was for me to return with as much money as I could gather, only to find that Mr. Li and I both had twenty-one. The cards would have to be dealt again and Mr. Li would insist on cutting them or such, denying Woody his opportunity to give me a winning hand. Either that, or I’d just be robbed outright.

I’d expected one of them to insist on coming with me to the hotel and had planned on telling them to screw themselves and making a run for it. To my surprise, they both agreed to wait at the park while I got my passport and the money. I crossed the busy street, walked past my hotel, turned the corner and ran into the first alley I saw.

Saigon is famous for it’s narrow, twisting alleys and I got lost as quickly as I could, taking every turn that led away from the park. Five minutes later, I popped out on a main street and saw the awkwardly-named Dung Restaurant, where we had eaten dinner the night before. Looking over my shoulder, I rushed in and took a table in the back, as far from the entrance as possible.

“Fancy meeting you here!” a voice said, scaring the living hell out of me. I looked up and saw Dave sitting at the table across from me, working on his laptop. “Dude,” I said. “Do I have a story for you…”

I was completely amped with adrenaline, and launched into my tale while ordering a beer. When I mentioned the card game, Dave laughed loudly and said “Poker 21?” He crossed his hands together and touched his elbow, saying “Ace. Nine.”

“You ran into the same scam?!” I was stunned.

“Yeah, didn’t I tell you last night? I got the same deal, right before they told me about their sick grandmother.”

“No, I don’t remember you mentioning it. How far did you go with the whole thing?” I asked.

“Oh, when he mentioned the test and pulled out money, I said ‘This is where I stop.’”

“You’re obviously a smarter man than me, Dave. Now I have to change hotels.”

{ 202 comments… read them below or add one }

Paula March 29, 2012 at 7:23 am

I had the same thing happen to me last night, although different characters. Had a girl named ‘Abby’ and her brother lure me at the Art Museum. I left when they took me to the gold shop. I don’t know what they would have done if I left at the house. As soon as the guy started to talk about gambling, I knew I was in trouble.

At least we just wasted time and not money as some people have

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Paula March 29, 2012 at 8:58 am

I also wanted to mention that this happened in Ho Chi Minh city and I was getting terrified during the game because I was wondering how to get out. I ran so fast when we were at the gold shop because who knows how violent they could be. That was why I went along with it at the house and it was just a matter of waiting things out. I think for me, I felt like if I’m in someone’s house, I’m on their turf and therefore vulnerable and that was why I went along with it. It probably took 3 hours of my evening. The girl seemed friendly but on the taxi ride to her ‘uncle’ I got a bad vibe. How said that the authorities are in on some of the money.

I advised my hostel to post a warning as it’s happened to others who stayed at my hostel. Someone already mentioned this, but if hotels notified visitors, it would prevent a great deal of suffering.

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teenie April 19, 2012 at 1:18 am

this is creepy..
and dave is like a ghost.. wonder why he didn’t stop you from going with them knowing exactly that he experienced the same scam as you were about to experience..

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Dave April 19, 2012 at 1:33 am

Because Dave didn’t know … at the time we briefly talked about it, the only thing we knew was that Wes had met some guy and was going to catch up for a chat again the next day. I wasn’t even certain that what had happened to me that day was even a scam – it felt like one, but I’d walked away before I could be certain.

Of course, 24 hours later there was a very different story to tell. ;-)

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wes April 19, 2012 at 8:35 am

It’s all Dave’s fault! ;)

Not really. He had sense enough to walk away early so there really wasn’t anything for him to talk about.

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Danny April 19, 2012 at 2:36 am

Just to update everyone, as of April, 2012 various Filipino groups are actively doing this scam in both Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh. I am in Phnom Penh and have been approached by Filipinos on three separate occasions in the past three weeks. They always started by asking where I bought my shirt. When I told them I was here for several months, they ended the conversation in a few sentences. The third time I told the man I was here for a few days he showed me pictures of his wife and daughter, which I believe were fake because they looked like models. The story is always the same: his/her daughter/sister is going to my country to work in an ambulance/be a nurse etc. They have all the capital cities memorized, and have a bunch of things they say to make it look like they’re established people. I.e. one told me his wife owns the store across the street, etc. I really hope police do more to catch them.

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Eric May 6, 2012 at 10:21 pm

Same thing happened to me in Saigon. Interesting to read someone elses experience on it. I walked out as soon as it became clear they wanted me to gamble for money. I felt a bit stupid for having been i the situation in the first place. But they certainly prey on peoples politeness and its all so well choreographed its easy to walk into.

