Are scams diminishing?

It looks like tourists and expats in Pattaya are wising up to some traditional scams. A recent survey by this newspaper, involving visitors and law enforcement agencies, has revealed that some traditional money traps have all but evaporated, at least for now!

The renting of Jet Skis plagued the tourist industry for years. Typically, naive renters were charged large sums of money for damage to the Jet Ski – usually dents and crashes – which were there before the most recent transaction. City Hall, after ignoring the problem for years, has at last got its act together. The licensing system for Jet Skis has been modernized and the operators obliged to participate in a collective insurance arrangement.

Our survey located only one example of the Jet Ski scam in operation. A British man rented a Jet Ski in Jomtien but failed to take a photo of the side of the craft before setting off. He admitted he was not sure whether or not the damage was his fault and he agreed to settle the dispute for 5,000 baht. This is a considerable improvement on the 100,000 baht which a luckless Ukrainian paid barely two years ago.

A regular Jet Ski operator told us, “The rogue companies can no longer rely on police participating in these scams or refusing to get involved. These days the police will often take the tourist’s side or suggest that a complaint be made at the Pattaya Tourist Court which can handle arbitration.” He added that visitors now have almost universal access to a smart phone with a camera. “I always advise them to take several snapshots,” he claimed.

Other scams which also seem to be in heavy decline include touts wanting passers-by to rent timeshare apartments. The fraud included asking people to pay deposits on non-existent properties or to mislead customers into thinking they had exclusive use of the property whenever they came to Thailand. Reasons for the decline probably include greater checks by the Immigration Bureau on foreigners working in Pattaya illegally without work permits and the decline in the number of European visitors who might be interested in the concept. For various reasons, touts can’t make much progress with Chinese tourists who make up the majority of international tourists these days.

Surprisingly, a dubious practice which continues to be popular is the “beer tower scam”. A group orders a 3-liter tower of draft beer but staff then insert a smaller tube with ice which reduces by up to 30 percent the space available for the beer. It is not suggested that this scam is commonplace in Pattaya and most bars, clubs and restaurants are more concerned these days with attracting customers rather than annoying them.

If not exactly a scam, a common complaint by tourists this year remains harassment by transvestites. The most prevalent feature is the ladyboy gang who work in groups to try and distract a stranger by groping or kissing him whilst his wallet or possessions are stolen. The group then typically escape on waiting motorbikes. A spokesman for Pattaya police said arrests had gone up markedly in recent months and many non-Thai cross-dressers had been sent back home, usually to Cambodia or Laos. He advised tourists not to wear expensive jewelry at night, to avoid dimly-lit areas and to keep valuables in a secure pocket or money belt.

Overall, the most common scams recorded in our survey were – in order – street crimes, beer towers, wrong change (usually an argument about whether the note was 500 or 1,000 baht), and bill padding of one sort and another. Jet Ski incidents and timeshare fraud, which achieved headlines several years ago, were rarely mentioned as significant worries. A city spokesperson commented, “Pattaya is certainly improving as visitors become more sophisticated and the police continue to crackdown on illegal activities.” However, he conceded that street crime remains the biggest issue to be tackled.

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