One Bizarre Night — Poker Scam in Saigon

206 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.”

{ 206 comments… read them below or add one }

Adam September 27, 2010 at 10:23 am

Hi Michelle,

I sent you an email a couple days ago. You may need to check your junk mail bin.

Seems they do often give out email & phone number. It’s probably fake, but even if real they can get a new sim number for a couple dollars if someone catches on.

Can you tell us anything about the house they took you, and which bank branch they took you to? These items would be extremely vital information in tracking them down.

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john September 22, 2011 at 10:59 pm

om effing god, i have only read a few paragraphs and am almost certain that this is the same group from bangkok, got me for 27000 baht back in 06. befriended me in an internet shop, invited me for lunch,took me 2 a nice house and said his sister was studying to be a nurse or something, i’m sure he said she was interested abut california, he said he worked on a cruise ship, he was amazing with a deck of cards, there was no pretty sister like in the pic he showed me, instead a 30 something yr old ugly biatch jumped in the taxi before we went to his house, he had a cook/old lady. the other guy that showed up said his name was mr.lee from singapore and had met this original guy on his cruise ship, anyway the original guy talked me into trying to hustle mr.lee before he showed up, said he would fix the deck, i said no, but as soon as mr.lee showed up, the dude threw 200 us dollars at me quickly n said ”come on”” , i igured it wasnt my money so what the hell, i ended up putting my own money on the table, the dude said we gotta show mr.lee the cash on the table after i won, anyway i got hustled, sounds like the same crew, i better finish reading though

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Chris December 20, 2011 at 12:10 am

It happened to me too in 2005 in Bangkok. They took me to a house in the northern surburbs of Bangkok.
This time the “sister” was young and pretty and Mr. Lee was from Brunei.
Fortunately i was not been drugged (although i had some food and a beer at their house) and i could walk away as soon as the “man from brunei” showed up.
I’m pretty surprised that the same thing goes on, at so many places over so many years.

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john September 22, 2011 at 11:07 pm

mr .li, now i am positive, this group must move all around se asia, i had continued living here since 06, but never saw them again, i haven’t forgotten their faces, in saigon now, thats how i came across this post, if the old lady was there serving food then i wouldnt be surprised if she was apart of their team, 3 for sure. 2 men in their late 30′s, probably early forties by now, and one ugly biatch

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john September 22, 2011 at 11:11 pm

oh, and it was the same with the huge stack of us dollars, they agreed to put all the money in a locked box together, i left the room for 30 seconds, but there was an identical box that they switched, they let me hold it, but found there was a rock inside after i later opened it, haha

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wes September 23, 2011 at 9:08 am

Ah, so that’s how it works. I never knew how they kept you from winning with your supposed unbeatable hand. I ran before we reached that stage.

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Kanaka October 5, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Locked Up Abroad episode about Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and his kidnapping of US and UK nationals in 1994. This is the reason I will NEVER go with a stranger, anywhere …

I’m having second thoughts about going to Bali now …

This same scam runs in Angeles City, Philippines …

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wes November 15, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Never go with a stranger is very good advice. I got lucky.

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Jill December 20, 2011 at 3:25 pm

i’ve been to Bali; it’s a very nice place. just always be wary of the money changers. (we lost about 400sgd to them and never realized until we returned to our hotel to re-count the money) always go to the ones inside malls.

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Ian December 1, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Looking back on my experience with these guys I’m just so glad I managed to get out without the losses written about in these comments. I’m now living in Phnom Penh (after an on the spot decision to leave and get away from these guys – worked out great for me so far I’m glad to say!) and i can say that it’s 1000 times better than Saigon. Almost all the travelers i speak to haven’t got a good word to say about the place and the expats who have more experience are far less generous with their comments.

This British show is really good http://www.bbc.co.uk/realhustle/ and identifies a lot of scams, maybe we should all write in and try and get it some exposure to help stop these vermin.

All the best to everyone looking on here, great post and an invaluable resource to all those who’ve been involved in this scam.

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mick December 2, 2010 at 4:36 am

They took me to ANZ BANK CITY BRANCH – 39 LE DUAN, DISTRICT 1, HCMC and NGOC HANG JEWELRY – TA55-56 KS-TM AN DONG PHUONG 9, QUAN 5

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Milly February 2, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Same thing happened to me in September of last year.. Except, my people were Malaysian and none of them match the photos on Adams site. I met a petite woman called “Anna” and her dealer brother “Let”.
Seems that it’s been awhile since anyone has posted here.. Have they been caught? or better still, all contracted a flesh eating virus?
I lost $500, again, I felt unable to get away till i handed over money.
I still loved Vietnam, and I won’t let a bunch of immigrant scam farkers ruin my feelings about a country when they do not represent it at all.

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wes February 2, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Sorry to hear you got taken too, but I think you have a great attitude about it. Sometimes we just have to shake it off and keep moving forward…

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Milly February 2, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Actually.. on a second glance at Adams photos.. I think Dealer “woody” was my Dealer “Let”.

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wes February 2, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Woody! He’s a bastard.

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flip March 11, 2011 at 12:28 am

sorry to hear about this… glad that you’re able to escape from them…

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wes March 11, 2011 at 8:00 am

Thanks, Flip — that was a scary night.

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Matthew March 17, 2011 at 10:49 pm

I ran into the same scam in Kuala Lumpur, I got approached in a upscale mall, she complimented my 3 year old sandals. The story was her niece was moving to Canada to study and wanted me to answer her questions, I got to their house, the niece had taken they grandmother to a doctor’s appointment but she’d be back soon. There was an “uncle” who was a black jack dealer. He offered to teach me how to “always win” I refused, after that their grandmother was in the hospital and I was jetted off to a monorail station, with all my ringgits in tact.

