Tourists face a lot of scams if they travel in Southeast Asia, but one especially nasty and hard-to-avoid one has been reported by the BBC. At Bangkok’s main airport, cops are accusing international visitors of shoplifting from the airport stores and then extorting money from them to drop the charges. Sometimes a “friendly translator” will help the desperate travelers, and then charge exorbitant fees for his services. This is a variation of the old “zig-zag” scam that is found in Thailand and other countries.
This reminds me of a shake down a couple of guys tried on me in Karachi, Pakistan. I had just left my hotel and was walking along the street when a car pulled up. The driver produced a card saying “Sindh Police” and the other guy said, “Give me your backpack, I need to search for drugs!”
I immediately had my doubts–the card was in English, their vehicle was unmarked, and neither guy wore a uniform. So I replied to them in a very loud voice “Show me some real identification!” They insisted on seeing my bag but neither got out of the car. Since we were on a busy street I kept telling them in a loud voice that I didn’t think they were police and wouldn’t give them anything until I saw some ID. As a curious crowd began to gather they got angry and said, “You better not have any drugs!” and drove off.
I ran back to my hotel and told the manager all about it. He just shrugged his shoulders and said “Welcome to Pakistan.” I had managed to write down the license plate number but he told me the real cops would probably do nothing, so I let it go and continued with my trip.
My tactic worked against this particular trick, but wouldn’t work in the Thailand airport scam since the police really are police. While aware travelers can avoid many of the scams they face on the road, this is a tough one. If the cops are in on it, what can you do except cough up and complain to your embassy later? I guess avoiding the airport shops is the only way to reduce your chances of being robbed.
Have you been scammed while traveling? Tell us your story in the comments section.