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Norm June 8, 2012 at 5:18 pm

You gotta be crazy to go off on your own with locals. These stories remind me of selling my blood in Portugese Timor in 1973. I was laying there watching my blood stream into the collecting bottle, thinking … “Wut the F**K am I doing selling blood for $20, in this shit assed place on my own? I could dissappear and no one would be wiser”. Never did that again. I don’t even traipse around at night in Asia. At least you had the sense to not carry too much money on your adventure!

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wes June 12, 2012 at 10:58 am

Yeah, I let the urge for a good story over ride commen sense. Got off ptty lucky.

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Siem Reap Cambodia June 28, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Wow, yeah I’ve been approached MANY times while down in Phnom Penh- usually they love my sunglasses, or my shorts (no homo!) – and I had one person inquire as to what type of ice-cream i was enjoying – lol

Always good for a laugh – thanks for the heads up as to their real intent – and here I just thought i was fashionable with a good taste in ice-cream

I havent had the balls to go with any of them though – good read thanks :)

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wes June 28, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Yeah, anyone who wants you to meet their sister,/cousin who’s going to be a nurse in the US… that’s your sign.

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elizabeth July 18, 2012 at 7:13 am

wow – almost the exact same thing just happened to me in phnom penh. it’s eerie the similarities, even mr. li from singapore! i left just as he came in – unfortunately it took me that look to smell a scam. they were *really* smooth.

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Mark July 22, 2012 at 3:16 am

Just had a Filipino guy (early 30s) n his ‘cousin’ (late 20s) approach me by HCM museum and they randomly started asking me questions and asking about my stay. Figured I’d indulge for a lil bit and made with the yak yak for about 5 mins, constantly looking around and over my shoulder. I guess they could tell I wasn’t having it, so they let me go on my way.. I know it sounds terrible, but this advice has guided me well on my travels: ” If a random person (who isn’t obviously another tourist) starts acting overtly-friendly, walk away. They either want to well you crap or scam you.”

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wes July 25, 2012 at 9:28 am

Yup, generally anytime someone goes way out of their way to befriend you, it’s for their benefit and not yours. Sad but that’s been my experience.

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Joey July 24, 2012 at 9:24 pm

You could have been rich if you stayed a little longer Wes…. well that or be one kidney short..but hey free ice

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Mui Ne October 2, 2012 at 11:22 am

Sigh. Welcome to Vietnam. Some folks just have no sense of appropriateness, particularly when several of these sorts of complaints have originated in Danang. Casinos are the last sort of place folks posting here should be going.

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Norm October 2, 2012 at 9:36 pm

I guess the Vietnamese figure if from 1954-75, the USA was stupid enough to attack Vietnam thru hellish jungles, swamps, 37C heat, 99% humidity, heavy cloud cover, monsoon rains … expending trillions of USD … then surely the next generation Americans will be stupid enough to come into Viet Casinos and blow large amounts of USD. Not to worry … there are plenty of Chinese, who are more than willing to frantically gamble their entire lifetime savings whenever they get a chance to do so. I know of some Thai/Chinese guys who each lost 1 Million USD playing in Cambodian Casinos … but they are rich enough to afford it. They managed to win some of it back over the next few weeks, but both lost around 500k USD.

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greg October 2, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Hi All,
I am annoyed at this recent post by Hung,
This post was about people who have been scammed by people plying a dodgy gambling scam on visitors to Vietnam. This guy is using this to then tout for his casino in Da Nang. Have we not have enough of casinos and scan artists already. He should tout for business somewhere else! Maybe the Philipines would be a good place to market his Casino as Philipinos are so much into gambling.

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wes October 4, 2012 at 9:46 am

Agreed — his comment was spam and has been removed.

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Sheryl October 9, 2012 at 8:54 am

oh my! let me apologize for what you (and all the other victims) have experienced on this scam. Glad to know that you were able to escape. I trust that people in power (like the government or police) are doing something to stop this crime. lets hope for the best.

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Tim October 16, 2012 at 4:09 pm

This happened to me last week.They drugged me by putting the drug in coffee after i didnt want to play 21 and would rather watch tv. When a man in a suit entered the room i took off out of there and started to feel the effects of the drug when in the back alley way. I made it to a childrens hospital before taken to emergency. I was in a real bad way.The way i was approached was how every one on here was. A girl who went by the name of Hannah befriended me told me her 21 year old sister was going to live in Perth where i live and needs a contact or help when shes there.This is the short version of the story but she said her family would cook dinner. The uncle then appeared for dinner and thats when it all went south. Very scary i hope these guys are caught and no one else ends ip like me or worse.Tim

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wes October 19, 2012 at 12:42 pm

So glad you got out okay. I didn’t have any drugging or threat of violence but I’ve heard from many others who have, as well as you.