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wes March 18, 2011 at 12:42 pm

“nomadiversary”! Love it :)

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Roy March 18, 2011 at 1:17 am

Same thing happened to my friend in Kuala Lumpur!
Roy recently posted..Coquimbo- La Serena and TsunamisMy Profile

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wes March 18, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Yeah, I’ve heard of the scam being active there too. Hanoi as well…

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Brad March 19, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Wes,
Thanks for the info. I hadn’t heard of that scam before, and I used to hang out in sordid places in my past trips to Viet Nam. Had you been drinking? Because I could see falling for that when drinking, but when sober I would think: 1. I just met this old man, 2. He was hanging out in the park, 3. He invites me to his house when I hardly know him. 4. He drops the old, “my cousin wants to learn about the U.S.” or “practice her English” scam. As Amit Gilboa said in his notorious book “They [Viets] are greedy. Blind, overwhelming greed is very simple to understand. Despicable, but simple.” But God, I miss that place.

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Old 55 September 13, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Brad, these scams are almost exclusively run in HCMC by Filipino’s who take advantage of their ASEAN country passports to enter Vietnam for two week periods without a visa, not by Viets.

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Jonathon March 22, 2011 at 12:35 pm

WOW! I have travel quite extensively and have never heard of any thing like this. being a bit of a gambler, I might have gotten caught up in it.

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Adam March 27, 2011 at 2:18 pm

There are a lot of new photos of these guys at: http://fisheggtree.blogspot.com/search/label/Filipino

Please let us know here or there if you recognize anybody. Please do post comments, tweet, redistribute… lets get the warning out!

Safe Travels,

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alicia cass April 23, 2011 at 10:25 am

oh it kills me inside to read all that and replaying the same thing that happened to me in phenom penh.. but i was an even bigger fool.. they took 10grand from me. i’ve learned alot from it and have put it behind me but i will just try to warn others.. its great that you have!!

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Peter June 10, 2011 at 6:33 pm

I got caught up in this scam too but I have a lot more information. I met a friend here in Ho Chi Minh City who was also targetted. Those people who have been scammed and think that they have been very stupid should realize that they have probably been drugged. I would be very interested to make contact with others who have been scammed. I have photos of several people involved and I have the name of the one of the ring leaders. I also have the name and address of the jewelery shop they use to help get money from marks (my friend was taken to the same shop as me), these people are involved as well.

If you are wonderring if you are drugged one big clue is that they incessantly talk to you and do not care if you anwers aren’t coherent. My story is much longer because they tried to get more money from me – ended up being threatened with a knife in the jewelery shop.

check this website: http://www.thanhniennews.com/2010/Pages/20100508172933.aspx
it has details of the current crew working Ho Chi Minh(and photos). They actually asked me to wire money to Jovito Corpuz! I believe they have a new girl playing the niece and I beleive I have a photo of her. I will share that later. I will go and check that lnk posted by Adam.

I will also share the information on the gold shop with anyone who was scammed in Ho Chi Minh.

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Jon July 25, 2011 at 6:59 am

I hate to give my name, but do want to talk with someone. I fell for this scam and had the exact experience that was described above. I lost big bucks by going to the gold shop. I was unsuccessful in trying to stop the payment on my visa card and am now trying to pay of this debt. I would like to talk to someone out there who has more information about the current investigation. I feel that they would have stopped at nothing once I was in there house.

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wes July 25, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Oh man, so sorry to hear it. I was never threatened with violence, but there are several people who’ve mentioned here that they were. Definitely a scary situation.

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Jon July 26, 2011 at 12:54 am

Has anyone ever had any recourse with the police or with the current investigations of this scam in Saigon? It seems that they have arrested some people lately. I think the gold shop must have been working directly with the crooks.

Adam June 11, 2011 at 11:16 am

Hey Peter,

Thank you for sharing your experience. I’d love to see your photos, addresses and other info. Incidentally, there is a much newer follow-up to that newspaper story at:

http://www.thanhniennews.com/2010/Pages/20110522182739.aspx

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Di July 14, 2011 at 6:24 pm

I have just returned to Australia from Saigon. I was walking by myself in park near Ben Thanh market, District 1 when I was befriended by an intelligent, worldly woman similar to my age -56yrs and sat down to talk.
Yes, I would usually never go with a stranger, but after 2 weeks of friendly locals from South Vietnam to Hue, I fell for the story… “my niece is going to Brisbane and we are worried about her….” I was asked to meet niece for coffee and was taken to “brother’s” house by taxi. Ate lunch, brother spun the “dealer” story etc. etc., showed me how I would never lose at Poker 21 with him dealing and we would share winnings 50/50. He put US$200 for me to bet with under a sheet of paper and after a phone call, in walks “rich man from Brunei who had won $80,000″ the previous night with this “lucky dealer”.
That was it, I said I was late meeting a friend and had to go. The woman got a taxi and was taking me back to the park when she didn’t have enough money for taxi. She asked me for money and I showed her my purse with only 2,000 dong (40cents). (I had more money and credit card in my pockets.) As soon as she stopped the taxi for an ATM, I got out and made my own way back to my guesthouse making sure I wasn’t followed. I have now seen this woman’s photo online showing Vietnam scammers.
They spin such convincing conversations, but I should never have got into the taxi! A big lesson learnt. From reading other travellers’ stories, I was lucky it only cost me 40 cents and I wasn’t drugged etc.
The same day when my male travelling companion was walking by himself, he was also given the “niece” story by 2 men on 2 occassions. Because he feared being accussed of rape, he invited first man to bring his niece to the guesthouse an hour later. They never arrived.
Take care as they take advantage of our friendliness. Wish I had found these warnings before I travelled!

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wes July 15, 2011 at 9:41 am

Wow, close call. So glad you got out ok. A lot of people haven’t been so lucky.

