The Gambling Scam

A few years ago, I experienced the preliminary stage of a gambling scam. While walking along Sukhumvit in Bangkok opposite the Landmark Hotel, I stopped outside a store to window shop and then briefly paused further just to observe the passing of life before moving on. Thinking back on it, I wonder if I looked lost or something similar, in any event I caught someone’s attention who thought I would be a good mark for a gambling scam. In less than a minute I was approached by an early 30’s Thai woman who profusely apologised in approaching me but said she was curious about where I bought my sunglasses from as she liked the style and wanted to purchase the same design for her boyfriend.

At that moment, she had enough information to start her routine on her latest mark

Without thinking about it, I told her I had purchased them in Australia. Oh Australia she said, which city are you from and once again without thinking I said Brisbane. At that moment, she had enough information to start her routine on her latest mark for her gambling scam. Without scripting it word for word, she explained that her niece was going to Brisbane in approximately 3 months to study. At the time, this was plausible with starting dates in Australia for Universities – but I think that was just a coincidence.

She then asked me things you would normally expect to be asked – is it a nice city to live in, is it expensive, do they have thai food etc. To be honest, me responding to her questions never really allowed me to inquire more about her niece. Being a little more wiser now, I can see that’s an element of the routine to get her mark is to do most of the talking which reduces the opportunity of her being asked any difficult questions.

I suppose once she thought a certain rapport had been established, she asked if I had time to talk to her niece about her impending study trip. Once again without really thinking about it, I said sure.

I knew I could end up anywhere in a situation that I may not be able to control

Next she suggested that we jump in a taxi and go to her family’s home which wasn’t that far away. I actually just assumed at the time she meant to talk to her niece on the phone. The cab suggestion is really when alarms started to ring for me because I knew I could end up anywhere in a situation that I may not be able to control. I politely said that maybe her niece could come here and we could just sit at the coffee shop across the road (under the Landmark Hotel). She said her niece couldn’t do that as she was currently in school (school has a very broad interpretation in Thailand) but she would finish in about 30 minutes (even appropriately looked at her watch to give legitimacy to her time estimation – bravo!).

Just call her I replied and tell her to come here when she finished or I’ll just talk to her on the phone, but she said her niece didn’t have a phone (instant alarm bell if that was said today, but this was a few years ago so was plausible). I asked her why she wasn’t worried to go back to her house with a stranger, which she replied her aunt and uncles were there and it would be alright. She didn’t know it, but she thought she was allaying my concerns when in fact she had inadvertently heighten them. So it would seen that I was being asked to go to an unknown location with an unknown number of people being there who I had never met. In all honesty, I was definitely now being asked to be walk into .

I then attempted to politely back-peddle out of the situation I found myself in which she picked up on and tried to reassure me that it was alright, the family home wasn’t far and her niece would be really excited to speak to someone from Brisbane as she was worried about travelling and staying there alone. My naivety at the time and my general politeness was dragging this discussion out longer than if I knew what was happening at the start.

I basically gave her the benefit of doubt that I possibly misjudged the situation

A little more back and forward went on with her trying to get me into a cab (the possible payout for these gambling scams must be big for the effort she put in). I eventually had to lie to her and say I was catching up with friends soon and now wasn’t a good time. I then suggested that she bring her niece to the coffee shop at 6pm and we could go through everything then. She obviously knew her mark had fallen off the hook and I suppose to keep the ruse going she agreed and even clarified where exactly the coffee shop was (under that big building over there I pointed) and where I would be waiting etc. We said our goodbyes and she left saying she was looking forward to bringing her niece to meet me later. I must say, it was extremely convincing – bravo bravo!!.

I’m humble enough to admit that I stupidly went to the coffee shop just before 6pm and gave it 20 odd minutes before accepting nobody was coming. I suppose you could think I could have waited longer and gave them the benefit of the doubt that they could be running late due to Bangkok traffic, but in that 20 minutes, I played out our earlier meeting a couple of times in my head and reality was starting to dawn on me. Even though I did have my suspicions, before then, I really didn’t give it any deeper thought and just accepted the situation for what it appeared to be – I basically gave her the benefit of doubt that I possibly misjudged the situation.

Like all scams, they are based on eliciting your greed…The real genius of this particular scam is that gambling is illegal in Thailand

The next morning sitting in front of my laptop , I decided to put my mind at rest and research the encounter. That research revealed I had just dodged a gambling scam where you are drawn into a game as a player or asked to fund a game where a high return would be promised and shared at the expense of another player. Like all scams, they are based on creating trust and eliciting your greed and even if I had gone to the house, the scam would have failed on me as I don’t really gamble and in any event, I wouldn’t allow myself to be drawn into scamming someone else. The problem of course is extracting yourself out of that situation without a confrontation occurring. The real genius of this particular scam is that gambling is illegal in Thailand and after realising you have just been scammed, your ability to seek recourse through the police is nee on non-existent without having to admit that you engaged in or were party to illegal gambling.

There are variations to this routine, if asked to join the game or funding the “uncle” failed, just being in the room at the time could result in one or two guys being on call to show up in police uniforms to arrest everybody. At some stage however, you would be offered the opportunity to buy your way out of trouble with the “police” and allowed to leave (which might include an escorted ride to the nearest ATM or someone being elected to going on your behalf while you waited with the police).

Another variation with even more serious events could unfold when you arrive at the house and kept there against your will until your funds are drained from your bank. The possibilities are almost endless if you accept what a vulnerable situation you have placed yourself in.

Excuse me but just quickly, where did you buy your sunglasses from?

Fast forward to a subsequent trip, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time during one of my frequent explorations of Chatuchak Weekend Market. I overhead a Thai guy approaching a westerner with basically the same entry line, “Excuse me but just quickly, where did you buy your sunglasses from?”. On that occasion the guy simply kept walking, either aware that it was the preliminary approach of a gambling scam or maybe he didn’t speak English very well.

Keep your greed in check and you should be able to dodge these sort of scams

The Lesson in this Gambling Scam

In all fairness, this isn’t a scam exclusive to Thailand and this gambling scam does occur in other countries. These scams do the rounds, quiet down before showing up again either exactly the same or some variation of it – so the potential is always out there. As I said earlier, the scammers work on the promise of easy money and relying on your greed. Keep your greed in check and you should be able to dodge this sort of gambling scam as well as similar scams. Unless you are a trust child, money doesn’t just fall into your lap easily so don’t fool yourself in believing it can because a stranger liked your sunglasses.

Also by ignoring (with a quick smile) and simply walking off is a good tactic to use for most approaches as you haven’t engaged with them in any way and 90% of the time they will quickly stop following you to find an easier mark to try their scam on.