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Norm October 16, 2012 at 10:36 pm

You were lucky to get out of there with your wallet! This website provides good evidence of this type of scams. Travellers must be constantly aware of going on around them. If you find yourself in this scenario, your response should be, “No thanks”, and hit the road. Just walk away … preferrably in a public place. Be really careful at night.

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Tim October 17, 2012 at 7:49 am

Yes i consider myself lucky. If they wanted to they could have not let me out. There was a gate guarded by a well built body guard who wasn’t there when i entered the house. It would have been 5 against 1 and that’s just the people i could see. I was drugged too so it would have been game over. I had about 200 dollars on me left my wallet at hotel.

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wes October 19, 2012 at 12:36 pm

And these people prey on the nature of tourists to not want to be rude. They’re very slick.

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oimebaby November 27, 2012 at 9:28 pm

I had the same thing happen to me. Same guy sitting on the couch watching sports. Same table upstairs where I sat on the bed. I am going to write out my story and blog it as well! Mine went slightly different at the end. So weird.

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Kristen November 28, 2012 at 10:04 am

I also just had this happen to me in Phnom Penh. What is so overwhelming and disheartening about the situation is how sly and deceptive they are! You read about these scams on the internet and are certain “I’d never let that happen to me,” but when it is happening to you, it’s a completely different story. I was also fortunate to make it out with all my money and belongings intact without being hurt, but I know it could have been a really messy ending!

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Netro December 28, 2012 at 5:37 am

A girl I met in Cambodia was scammed on the first day of her 4 month stay, so I knew there is some kind of scam going on, but she didn’t want to talk about ot because she understand how stupid it was. Anyway, that was enough for me to google it… found a blog on travelfish… and yesterday, while walking on Phnom Penh riverside (Sisovath Quay it’s called, I guess) I got a question about my sandals and the guy introduced me his cousin and she was about to go to Slovenia, well he got confused because I’m from Slovakia… I knew it was a poker scam in less than 5 seconds (thanks to people sharing the storirs) and on quiestion when I arrived I replied long time ago (in fact it’s a month) and I was not interesting for him. He said merry xmas and bye. I was tempted to say somethong about it or wait hidden in the alley for another victim, but it’s organized crime and I didn’t wanna get into bigger trouble.

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wes December 30, 2012 at 7:43 am

Yeah, I’d just avoid these guys all together. Bad news…

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Hariram January 16, 2013 at 11:36 am

Heehee…very entertaining! Enjoyed reading it :)

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Marnie February 7, 2013 at 2:12 am

Thank you for sharing. I was just involved in the EXACT SAME scam in battambang, Cambodia, everything down to the sick grandmother and the glue stick . The only difference in our stories is that they got the money- (all of my savings for New York) out of me before I threw in the towel and ran. Because they now had my money but not the total sum (as the dealer couldn’t fulfill his part of our deal)  I was expected to meet the business man in Bangkok with all of the cash on me and finish the game there. They told me I was to take a taxi to the border that night (with $35000 US on me) and gave me a phone of theirs to call them when I had arrived. I am a 20 year old girl traveling alone  and the terrifying thoughts that were running through my head really helped them get me into their pocket. Travelers need to be far more aware of this scam. The fear and confusion- the fact that I don’t even gamble and am suddenly involved in a game with a sum of money collosally over my head is just insane. 

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wes February 12, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Glad to hear you got away safely. Sad to know it’s now in Cambodia.

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Warren Johnson February 16, 2013 at 11:52 pm

Wow, sorry to hear that Marnie.

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Warren Johnson February 16, 2013 at 11:51 pm

I encountered this setup about a year ago. I was walking near Ben Thanh Market and a well-spoken Asian man approached me to spark up a conversation. I am extremely skeptical so I was watching my back while I chatted. I let him entice me to sit down at a cafe and have a drink. Then, his sister (or cousin maybe?) came by and he explained how she was going to be a nurse in Chicago. I declined the free diet coke and also the offer to come to their home. I hadn’t read about this scam at that time. Someone once told me that Asians don’t simply walk up to Westerners and strike up a conversation about the weather, they always want something.