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xu July 16, 2011 at 7:56 pm

I just came back to my hotel room after being scammed in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY as Di, two posts above! It’s just that I was too naive for too long so they have my 1000 dollars and my camera. It happened in Saigon, Ben Than market, there were two women, 40-50 years old who were visiting their brother from Thailand,w ho married a local vietnamese…they took me to their brother’s house to meet the niece. Their niece was going to study in Berlin, not in Brisbane but unfortunately as i found out while waiting for her, her mom was in surgery and she was giving blood. How did i not see the red flags everywhere is really beyond me!
200 USD was the starting capital, the brunei guy who won 80 000 and only paid the brother 500 instead of 8000 was calling to ask him to deal for him again and then we started playing. also 50/50 split if we win.
Of course the brunei man wanted to see the money in the end and if i quit then, i would still have to pay him so the two sisters went to an ATM with me.
After I parted from my money so one of them could go and use it as collateral for getting more money in USD, me and the other sister were supposed to go back to their home.
We got on two separate motorbikes. No red flags there either.
15 minutes into the ride, the driver asked me where am I going…That is when I remembered everything I read online about scams…I have travelled to over 45 countries. How did I not see it is really beyond me. I am just hoping that everyone who is in Saigon will read this and will not get scammed tomorrow…or the day after tomorrow.
In the back of my head, i was smart enough to take out the memory card from my camera at least. And to say that my passport is at the Cambodian embassy.

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wes July 25, 2011 at 2:46 pm

These guys are very smooth — sorry to hear they got you too.

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Jon August 23, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Same damn scam! I could have written the exact description, except that I went to the gold shop and didn’t escape through an alley. Still paying off the bill! Does anyone know of a recourse? I hate Saigon!

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wes August 24, 2011 at 9:35 pm

Oh man, sorry to hear it. So many of us have been caught up in this scam.

Di August 25, 2011 at 4:33 am

It is so frustrating to hear more people caught in these scams. I am spreading the word to my friends – 3 are going to Vietnam this year. I wish there was more I could do to prevent others from getting caught in these scams.

Di July 17, 2011 at 6:41 am

So sorry to hear your experience, Xu.
To think these buggers are continually profiting and putting others through this nightmare! 2 against 1 would also make it tougher, although sitting safely at home now, I wonder if that could have helped me remember stranger danger or would it have just been 2 friendly women needing my help? Best wishes

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Adam July 25, 2011 at 3:51 pm

If somebody knows the address of the gold shop they take people to get money, it would be a big help. It seems to be an element in a lot of stories but nobody has ever produced an address, which is crucial to putting a stop to this. I’m not clear on what it is about this gold shop that facilitates the cons getting money from their victims though. Can anyone explain this?

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Peter August 1, 2011 at 11:15 am

there have been 11 arrests see the article http://www.saigon-gpdaily.com.vn/law/2011/7/94822/

I am interested to know who has been scammed since the arrests around July 19. Just how many people are doing this – it must be dozens.

The Gold shop they were using was at 384 bui huu nghia in Bin Than District

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Peter Callison August 20, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Met up with this scam a second time in Nah Trang today. Sounds like the ealier post fom Xu. This was mostly older women. I played along with them to see if I could claim some money back. All hell broke loose when I asked to see if the cash was real and theses guys have body gards. I didi however get their address.

The 11 arrests a month ago have done nothing

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wes August 23, 2011 at 7:25 am

They seem to be going strong, unfortunately.

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Gerald E August 27, 2011 at 5:27 pm

August 23 – Philipino guy and girl … same Woody although he was more across border casinos in Cambodia. No money lost – calmly said I was staying with locals without giving details and played cards *so* badly that they were lost in their plot from the outset.
This was the couple – from near coffee shop around corner from Notre Dame Cathedral: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-TqFBMgyo9fw/TblSLFJw-iI/AAAAAAAAhLA/uhV7U3v8xSQ/s1600/IMG_0186.jpg
Because I was thinking I might be drugged I served them AND asked for a beer which I opened and drank from the can – I scored a Heineken!!

Could it have been bad – you betcha!! Look out for them. AND I was approached next day near the Rex Hotel // had satisfaction of teasing him … “I know the script – do you want me to tell you what you will say next?” Fuck off now!
Very cool operators, very cool and very scary!

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Peter August 27, 2011 at 8:19 pm

As I stated in an earlier post I have been staking out 54C Khuc Thua Du in Nha Trang.
My guess is that they don’t actually live at that address but just use it for their scams quite likely by more than one team.

It appears that they get properties with 3 stories and only one way of getting out. I expect that while I was upstairs they had backup already
in rooms on the second floor.

I saw no activity for 4 days so what I did was get a heavy duty chain and lock for a motor bike and chained up the gate.
The next day at 3 PM I got two threatening phone calls from two different numbers, they claimed they had been following me for days and actually named
the pub I was in last night.
Probably should move on but my passport is at the embassy. I will post again in a few days, I guess we’ll find out just how dangerous these guys are.

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sticks November 3, 2011 at 10:05 am

What happened to Peter???? This sounds so sketchy…hope your ok!!

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Peter November 3, 2011 at 12:43 pm

I am in China now. I have heard no reports of recent scams so I am hoping my efforts have helped at least to a small extent. One remarkable bit of news; I reported what happened to my bank (an abbreviated version saying I was drugged and taken to a gold shop to withdraw money) and the bank refunded the money. I reported the incident in detail to the External Relations Department and signed a statement in Nha Trang – they have english speaking people there – I will supply contact details if anyone needs them.

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Jon November 4, 2011 at 10:21 am

Peter, Thank you for your message and information about working with your bank. I would like to communicate directly with you since I still have thousands of dollars on my visa card as a result of going to the gold shop! I have paid part of the amount but am having trouble paying the remaining sum. I will appreciate any advice you can provide.

Old 55 September 13, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Sorry to hear people have been scammed but dont feel too bad, they are VERY, VERY good at what they do.

I was approached 3 times, first by “Eduardo” and his “sister” visiting him from Phillipines. Eduardo approached me and asked if I was the person he was speaking to at the airport. I said no I was not. He said he was sorry but he thought it was me etc. and that he worked in the airport as security. I couldnt understand why the VN govt. would hire a Filipino to work at airport security but he quite deftly replied that it was because Filipino’s can speak much better English than Vietnamese. Made sense. We chatted for a minute or two, I told him that I had been to VN several times, the conversation didnt really go anywhere so I shook hands and said goodbye.

