One Bizarre Night — 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.”

{ 71 comments… read them below or add one }

Natalka June 10, 2010 at 11:04 am

Wow, pretty scary. I think I would have bowed out at the invitation to go to a private home for dinner. Take care.


wes June 10, 2010 at 11:13 am

I think I will from now on, unfortunately…


Jen June 10, 2010 at 11:25 am

Yea, wow is right. Luckily you spotted the scam before getting in real deep. Hopefully you never run into them again. Be safe.
.-= Jen´s last blog ..Weekend Update: 6/5/2010 =-.


Dave June 10, 2010 at 7:50 pm

I’ve gotta hand it to those guys, it really was a very slick piece of work. It’s a shame though that it has probably put both of us off accepting invites back to somebody’s home – it hasn’t been a scam when I’ve done it in the past, but I’m feeling helluva nervous about doing it again in the future!

The look on your face when you burst into that restaurant … how many beers did it take to get the heartrate back to normal??
.-= Dave´s last blog ..Crazy awesome Saigon =-.


wes June 11, 2010 at 9:45 am

they *were* slick, weren’t they? I think my heart rate has finally come back down. Took many beers, spread over a couple of days ;)


Michael June 10, 2010 at 8:53 pm

holy sheep shite! I’ve read about this scam, and just reading about it makes me nervous. Very relieved to hear you came out relatively unscathed, but what a nail-biter! great story


Keith June 10, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Incredible story! I’m glad you were able to get out of that chinese finger trap. Wow, that almost turned horribly bad.
.-= Keith´s last blog ..Surviving on the Road Without Your Significant Other =-.


wes June 11, 2010 at 9:44 am

yeah, it could have gotten very ugly very quickly. a close call and one I hope to never repeat…


Erica June 11, 2010 at 12:08 am

OMG. WOW! I’m glad you were able to get out of there. I’m not sure what I would have done. D:
.-= Erica´s last blog ..Top 4 Meals Abroad =-.


TR June 11, 2010 at 12:23 am

Dude, ya found some mischief, eh? On a side note, I recommend you stay out of the Soho district in London, or you’ll end up with a membership at every gogo bar . . . lol.


ayngelina June 11, 2010 at 1:17 am

OMFG, you always have the best stories!
.-= ayngelina´s last blog ..Four things you must eat in Honduras =-.


Eli June 11, 2010 at 5:47 am

Wes, that’s an insane story and it’s one you will be able to take with you for the rest of your life. How surreal it must have been to be in a strange house with people you don’t know and all that money at stake, knowing they were trying to scam you. Nice work getting out of it.

And then you run into Dave, who had been in the same situation! Classic.
.-= Eli´s last blog ..Madam’s Organ…The Best Place to Be =-.


Joel June 11, 2010 at 8:56 am

Jeez Wes, I certainly know people who have their share of stories, but how is it you seem to find these at every turn? Are you just too friendly or overly curious to see how these things will play out?

Part of me is jealous that I’ll never have so many stories like this, but the other part of me “whew”s at the thought.
.-= Joel´s last blog ..Vegas: Drinking the Bitter Green Tease =-.


wes June 11, 2010 at 9:43 am

I don’t know what it is — I think I’m just a freak magnet. This experience topped everything so far in terms of sheer weirdness. I really don’t want to get in that deep again — that was too close for comfort…


Candice June 11, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Dude, that is one impressive set-up. Let’s hope you never run into those scammers again. Or any scammer, for that matter.
.-= Candice´s last blog ..Candice & Cailin Do St. John’s, Newfoundland =-.


bethany June 12, 2010 at 4:36 am

My favorite line in this story?:

“There was a knock at the door and a sweaty, spastic man in a shirt and tie walked in, carrying a small satchel.”

That is awesome! Thank you for sharing that story. I’m so glad you got out of there! I have been scammed so many times in Mexico but it never ceases to amaze me what people will come up with next!

I would’ve been terrified. Thank god they didn’t want to go with you to the hotel (which is totally strange)!


Gray June 13, 2010 at 5:34 am

That is a terrific story, Wes, while at the same time scary. There’s no way I would have gone with them to their home in the first place, rude or not. I’m glad you were able to get out of it.
.-= Gray´s last blog ..The Art of Solo Travel, A Review =-.