Anytime someone tells me they’re traveling internationally, I tell them to first go to the US State department travel advisory for that country and then research all the scams (it’s easy, just google “scam thailand” or whereever).

I can see how people can get wrapped up in it. I’m sorry to the previous posters who got sucked in.

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Barry March 31, 2013 at 7:07 am

This is STILL going on? I was scammed in this way back in the late ’80s in Bangkok, lost a couple of thou thanks to their appeal to my vanity and greed.

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kelly April 16, 2013 at 2:59 am

ya i ran in to this about 2 years ago in sigon thay do play on your weakness i think. i was fealing very very uneazy about what he was talking about new i had to get out. i didnot get in to card game. just kept telling him no thank i didnot want to play or learn how to play even thow i had played card games befor. when i was leaven in cab she did ask for cash. for sick grama later that day ran in to same girl down town and was not at hospital hehe only payed for cab ride but in a lot of thing over there if your gutt says get out lissen to it and get out its usally right IMO

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Gary Pearson April 22, 2013 at 2:10 am

I also want to mention that same thing happened with me, but I walked out as soon it become clear to me that they are gambling with me for money. It’s very interesting to read someone else experience as well.

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Liam mcgurk June 9, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Shit just happened to me 4000 the guy said his mum had a heart condition I was looking down in a park an a girl helped me out dose anyone know how to catch them or get the money back because I went to the consulate an the lady at the desk nearly stared crying I have been traveling 2 months an never had anything bad happen 3 days before I leave we need to get this message out there to other travelers I don’t really care about the money as long as I know it doesn’t happen to anyone ales.

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marnie August 25, 2013 at 5:44 pm

we need to get the message out- i had been travelling for two months too- alone and all was fine- it was only in the week before I left to travel america that they got me in cambodia and i lost everything. I am the same- money is replacable but the fact that it is happenening to someone else right now kills me

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Silly me July 23, 2013 at 8:10 am

just happened a couple of hours ago… Phnom Penh, and within 2 hours of me being in the city. An older gentleman who was on route to hospital because of his eyes and his 30 something niece befriended me (Fillipino). They came out with what I now know as the usual story… sister moving to my country. They are indeed so slick.

Foolishly I agreed to meet an hour later and go to theirs to meet the sister. 1 Hour later the 30 something lady was on her own and we took a $3 tuktuk, which I paid for, to the house. Coffee, instant noodles with a fried egg… seemingly not drugged thankfully. The sister did turn up, was pretty damn hot and had a lovely adopted american accent.

Anyway, guy sat on sofa watching sports like I’ve now read elsewhere and lots of questions fired at me to distract. Another uncle enters who happened to have worked in various Australian Casinos that I had been to. Went upstairs to learn ‘the secrets’ of gambling. Blackjack bullshit, clearly the man was good with his hands as the practice rounds just so happened to perfectly show the various different scenarios. What are the chances?? I am enjoying the little meet up to this point, although I do naturally feel uncomfortable at being so welcome immediately in someone’s house. Seemed all rather innocuous and friendly. Of course, the family keep hinting and pretending that the hot sister is now my girlfriend. ha. ha

Anyway, turns out the Uncle’s friend won $40,000 last night at the house and only gave him a little tip, now he wants to get his friend back and with my help. Whips out 2 $100 dollar bills. I foolishly pick them up and then my mind finally clicks. I place the money back on the table and I calmly say that I have no desire for money and anyway I no longer gamble as some of my family have got into major debt due to it (somewhat true). He seems rather disappointed and I reassure him that he will get the chance to avenge this friend some day. He says something along the lines of ‘yeah, with a knife to the neck’. Cue nervous laughter from everyone at poor joke.

Rather abruptly my little family visit comes to a friendly end. The cute sister takes my email address, maybe she will add me on facebook? The 30 something women shares a moto away from the house with me, getting me to sit in the middle, with her behind, probably in an attempt to slip her sly hands into my pockets/bags. She got nothing and instead, she ends up spending most of the journey feeling my arms and insisting that I hold on to her thighs for safety. Even kissing her hand on her departure from the moto and placing kissed hand on my lips. Perv.

The sister said she will email me tomorrow to see if I want to meet up. Fat chance of that now unless they want to try to re-scam me. Shame, she really was nice.

The search for a wife continues and maybe I will move hotels tomorrow just in case. they know my email address, how old I am and my hotel. Not enough info to get me in to trouble but it does make you wonder.