A few days later I was walking down the street and one of the other fat pricks in the gang approached me saying, “its too hot to wear a long sleeve shirt!”. I thought that was weird, just shook my head slightly as if to say “no thank you” (the same as I would if someone came up to me in the street trying to sell me something) and kept walking. I thought it was strange.

Maybe a week later I was approached by the same man who didnt remember me but I remembered him (although I didnt say anything). I had injured my foot and was walking with a bit of a limp. He approached me and asked if I had hurt my leg. Seemed quite genuine and friendly. He asked me how long I had been in VN, I answered several times. I asked him what he was doing in VN and he said he installed fire sprinklers. Completely plausible story I thought but still thought it strange. Who is this guy that tried to talk to me the other day. In a strange country for work and lonely? Looking for a drinking buddy? Chatted for a couple of minutes, conversation didnt go anywhere, I shook hands and said goodbye.

I didnt really even think until later that it was pretty bizarre to have Filipino’s who dont know you approach you in the streets of Ho Chi Minh City three times in the space of a week. I had a suspicion (not till later mind your) that they were trying to gain the confidence of tourists to smuggle drugs into their home country’s. Filipinos speak very good English, Vietnamese do not, so it would make sense for a VN drug gang to recruit a Filipino to act as their “chat up” man.

Its only now on my return to my home country that I was intrigued and started to do a bit of web surfing. I now consider myself very lucky to have “escaped” their clutches on three occasions. I cant say for sure how far down the rabbit hole I would have gone (My spider senses were already starting to go off) but these scammers are VERY, VERY good at taking advantage and manipulating people.

Note that these scammers look for new arrivals. I am sure they never put the “hard word” on me because I said that I had spent quite a bit of time in Vietnam.

Note that they usually make up some reason to interrupt you walking down the street, “which country are you from”, “where did you buy your shoes” etc.

They also usually have some “reason” why they are in Saigon, eg. working in security or installing fire sprinklers.

I am sure that the local police were getting a “cut” of the take and that is why nothing was happening. Vietnam is a communist country, they know who is doing what where. With all the people being taken they MUST have known about the Filipino scammers in Saigon. Fillipinos, as they hold an ASEAN passport, can enter Vietnam for 2 weeks without a visa. What these a-holes were doing was coming to VN for 2 weeks at a time, flying home, then turning around and coming back again.

Based on reading on the net this card scam seems to be quite widespread accross Asia. I am sure there are Filipinos in the Phillipines pulling the same scam.

To those that got taken I am sorry but dont let this experience put you off travelling or Vietnam. These scammers are very skilled and took advantage of your good nature to want to help them out with their niece/sister who was anxious to travel to your country.

The scammers were not Vietnamese, they were Filipino albeit it appears that the local police were largely complicit in the scam (as the police are usually in the Thailand jet ski scam). I will still go back to Vietnam, it is a really beautiful country with really beautiful people and really beautiful cuisine!

I have only been scammed once in Vietnam in many months over several trips over several years. A guy approached me on the beach in Nha Trang, he could speak English fluently but was Vietnamese (not Filipino) as I spoke to him in Vietnamese and could understand. Conversation led to him saying that he had been a soldier in the SVN army as an interpreter and was homeless. I offered in Vietnamese to take him somewhere to have lunch together but he fobbed off that suggestion and said he really needed the money. I was nearly sure that he was full of crap because I had added up his age and year the war ended (these are the kind of things Vietnamese ask when they first meet someone, how old are you? Are you married? How many children do you have? etc.) and he must have been the youngest interpreter in the South Vietnamese Army. Before I knew it he took my hand and put a tacky bracelt on it saying that I was a nice person and he wanted to give me something to remember him and that the bracelet cost him $20 but he would give it too me anyway.

My BS alarm was well and truly off, he had been lying that he had been a soldier in the war (and had suffered since the war ended etc. because he was on the opposite side) and then he is saying that a piece of rubbish bracelet cost 400,000 dong.

I thought about it for a second and figured, well he does speak fluent English (he must have put alot of time and effort in) and he is not trying to pick pocket me or threatem me with violence, more a charm scam, endears himself with a story of his hard life and then asks for a monetery contribution to help him because he is homeless. Any unsuspecting foreigner would figure “well, he has just given me a $20 bracelet so I have to give him at least $20 back”. I told him he was full of crap in Vietnamese (said he was a liar basically) with a smile on my face and he smiled back, as Vietnamese do when they have been cought out in a lie. I probably shouldnt have but I gave him a couple of notes for his efforts. If all scammers were like this guy, trying to charm tourists out of only $20 without sleight of hand or threat of violence, travelling in Asia wouldnt be so bad.

My advice to travellers is before you go to a country look up on the internet what scams you might come accross, eg google “Cambodia Scam”, “Ho Chi Minh City scam”, “Ankor Wat scam”, “Bangkok scams” etc.

My number 1 advice for travellers is that if anyone approaches you for no reason assume it is a scam.

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Jon November 4, 2011 at 10:23 am

Not sure my message was sent so I will try again. Peter- please send me more information about working with your bank to get have your money returned. I called visa a day after I was scammed but got not response. Maybe you have some advice.

Thanks.

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Peter November 22, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Sorry to take so long to get back to you Jon. I reported the incident to my bank (not visa). They sent me out a form and I had one month to respond so I had to make use of fax machines. I told them I had reported the matter to the embassy in full(which I had), but in my letter to the bank I simply reported that I had been drugged and taken to a gold shop to take money from my account(which was true).

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greg frsnkli November 21, 2011 at 5:59 pm

just got scammed a few hours ago and lost $400 , my video recorder and phone.
I was taken to the gold shop and took out $2,000 from my visa. Partly knew it was a scam but the uncle (mafia type) was threatening at the house, Gave $200 at house (where I left my camera, phone etc.) Gave $200 at the gold shop and said I did not want to go through it. When I mentioned police they let me go.
My worry is that the gold shop will give my details and more can be swindled from my account. Can I have any advice here.
Am alone in Saigon and all my phone numbers are on it and cannot ring home and my aunt is dying..
What should I do?