Elizabeth Deitz June 13, 2010 at 9:05 pm

It has taken me forever to learn to trust my instincts and act fast on them. Two thoughts get in my way though. One, “Don’t be rude.” Two, “You’re just being paranoid.” I have finally figured out that when I have those two thoughts, I’d better act NOW. When I was traveling alone in Europe, I think this approach kept me out of trouble.
Wanted to mention a story you might be interested in…a mix of art, vagabond and science. Here is the link:


wes June 14, 2010 at 7:12 am

Yeah, that’s a good rule of thumb. The “don’t be rude” is the one I struggle with, but I’m worrying less and less about it in these situations. I’ve had three people now stop me to talk and all three have mentioned they have a sister/cousin who’s a nurse and about to move to Texas — maybe I could meet her and answer her questions, etc. As soon as I hear the word ‘nurse’, I just walk away now…


Deborah June 13, 2010 at 11:09 pm

I enjoyed your story. For future reference, sleight of hand is spelled with an “ei”.
No need to publish this since it’s not really a comment. Happy trails!


wes June 14, 2010 at 7:09 am

thanks for catching that! :)


GRRRL TRAVELER June 14, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Wow– INCREDIBLE story! Thank God you’re still alive to write the tale. I’m planning a solo trip to Vietnam for this August & you’ve got me mildly quaking. This is cause there are aspects in it that i can totally see myself going thru esp when you’re thinking “ok, now how do I excuse myself without totallly letting on that I knew it’s a scam?” The scammers are trying to distract you & al you can think is “Be,.. oh man, i’m totally screwed”! Hope the rest of your journey is a safe one.


wes June 14, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Don’t let this put you off traveling here — it’s really quite safe. Even though I let myself be drawn into a situation that I knew was a setup, there was never a hint of violence. If I’d insisted on having dinner at a local cafe, or simply walked away when they insisted on taking me to their home, nothing would have happened. Just set your boundaries and stick to them and you’ll be fine. :)


Rob D June 16, 2010 at 2:01 am

Whenever you sit down to a game of poker, look around for the sucker. If you don’t see the sucker, stand up, because YOU’RE the sucker. – Tennessee Slim.


Dustin Main - Skinny Backpacker June 21, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Awesome, crazy, unbelievable.

If it weren’t for the fact that Dave backed up the story, I’m not sure if I would have believed it!

Fortunately I haven’t gotten myself into anything dicey in Saigon… yet.
.-= Dustin Main – Skinny Backpacker´s last blog ..Using Your iPhone with 3G in Vietnam =-.


Vietnam720 June 22, 2010 at 9:51 am

Hey Wes, when did this happened?

This scam has been happening in Saigon for a LONG time but recently they got caught already


wes June 22, 2010 at 5:25 pm

this was about ten days ago. So unless they caught ’em *really* recently, it’s still happening. Dave and I talked about it and we’re pretty sure we both met “Woody”, but the other characters were different…


Vietnam720 June 22, 2010 at 6:07 pm
Dave June 22, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Looks like there’s multiple versions of this scam running – it wasn’t any of those lovely looking folk that I had the ‘pleasure’ of meeting…
.-= Dave´s last blog ..The floating markets of Can Tho =-.

wes June 23, 2010 at 8:13 am

awesome! thanks for the link. But, as Dave says above, we ended up with a different crowd. No telling how many people are running this scam…

mick June 23, 2010 at 1:31 pm

unfortunately i’d never seen this before now and i’m devastated to tell that the exact same thing happened to me 2 days ago and i lost $12,000 US dollars – i feel like such a fool – i knew i should have walked away but i didn’t


wes June 23, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Oh my God, seriously? They’re very slick, I’ve got to give them that…


Vietnam720 June 23, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Mick, sorry to hear about your incident.


wes June 23, 2010 at 4:52 pm
Adam Bray June 23, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Any chance you can disclose the location of the house where you guys were taken? This would be very helpful to warn people as well as notify the police.


wes June 23, 2010 at 4:59 pm

I wish I could, but I was in a taxi on my 2nd day in Saigon — I have no idea even what part of town it was, only that it was 15-10 minutes from the main park in District 1.


wes June 23, 2010 at 5:01 pm

And kudos to you, Adam, for trying to bring more attention to this. I wish I’d found your site a couple of weeks ago ;)


Adam June 23, 2010 at 5:13 pm

No worries, I understand. These guys are such a pain in the ass. Saigon used to be such a nice place to walk around in the day but these thugs have really wrecked District 1. I don’t know why it fluctuates–sometimes I don’t see them, but other times there are 3 of them on every stinking corner from Pham Ngu Lao to Dong Khoi.


wes June 23, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Yeah, I was also approached by two women and a drag queen who wanted me to come back later to meet their sister. She was a nurse, about to move to my home state. Needless to say, I didn’t bother.