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wes July 24, 2013 at 11:59 am

Yes, please move asap.

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wes July 24, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Seriously.

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Dan H July 25, 2013 at 5:36 am

First of all… Loving the blog. This is the third post I’ve read so far, and I’ll be coming back for more.

And I totally see where you’re coming from… A beautiful scam is a work of art. I’ve also been ripped off just to see what happens, see where it’s going. It’s like “Brothers Bloom” or “Matchstick Men.” There’s just something that overrides common sense. It must be that curiosity so tragic for a particular feline.

I’m glad you got out of this one unscathed. Sounds pretty scary. I was fleeced for some cash by a friend-of-a-friend after a pity play. Disappearing wallet, keys, etc. Needed a place to stay. Turned out to be a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, and he tried to take me for a lot more. I was out a hundred bucks or so and a whole lot of pride.

Stay safe on the rest of your travels!
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James October 15, 2013 at 11:36 am

Came across your site searching for vegabondind :-)

Will be visiting Hanoi shortly. Thanks for the heads up. Being Asian, I don’t think we are potential targets for gambling scams but you never know. We were scammed over food the last time we were at Dalat. Forgot to ask the price when we ordered & was charged a larger amount than what we thought should be the price.

Anyway, this is small amount compared to the hundred & thousand USD some of the commenters mentioned here. Like the part Mark said about being alert when talking to strangers.

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mike December 10, 2013 at 8:08 pm

Just to say I had the exact routine today in Phnom Pehn. The woman approached me near the independence monument. We talked about food for ages (I always do) and she insisted on taking me home for Filipino lunch. We had some good food then the uncle appeared and did the whole spiel about croupier and seeing big winners and having his own system but needing a partner etc etc. I got a gut feeling that something was a bit off so said I was rubbish at cards and always lost money. After that they just took me back to town. All very friendly the whole time though, even as I left. Sounds like I had a lucky escape though.

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Eva January 3, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Just happened to me in Phnom Pehn. I feel like an absolute idiot but got out losing 10 dollars and nothing nasty so lucky but I’m really unnerved as on my own. They don’t know exactly where am staying but some idea. While I’m leaving tomorrow, I’m bit scared about going out now until I leave. Should I be? Very very smooth. Riverside approached by friendly girl and chatting. Again sister moving to be nurse in Europe etc.. Arrange to meet me and I do at public place. Go on moto to house and eat breakfast all ok but ‘uncle’ there watching tv who is a croupier at intercontinental hotel. As above 1 thing leads to another and teaching me 21 and then the Singapore businessman coincidentally turns up. I’m thrown a 100 dollar bill and we play. I of course should have walked but then got bit intimidated by situation.. Suddenly playing for 50k dollars.. I have winning hand of course and we set to gain 100k. Long story short I refused to give any cash beyond the 10 even after major cajoling. I asked to leave and got dropped off safely but not near hotel. I know all sounds Implausible but when in it..it happens. Anyway I’m an idiot… But now here on my own in PP and bit worried about going out.

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Kconan January 31, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Generally speaking, if someone comes up to you in a touristy area asking to play a game, YOU are the game. Lots of variations of this one throughout Asia, shell games, Connect Four kids in Thailand, etc…

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wes February 1, 2014 at 3:04 am

Sadly, true…

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Emily March 21, 2014 at 10:47 pm

Wow!! What a horrible story! Happy everybody has gotten out okay, except for the girl that got drugged and people that lost money out of it. Happy to get the head’s up on this scam as I’ll be in HCMC in 3 weeks. Thank you very much for sharing! This is the proof that even well seasoned travelers can get stuck in awkward situations… you do always have to be careful!
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wes March 22, 2014 at 4:39 am

I’ve seen a lot of scams and this group was the smoothest I’ve ever encountered. I was lucky to get out of it — others have not been so lucky…

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Frank July 15, 2014 at 6:40 pm

You’re a great storyteller Wes. I was in Hong Kong when I met a Filipino who wanted to me meet his sister who ‘would be moving to Canada”. I politely found an excuse but often wondered after what they had planned for me.
Wish I had been that smart though when I got conned for about 3k in Bangkok…
Frank (bbqboy)
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Brad Bernard August 17, 2014 at 2:11 am

Damn you are the best storyteller, Wes. Do you seek out these situations or does bad luck just find you? Either way, I can’t think of a more entertaining blog. Really awesome shit, I can’t look away!
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