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EXPAT November 21, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Absolutely the gold shop will drain any account you gave them access to. Report it immediately to your credit cards–let them know it was extortion/scam/whatever and get the numbers changed. File a report at your embassy and get advice from them on filing a report at the police station.

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greg franklin November 22, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Thanks for the advice but I am Irish and we have no embassy in Vietnam.
What should I do?
I have the phone number of the lady in the scam is that any good? they probably discarded this.

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EXPAT November 22, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Then you’d better file a report at the local police today and call your credit card bank immediately. The longer you wait the more problems you will be with any credit card or bank information you gave them. Their intent is to take every but of money you have. That phone number the lady gave you is fake.

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EXPAT November 22, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Also, your country might have an embassy agreement with the UK embassy or another country to represent their interests in Vietnam. Western countries without embassies often do. You could still check with them…

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Peter November 22, 2011 at 3:51 pm

I was advised by the Australian embassy not to contact the police without legal advice – gambling is ilegal in Vietnam. I also had enormous difficultu finding anyone who spoke english. In the end I used the following:
Department of External Relations in Nha Trang City, Khanh Hoa Province (So Ngoai Vu)
42 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Nha Trang
Contact person: Ms Hang
Tel: +84 58 3526417
Opening hours: 7:00-11:30 am & 13:30-16:00 pm (Monday to Friday, except for Public Holidays)

They were very helpful and they transcribed my statement into Vietnamese and passed it on to the police for me. This constitutes reporting the matter to the police without actually visiting the police. I am sure they could give you a coresponding contact in Saigon. Very sorry to see they are still active after all this time. The phone number will be real (I had subtantial communications via phone).

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greg franklin November 22, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Hi after much trying I eventually got in contact with the irish consulate in vietnam. They were not too helpful and told me to contact thepolice. As I see, the police in Saigon are in on the scam and I do not see the point in this.
Eventually got in contact with my credit card company and they stopped any more use on it.
Apparently, the gold shop tried to take 3,700 euros from my account but only were released 2,053 euros. I received $2,000 which is equivalent to only about $1400. So I lost in $600 plus $300 I gave them at gold shop ( the scammers) and 100 euros I gave them at the house along with my videorecorder, phone and several other personal items.
Is there anything that can be done about this blatant open fraud? I was approached by a middle aged filipino couple last evening trying to set me up again.

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Kurt November 29, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Scams now also in Siem Reap! Cambodia. Escaped this morning Ehen He laid 200$ on the table. Seemed to be a whole family that was sitting on my neighbour table the evening before and invited me for breakfast, because his so called sister wants to go to Germany they said. I was lucky, not drugged from the food and let me go. They are very intelligent and professionell! Yes, and they are from Phillippines though they said they are from Malaysia, now living in Australia.

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Rob December 6, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Last year about Feb. 10 2010 I was approached in Ben Tham Park, Saigon by a southeast asian man with perfect english. He said his name was “Lolly” and the story is about the same as the stories above, niece wanted to to go to my state in the U.S., but her mom was too worried for her to go. Would I go eat lunch with the family and explain that it will be safe in the U.S.? Like an idiot I went with him to a big concrete or marble house via taxi. At the house I met “uncle” as he wanted me to call him. We all ate lunch together, me, “uncle”, Lolly and “Niza” as the “niece” was called. She was roughly my age, late twenties. Uncle pulled out the story about how he used to be a card dealer in Singapore, and he had a card trick he had to show me. It was how to cheat playing blackjack, with him as the dealer. He was mentioning a gold dealer from Singapore that he would like to cheat because the gold dealer had cheated him before. As he was showing me and Niza the trick, the phone rang and it was the gold dealer saying he was in Saigon wanting to come over and gamble. I said no to gambling, but I’ll hang out and watch him play against Niza. When the gold dealer came in, I was introduced as Niza’s fiancee. This is key to the story. I started to say something about that, but red flags were just starting to fly. I’m so trusting and they were so smooth. Niza and the gold dealer, “Mr. Malik” played six rounds of which Niza won. I wanted out of the house and stood up, spooked, to get out. So they said it was the last round. The pot was $32,000 U.S. and Niza didn’t have all the money on the table, so the cards could not be flipped. Mr. Malik looked square at me and told me to pay for my “fiancee’s” betting. “Uncle” backed him up and told me to go to the bank. They took me to the bank which was closed, so we went to a gold store. They made me buy two gold bracelets at 1000$ u.s. apiece, and get 300$ u.s. from the ATM. At the gold store they took photocopies of my passport. I was scared enough to comply. I wanted to run, but the the streets were too packed with motorbikes.Upon arriving back at the house with gold and cash, it wasn’t enough. So they said they would be at my hotel room at 9 A.m. the next morning to get more money out of me. They dropped me off at the hotel. I assumed they were watching the place in case I fled. I got my backpack and fled anyways. I ran to my brothers hotel and he got me on a bus to Mui Ne. The next morning they texted me.(They had my phone# because I gave it to them when I thought they were friendly, pre-card game.) The message said theyre looking for me, and hired police to find me, and they have photocopies of my passport. OH SHIT. Nothing happened, and I just kept travelling north. I made it back to the U.S. with no further incidences. But I would like to point out that in the top story on this page, “Woody” sounds a lot like the “Uncle” I ran into. Also, I was taken upstairs to a room with a big cabinet, much like in the top story on the page. For recognition purposes, “uncle” is maybe 55 or 60, and his eyes are brown, but in his right eye there is a strange blue fleck in the lower iris. Sounds a lot like “Woody” and his house of scams but not sure. So has anyone heard of these people being violent? I got away clean, although 2,300$ broker. They said that I owed them lots more money, and there were definitely innuendos of violence. Just wondering how far these people will go with violence if anyone has heard anything. And I was thinking that maybe if I had snapped my debit card in half, it would have been useless at the gold store. Dunno. But anyways, thanks for this site. Be careful in Ben Tham Park.