I still can’t believe you have a photo of “Woody”, the dealer. Nice to know I didn’t hallucinate the whole thing. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s the same guy Dave met…


Kat June 25, 2010 at 10:14 am

This scam just happened to me three days ago in saigon. I lost my camera to those fuckers! and I was stuck in a corner with no where to go. I have spoken to so many people who have gone through the same scam with the same actors. Surely they are in league with the police. I cancelled my cards all on time and the company said not to notify the police. It stuffed up my respect for the city that I was enjoying so much.


mick June 25, 2010 at 11:11 am

As well as the money i “handed over” to them they also took my camera and i WAS threatened with violence if i didn’t co-operate. I can’t believe how stupid i was, but they are extremely clever saying they were Thai, as they obviously know how fed up people get of the constant harassment from the Vietnamese. I am obviously spewing at the amount of money that i lost but the hardest part is getting past the humiliation and anger at myself for allowing this to happen to me.
I think if i had 5 days wandering around the Saigon district and its surrounds i could eventually find that house. But i’d already sworn i’d never return to Vietnam even before this happened – i found most of the people to be scum, continually trying to rip me off and not friendly at all. I think i met 5 decent Vietnamese people in the 5 weeks i was there.
Having said that, i think i will do anything to see these scumbags taken off the streets and brought to justice. So if i need to return to make that happen then so be it. I don’t think i’ll be able to live with myself if i just let this go.
Thanks to those who have brought this scam to light as i had no idea how full on it was and i feel a little less stupid (though not much less!) knowing that i’m not the only one who has been conned.
I hope to hell that this doesn’t happen to anyone else and i will be doing my best to ensure that the Australian media and authorities alert others of the dangers.


wes June 26, 2010 at 6:51 am

Oh man, I am so sorry to hear that — what a terrible experience. Don’t beat yourself up too hard — these guys were really good at keeping you off-balance and manipulating you. It’s a well-practiced scam. I hope you get justice someday :(


Adam June 25, 2010 at 1:23 pm

It is so good we are having this conversation. Thank you everyone for coming forward, and please keep it coming.

I will say I took my complete photo library of all of these guys that I’d documented (most or all are actually Filipino as far as I know) to the American embassy a few months ago. I was told “there was nothing the embassy could do” because they don’t work with the local police on crime issues against American nationals. (I’d been followed by one of these thugs for some distance, with what I believe was intent to cause bodily harm, and the police would not help me when I stopped them twice on the street). While the guy at the embassy was very nice, believe me, I felt betrayed by my country at that point. I’d sent the embassy photos and documentation by email several months prior and was ignored. All this in the light of the fact that it was the Japanese embassy that contacted the Saigon police after one of their citizens was victimized and lead to the capture of that group of 5. Really makes me mad.

I don’t mean to say this to discourage people but rather that we must make as much noise as possible so that eventually the powers that be must face this problem. Complain to your hotel, complain to the police, complain to your embassy, post on twitter, facebook, whatever. Alert people.


Adam June 25, 2010 at 1:25 pm

As mentioned above, the photos of many (but not all of these guys) are available here:

Do you have a photo of any of these people? Please send it to me. Circulate it!
.-= Adam´s last blog ..Filipino Card Scam Still on in Saigon =-.


Brendan van Son June 26, 2010 at 7:18 am

I love these stories… as much as I hate to admit it I`ve been a victim of some scams too. At the time they`re embarrassing, but after a while they turn into great stories… like yours here!
.-= Brendan van Son´s last blog ..Mining Cerro Rico =-.


Joanne June 26, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Hi, I read your stort and had to laugh, my daughter and I got caught in same scam in Nha Trang. What was a really nice lunch invitation with a local family, turned out to be almost exact same scam. Did have a nice lunch though. Didn’t part with any money, or gold. We had a japanese buisness man turn up, with a huge wad of US dollars. He arrived at the house on the pretext of needing a form from ‘Nick’ ( call me uncle) to play in the VIP room at the casino. Then a friendly game ensued. ha ha I have printed your story, my daughter will enjoy it very much. ps, its kinda comforting we not the only ones, and glad we came out unscathed. Cheers, Jo


wes June 27, 2010 at 5:40 am

Glad to hear you got out of it okay!