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wes December 10, 2011 at 4:01 am

Sorry to hear they got you, Rob. They are very good at what they do.

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Yikes December 6, 2011 at 7:38 pm

January 2011. Walking down Dong Khoi in the late morning second day in HCMC. VN guy in casual clothes approaches me. I recognise him as an IMMIGRATION OFFICIAL I had spoken with day prior on arrival at Airport. All very civilised, basically same story as the ones above. Sister coming to Australia, taxi back to house, lunch, brother Dealer on cruise ship, took me upstairs to the table, tried to get me interested in the game – luckily I don’t gamble and was absolutely not interested. Took my leave, then got the sick relative story, help pay for the blood etc. I think I gave then $5 and got the hell out. The scary part is that the guy that drew me in is a VN IMMIGRATION OFFICER working this scam on his day off. Holy smokes – avoid!

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EXPAT December 6, 2011 at 7:55 pm

‘Yikes,’ we really need a photo of this immigration official. If anyone can manage it, please post it online somewhere. in the meantime ‘Yikes,’ do you recognize any of these people by any chance?

http://fisheggtree.blogspot.com/search/label/Filipino

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LadyD December 6, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Encountered something similar in Phnom Penh. Brother and sister chatting me up near Sorya Mall, claiming to be from Thailand. Spoke very good English, had a sister who was going to study in my country. Took me to have ice cream at Swensen’s, paid for it, asked me over for dinner. When we got to the house there was a guy (supposedly a brother-in-law) there who was trying to talk me into a gambling contest, he would teach me etc, he was really insistent. I blew him off, maintaining I didn’t gamble at all and wasn’t going to. Then the story about the sick grandmother started, and how it was all so expensive. I tried to be sympathetic but didn’t offer any money, or respond to their hints to this effect.

Eventually they said they had to go to the hospital and one of them (who actually was a Cambodian and very friendly and helpful) gave me a moto ride back to the Riverside, chatting the whole time about politics, finding a job, where locals went on their night out etc. Actually he was a lot of fun. Because everyone except the brother-in-law was quite friendly and no one was threatening in the least I never really realised it was a scam. I didn’t put two and two together until I read your post. But the similarities in m.o. and in the stories are striking, and I’m now wondering how very bad this could have turned out.

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Di December 7, 2011 at 4:34 am

Hi All,
So sad to see more scam stories.
I wrote about my experience on this website in July this year. The woman who “snared” me is on http://fisheggtree.blogspot.com/search/label/Filipino – she is on bottom left of the photo collection.
I am going back to HCM next June and although I will not be walking alone next time, I will keep a look out for “them”.

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Peter December 10, 2011 at 11:06 am

It would seem that this problem is getting worse. They just had a case of this reported in Bali where a couple lost 18,000 dollars. The link for the story is http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/breaking/12136480/bali-scam-costs-pair-18-000/
I have to wonder if the news stories of the criminals successes are actually encouraging more criminals to take up the scam. The news articles give complete details on how to scam tourists.

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Jon December 10, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Obviously this scam is succeeding or they would have moved somewhere else. I recognized “Woody” in the photos that were posted, but am not sure any of the others were the same. I do think the gold shop and the police are in on the scam since no effort has been made to stop it or alert tourists. Simple announcements in the hotels and guest houses would be effective. When I went to the U.S. Consulate in Saigon to report the incident and that I had lost $25,000, the Vietnamese national who took the information advised me not to report it to the police because gambling is illegal and it could cause me more problems!!!!! I later sent a message to him at the email address on his business card and received no response. Even though I went to a local police station with an interpreter, they said nothing and barely looked up from their cell phones while telling me that I needed to go to another station. I returned to the gold shop, made the lady accompany me to the bank to get copies of the transactions, and was told that they could do nothing to stop the charges. Now I still have $15,000 yet to pay on my VISA card!
I will never return to Saigon.

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Peter December 10, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Are they still using the same gold shop in Saigon – 384 bui huu nghia?
If that is the case I will contact the bank whose facilities they use and make it clear that their name will be linked with tourists scams. I certainly gave those details to the appropriate officials.

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Jon December 11, 2011 at 12:49 pm

The shop my group used was the Phuong phuong in the An Dong PLAZA. It was one of many gold shops in this plaza, but it seems that they called ahead to make sure it would stay open later. I think some of the others were already closed. I have the sales receipt, but cannot read the details that are in vietnamese. It should have been obvious that I was not shopping for gifts since they just grabbed random pieces to weigh- necklaces, bracelets- at random without asking about style or size. When I returned to confront the sales lady the next day, she said she thought I was buying for my girlfriend. Even if one of those accompanying me had been my girlfriend, she certainly made no selection, and the only concern was arriving at a given total price.

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Texan December 12, 2011 at 1:43 am

It is sad that so many people have been taken in by this scam and in so many different countries. Even more so that the Vietnamese police seem to be involved in the scam. This is not surprising though, because the system is corrupt. I have seen the police accept bribes on the street and also customs officials accept bribes when expats were entering or leaving the country. The system there is corrupt. The best lesson learned here is: To Never Go Anyplace With Any Stranger In Your Country Or Another Country! I would not do this at home, what crazy notion would make me do this in a foreign country? I am truly sorry for all of those who were scammed, but do sincerely hope that others read this and learn from it before traveling to other countries on their vacations.

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Rich January 4, 2012 at 8:36 pm

This is a GREAT story Johny. Glad that you made it out unharmed. Jeesus.
Don’t be greedy.

Here are some warning about cons in the Czech Republic if I could help others avoid cons. None are as intricate as the one you ran into though! Christ. Good story :)
http://www.richtrek.com/2011/12/money-cons-romance-scams-in-prague.html

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Joshua Guo January 6, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Johnny,

I wish I had read these blogs before I went to Saigon last December. I was the latest victim of this Poker 21 scam and lost about $3,000.