Helmut Granda June 27, 2010 at 2:46 am

Great story and glad to hear you are safe. As I was reading your story when I reached this paragraph:

“After we’d eaten, Woody led me upstairs to his room where he had a small table and chairs set up by his bed”

Is when I would have realized it was time to go. Maybe it is me that don’t have ant friends who have that kind if set up and would raise all kind of questions within me.

Again, I wasn’t in your shoes so maybe being involved in the moment made it more difficult for you to make the right judgment call.
.-= Helmut Granda ´s last blog ..Flash Builder- Changing BorderContainer color during runtime =-.


wes June 27, 2010 at 5:27 am

Yeah, I knew as soon as he insisted on teaching me poker that something was up. The card table really gave it away. What got me in trouble was my own curiosity — I wanted to know what the scam was and thought I’d be able to walk away in time. My own arrogance almost caught me — I was on their turf and they controlled the situation, not me.


Adam June 27, 2010 at 12:22 pm

I added a few new photos of these guys targeting tourists outside Saigon’s Vincom Shopping Center on Dong Khoi St.


Adam June 27, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Also, wanted to mention, as it’s my site, please feel free to distribute or re-post any photos from specifically of these con artists elsewhere on-line. Permission not needed (all other photos on the site are of course copyrighted and need permission).


Abhi June 27, 2010 at 11:35 pm

What an amazing story!!
.-= Abhi´s last blog ..Survival tip- How to bargain while traveling in India =-.


christin June 28, 2010 at 12:36 pm

hi mick,
i get interested about your stories. its so amazing how people worked in this kind of stuff. im doing some research about this.. can u give some information about this??. u have mentioned that they took your camera??. how they do that?. do they give it back to u?. and what kind of camera it is?. i hope u can give me the complete details or even a slight info. keep up the good work Guys..


clive July 2, 2010 at 4:21 pm

wow,we got caught in a few very innocent scams that were fun to go along with but that was quite serious


Flora July 2, 2010 at 7:38 pm

I am not so much surprised by this sort of scam as how precisely you’ve documented it despite the pressure you were under. Love how you gave them the slip, not very bright are they? Con acts seem to get updated rather often in Saigon. Constant vigilance it is, I suppose, even for a born and bred saigonese such as myself. Depressing, really.


Ian July 11, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Wow, glad to see this, I’ve just been with exactly the same guys, Mister Li ect, they got me to the point where we were playing for 30,00 usd, I dont know how it happened as i realised i was being scammed as soon as the game started, the are real good and pull the moves so fast.

Fortunately i got out but they are coming to pick me up from the park tomorrow to finish off the game, somehow i dont think I’ll be going, the early morning bus to Cambodia beckons. However, I’m now bricking it that they are waiting for me to do a runner as they know just about where my hotel is, horrible situation. All i can say is that I’ve found Saigon to be full of scammers with people trying to rip you of every 5 metres, I’ve done a lot of travelling and this is, by far, the worst place and one that I will never return to. An awful experienxce and one that is not yet over . . .


wes July 12, 2010 at 9:08 am

Oh man… sorry to hear it. I hope you got out of town safely. I doubt they’d stake you out, but ya never know…

Good luck!


Vincent July 20, 2010 at 10:01 am

Had the same thing happen to me in Kuala Lumpur. Well I walked away when he started to talk to me about the “business man”…
.-= Vincent´s last blog ..Long week-end in Saigon =-.


wes July 20, 2010 at 12:21 pm

you’re a smarter man than I, Vincent ;)


Vincent July 21, 2010 at 12:39 am

Well it helped that I don’t like to play cards to start with. Also it just struck me as an overly simplistic way to cheat that any real gambler would notice in no time.. The funny thing is in only 24 hours I was in Kuala Lumpur roaming around the main sights, three people came up with the nurse going to my country pickup line.

Looks like the scam works well all across SE Asia :-)
.-= Vincent´s last blog ..Long week-end in Saigon =-.