These crooks used almost identical stories and tricks. It happened to me on December 22 last year. Approach by a middle-age man with a pair of glasses by the name of Sonny Boy, saying his sister, Ekang Intos, was going to the U.S. in January as a nurse and that their 75-year-old was concerned, I went to his brother-in-law’s two-storied concrete house in District 6 to tell them about life in America. The house is located in a quiet neighborhood in an otherwise hustling and bustling downtown. Into the front door is a living room with a 32″ TV set set in between two love sofas. I was treated with a lunch. Then came Sonny’s brother-in-law, Dan and Ekang. He is a thin, tall and thoughtful guy and speaks perfect English. Like you wrote, he told me the exact story about his experience as a casino dealer. This time the rich guy was Aziz, an owner of 10 ships from Brunei. Aziz gave him only $200 for a win of $$135,000. He was pissed off and wanted a revenge with my cooperation. He showed me how he would shuffle his cards without changing any order and how he would give signals. Not long afterward, Aziz came with a stack of cash in the amount of $140,000 and exchanged it for chips of blue for $20, red for $100 and green for $500. I played with Dan’s money. Sure enough, I won every hand except one time push. Then came the final hand as Dan had to report in his hospital. For the last hand I had 11 for the two cards and then drew a card to get a twenty-one. Aziz had a ten showing and Dan showed me the hidden card was ten. So I bet all of my chips. Following my bet, Aziz raised his be to have all his chips in. I was short of $41,000. Aziz would not accept my proposal to have all my chips as the maximum bet. He said the same thing that he would like to win. He also said that, as a businessman, he would like to see the cash in hand when Dan jumped in to guarantee the balance. I ended up with going to a gold shop, probably the same gold shop described in the blogs, with Sonny and Ekang and cash $2,000 with my Citibank credit card without realizing that the gold shop charged me a commission of $660. The name of this one-man operated gold shop is Tiem Vang Hoang Mai. It was obvious that the man was knowing exactly what was going on. They also pushed me to get more cash from my Chase Bank and American Express cards, but fortunately these financial institutions would let me withdraw any cash from an ATM machine in a foreign land.

Back to the house, Dan offered to get a loan from a friend of his in the casino while I would be away for a two-day trip on the Mekong River Delta. At Dan’s suggestion, we sealed the handbag where all the cash and the receipt from the gold shop plus some US dollars and Vietnamese Dong from my wallet were kept until 9 pm on December 25 after I have returned from the trip. It was not until I left Saigon for the trip did I realize it was a scam. But by the time it was too late. When I returned from the trip, I called Dan several times. He made all kinds of excuses saying he was still short of several thousand dollars, and that he was coming to my hotel with my money but the traffic kept him from getting to my hotel, etc. Finally he hung up on me. I reported the matter to the hotel staffs (Asian Ruby 3 Hotel) and asked them to connect me with the police station, but they were reluctant to get involved saying such scams had happened so often. At my insistence, they talked to the Ben Thanh Police Station; however, the police declined my offer to go there in person.

Since my return to the U.S., I have filed a claim with my bank. They are conducting an investigation and would advise me of the result before I pay the due. I also have had several correspondence with Ekang. Her e-mail address is: i.ekang@ymail.com. I have submitted a detailed report to the Ben Thanh Police Station. I intend to write a letter to Le Thanh Hai and Le Hoang Quan, the Party Secretary and Mayor of Saigon to alert them of such alarming scams in their city. I wonder whether it will serve our purpose by such bold moves.

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greg franklin January 27, 2012 at 11:45 am

Hi Foks,
I wrote here in december about my scam experience in Saigon.
I thougt i would tell you of another scam in Budapest, Hungary.
While walking on Vaci Ut, The upmarket shopping street in Budapest, I accidentily bumped into 2 young attarctive women. They told me they were on holiday in Budapest from another city in Hungary, They asked me if I would like to join them for a drink. They brought me to an outdoor glass elevator on a side street maybe 2 minutes walk. On exit we were on a roof terrace of a jazz bar.. Anyway to cut a long story short, They bought a round of drinks and then I bought the next one, I do not drink and only had water.
Then the waiter gave me a bill for over €200. I got made and said this was not a fair price and that I only was liable for one round of drink. They girls got very aggressive and used extemely foul languae. They and the waiter said they would call the police as I refused to pay. I gave them €40 and said that was all I would pay, and with them still shouting I left.
I later contacted the Budapest police and they told me that this is common and that ethically wrong but that the prices are displayed ( I never saw them). If I had called their bluff and asked for the police they would not have continued harrassing me.
That was 5 years ago and last year while in Budapest 2 other girls tried the same ruse and I went along to the club amd then told them I had to leave before a drink was ordered ( I wanted to check to see if the same scam was still going on). It shows how in more advanced country such scams are going on with the authorities turning a blind eye to this.
The moral is :that money scams are active worlwide on naive tourists with local police forces or tourist authorities disinterested in the welfare of foreigners to their countries.
This also shows the professionalism of the Saigon scammers when after my Budapest experience I was taken in again.

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levi February 9, 2012 at 11:18 pm

by the looks of their faces, i would say everyone got away with it safely is a HUGE near miss. money isn’t the issue. its your health and safety and the cops don’t give 2 bobs about it. I know places people would rob you outright. dont go there and do your research carefully. whole picture is this is whats traveling is all about. :)

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Gabriel February 20, 2012 at 10:32 am

i just, as in tonight, evaded the exact same scam – closest in resemblance to “Di’s” version. They did however manage to get me to go to the gold shop and did swipe my card, though i figured out a way to not deliver cash in hand. The question is now, do i have to cancel my credit card…

in any case, there are far too many signs that this is a scam – I disagree that there’s anything convincing about it. Terrible acting. Still I bought into it even though from the initial meeting with “Sonny” in the park, something was definitely off. It’s just hard to say no to an invitation to come eat a meal with a local family. I wasn’t interested in money, i just went with the card lesson out of curiosity and next second it was for real, with huge money on the line.