Frans August 7, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Wow interesting story. It must have been very frightening for you.
.-= Frans´s last blog ..Carbon Poker Rakeback =-.


anonomous August 9, 2010 at 3:39 pm

this just happened to me…. I was bloody scared for my life, they played it out exactly how you said it… I got up when he dealt the last hand, i was in the room with 2 ladies aboth middle aged, the dealer who had amputated hand and the so called Mr Li… When I saw him pull out $50k i knew i was screwed.. so one of the ladies left the room and I feared I would be left alone while eaither being robbed or threatened to death… I saw this asked to go to the toliet and ran as fast as I could.. the problem is that you have no idea where you are going, I am actually even too worried to leave my hotel, i didnt tell them where I am staying but they know roughly where it is…..
This isnt a funny story, if you are reading this please don’t make the same mistake, I am so happy to be writting this right now, 30 minutes ago I thought it could have been the end of me


Adam August 9, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Hi there, if you are worried for you safety, I’d suggest hopping on a bus and heading to your next destination. Usually there are busses leaving around 7-8pm. These folks seem to be contained in Saigon, though separate groups may operate in Hue it seems.

I can sympathize with your concern. Though I’ve never gone with them, after being harassed numerous times by them on the street, I had enough and started taking photos of them. It wasn’t long before they sent a thug to follow me around town. I too was afraid for my safety–yet no one would help–and I approached the police, my (US) embassy and hotels. Best thing to do is just to get out of town for a while and let them forget about you. They’ll find a new person (or a few) to do this to tomorrow and won’t remember you after.


anonomous August 11, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Thanks adam, I have now moved on from Saigon, it was a pretty scary situation and they did it with so smoothly. I just hope nobody else gets done by them but seeing how good they were I am sure there will be more.

It’s a shame that people like this are still going around and nothing gets done, I guess this is Vietnam and things like this don’t get looked at twice


Adam August 12, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Glad you got out safely. Any chance you remember where they took you–could you describe it, or give the address, or point to the general spot on a google map?


Adam August 21, 2010 at 4:39 pm

I’ve posted a whole bunch of new photos of these con artists, most recently preying upon tourists in the Vincom Towers on Dong Khoi Street, and the park across from the Ho Chi Minh Museum on Ly Tu Trong, Saigon. Please see:
If you can identify any of these people or know the address where they are luring victims, please post the information. Please also feel free to circulate these photos of the con artists.


Dave September 3, 2010 at 10:04 pm

This happened to me today, they got just ove $10,000 US from me, and I can they are getting much better at it as well…..
These guys were silky smoothe, and I was still recovering from jet lag….
This internet cafe is closing now.
This has wrecked my trip, I leave for home tomorrow…..
These stories really helped me to get home though, thanks


David September 6, 2010 at 3:50 am

This exact scam happened to me 10 years ago in Kuala Lumpur. I blanked it from my memory since as it was an awful experience. I was driven to the Bank though to get money from the cash point and lost about £300. I knew it was a scam but just could not get out of it and I was fearful for my safety. I was getting more and more deeper in the shit and could not do anything about it.

Reading your story is almost word for word my experience. As you say it is a good story now but at the time, my goodness.

I am glad you posted this as I had forgotton so much about that day.


Michael Tyson September 20, 2010 at 12:12 am

Bloody hell! I would’ve been freaking out at the point they asked me to get into a cab with them!
.-= Michael Tyson´s last blog ..Part 2 – How a Week Doing Not a Whole Lot Was One of the Best Weeks of our 14 Months on the Road in Europe =-.


wes September 20, 2010 at 10:31 am

Heh, that was my first mistake. ;)


michelle September 24, 2010 at 9:52 pm

well, add another dupe to the list. claiming to be malasian now with a daughter working for the red cross as a paramedic. grandma still has heart problems though. sadly a 4 year old girl has been added into the mix.

i got a manoy dados (phone number: 01635860857) -blackjack dealer at the royal hotel and
louie (phone number: 01657956022) a local gym teacher. teaches badminton in the morning and swimming in the afternoon.

who knows if the numbers are real…do they normally give out that info?

thank god my bank card stopped working- they only got $450 from me…and my camera…and my ipod (that one hurts, all that wonderful music and no spare).

is that huge electronic store on the corner by ben thanh market a place i can get a decent (a real brand like panasonic/not a knockoff) point and shoot?

adam i’ve emailed you some questions. if you have the time to answer, it would be greatly appreciated.