The funniest thing though is the look on their faces when they realized they chose the wrong guy. A guy who stays at 5 dollar hotels and doesn’t have a spare cent to his name…

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Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 10:40 am

I just met Rowena from here: http://fisheggtree.blogspot.com/search/label/Filipino as well as the guy behind her who introduced himself as her cousin Mato and she was Anna an English tutor.
I (single female traveller) was on my way to Ben Thank market in HCMC and Anna walked up to me asking me where I was from. This happened a lot to me in Vietnam so I wasn’t too worried about it. When I told her where I was from she said that her sister was going to move to my country to work as nurse. She asked me about my country and was really nice and easy to talk to. While we chatted her Cousin Mato joined us who was supposed to meet Anna in her break from tutoring as they were going to celebrate his birthday together. They were both really nice and invited me to their house to celebrate Mato’s birthday and meet Anna’s sister so I could tell her more about my country. I would like to think of myself as not very naive and too trusting but somehow I thought it would be a great experience to meet locals and celebrate with them. We took a taxi together and drove about 15 minutes away from the market to the house of Anna’s brother. I was welcomed warmly and we had a nice lunch together and chatted about this and that. Anna’s brother said he was a groupier in a big casino in Phnom Penh and that he was working at the VIP table for blackjack. He asked me whether I would like to learn and didn’t see a reason to say no. Anna, her brother and I started to play a bit and he would show me tricks and tell me how easy it was to con rich players in the VIP room. He said we should team up and do this when I come to Phnom penh (which I told him I would do in a couple of weeks). I went along with this, knowing that obviously I wouldn’t do it and knowing they didn’t have any contact details of mine and I hadn’t told them which hotel I was staying in. Yes, my alarm bells did start to go off slightly but I felt rather safe as we didn’t play for money and I was determined to keep it that way. Suddenly a ‘rich lady from singapore’ walked into the room and Anna’s brother said he had trained me so well and we should play against the lady and take her money. I refused to play and so he gave Anna $500 to play against the lady but said I would have to help Anna as she didn’t know how to play. The lady from singapore threw a bundle of $100 notes on the table and at this moment I knew I would have to get out of this as soon as possible. They urged me to play and Anna kept asking for my advice and help while she was playing. I refused to answer or touch any of the chips on the table and said I would have to leave. They didn’t let me go and said that now the lady would know this is a scam and they would loose all the money and yes, somehow for a second I did feel bad for them.. However after they played the second game and still wouldn’t let me go I just grabbed my bag and ran for it. They followed me and tried to get me back and to make me play leaving the lady from Singapore alone in the room with all the money and the cards…as if!
Luckily I did get away without leaving anything behind except my pride… For being so stupid and falling for something as obvious as this. I wish one could do something about is because they seem to be doing this for a long time and are apparently rather famous already (http://www.cnngo.com/explorations/life/vietnam-blackjack-scam-exposed-812667).

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wes March 15, 2012 at 2:05 pm

So glad you got out ok. Many people haven’t. And it seems like this scam will keep going for a long time :(

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LSE March 17, 2012 at 11:27 am

Wow. Reading this site brought back a lot of memories. This happened to me back in 2007. Can’t believe it’s still going on, although if the authorities are involved it makes more sense. My story: approached by ‘Thai’ guy named ‘Charlie’. Says sister is going to study in Plymouth, UK, and could I go talk about England at their house over lunch? OH DEAR – ALARM BELLS! BUT OTHER LOCALS SEEMED SO FRIENDLY! THE DAY BEFORE I HAD VISITED ANOTHER GUY’S HOUSE AND TAUGHT HIM ENGLISH FOR 5 HOURS. OTHER DAYS I HAD PASSED BY CHATTING TO LOCALS AT THE NEARBY PARK. So, assuming nothing, I travelled in a taxi with Charlie to a house in District 6. There were 4 people present: Charlie, Uncle, Aunty (passed off as Uncle’s wife) and a darker skinned lady whose name I forget. Charlie, Uncle and Aunty are pictured on links from others’ posts. I remember marble features, and a big TV in the middle of 2 sofas. We had a pork rice dish for lunch, washed down with Cola. I was definitely drugged with something resembling speed/cocaine. We chatted about family/UK/politics etc for 2 hours. Then I was asked if I played poker? Yes came my reply. Within 30 minutes I had been cajoled into playing for the ‘family’ against a ‘Malaysian’ business man who had taken the ‘family’ for money in their casino in Cambodia. YES YOU ARE RIGHT….WHY CARRY ON AND NOT WALK OUT? I WAS HALF IN FEAR, HALF EXCITED. THE HOUSE WAS PRETTY MUCH IN AN ISOLATED PLACE SO COULD NOT RUN. AND, EVEN THOUGH I COULD HEAR THE BELLS, THEY WERE…BELIEVEABLE. SMOOTH. AND I WAS YOUNG (23), CONFIDENT, IMPETUOUS AND DARING. AND STUPID. Uncle began the script by explaining how he was a croupier at various casinos in Cambodia an Macau. His method of cheating was simple: hand gestures to notify the numbers of the cards the opponent had. He even explained that John, from London (same John?), had made thousands doing the exact same scam a couple of months previous. All I had to do was follow the simple instructions and I would help the ‘family’ with their debts and make a couple of thousand for my troubles. After a quick practice run, Mr Li, the Malaysian business man, appeared and the game began. Uncle ‘loaned’ me $200. I was made to write something about the bets placed on paper, which was significant at a later point. I obviously won every single hand. After a period of an hour or so Mr Li upped the ante to $50000. In my hand I held 21, so could not theoretically lose. As Mr Li presented his wad of cash, it dawned that I was in deep shit. I could not escape though, and when Uncle decided to suspend the game to talk about how we would find $50000 I knew it was a scam. The cards were placed in envelopes and Mr Li gave us a deadline of 1 hour to find the cash or violence would follow. AT THIS POINT

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Jon March 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm

It has been one year and I am still paying off the money I took out of my visa account thinking it was legit. I had no recourse once I has “bought” the gold. One of the recent accounts named exactly the same people and it always sounds like they use the same hidden location that no foreigner would ever be able to find again. I think the police are skimming money off the top of this scam as they were no help at all.

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