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One World in One Lifetime

You’ve been scammed. Now what?

Posted by mracine on April 9, 2017

While traveling in countries that have a reputation of being dodgy, it’s best to have your guard up.  Learn the local scams that are in play and learn how to avoid them.  This seems like great advice, but it won’t stop you from being scammed.  There are too many things to watch out for and some that will hit you before you know it.

Take this warning to heart!

For example, Josie and I fell for a ruse.  Even with all the preparation beforehand.  Even though we tried to be diligent.  Even though we were confident we were safe.  We got scammed…  And we weren’t even out the doors of the airport.

Josie and I made our way from Japan to Vietnam.  Because we chose to take a cheaper route, it took several planes and layovers.  After traveling for so long and with little sleep we were the perfect people to get taken.  We couldn’t look like bigger targets.  A scammer’s wet dream, so to speak.

But, Mark, you say.  You’re not a complete idiot.  You know about the taxi scams, right?  We’ll I’m not a complete idiot.  Just a partial one.  Knowing how easily a cabbie could swindle us, we contacted the hostel we were staying at.  We choose to pay the hostel to reserve a taxi for us from the airport to the hostel ahead of time.  We were to pay the hostel instead of the driver and knew how much the trip was going to cost us.  Smart, right?  We’ll I said I was a partial idiot, didn’t I?

We were slightly delayed at immigration while we filled out our visa application.  This caused us to be about a half hour later than expected.  When we came out immigration, most people on the plane had already left.  We entered the arrival area, where we looked for our names on a paper.  Usually, the taxi drivers have limited English and hold these signs to indicate that you should go with them.  At first, a slight pang of worry swept past us as we failed to see our names.  However, it quickly went away as a driver came up to us calling our last name.

Now, I told you that we got scammed and you can probably guess, this is where we got scammed.  But did you find our misstep?  Can you guess what we did wrong?  Don’t skip ahead for the answer.  Look, you are in much better shape than we were.  You’re (probably) not sleep deprived, physically tired, reeking of your own B.O., and desperate to be in a warm bed.  So did you guess it?

Touts in training?

We grabbed our bags and followed this man.  To keep it simple, I’ll call him Mr. Hanoi.  Surprisingly, his English was pretty good.  He had us wait at a pickup spot.   A silver Toyota pulled in with his friend driving and we piled on in.  The ride overall was quite pleasant.  He asked us about our travels and he talked about Vietnam.  The usual small talk lead to him asking us about our money situation.  He seemed overly concerned that we didn’t convert any of our money to the local currency.  He asked if we wanted to stop by a bank and we told him that we would covert after we settled in at our hostel.

Now red flags were going off in both Josie’s head and mine.  It seems strange that our drivers was overly concerned with our money situation.  Why should they care?  We try to steer the conversation to something else but it went back to money.  It wasn’t until we mention that we had dollars on us, that he seemed to back off.

As we got closer to the hostel, he casually mentions that our taxi ride was going to cost $36 US Dollars.  This was it.  Both Josie and I realized that we were being scammed.  We were not in the right taxi.  We were somewhere in Hanoi, but god knows where.  Which side would the police choose to help.   How to react?

First, don’t panic.  I was panicking, but Josie wasn’t.  She instead played stupid.  She mention that she will pay at the hostel.  Then she mentioned that she agreed to pay $18 dollars beforehand.    She kept pointing to the sheet with the hostel’s number and telling them to call about the price difference.  This seemed to work out.  Mr. Hanoi wanted to keep up the pretense that he was the right taxi and the money was a misunderstanding.  Josie kept acting like she was not understanding the situation.  It was a battle of the wills.

Second, try to keep it in perspective.  Josie and I had been in this car for about 45 minutes.  In Japan, a similar ride would be way more than $36 dollars they were going to charge us.  We were getting ripped off, but at the same time getting a really good deal.  It’s one of the strange feelings you get in Vietnam.  They are adopting capitalism in ways that would make Uncle Sam proud, but no one likes the feeling of getting ripped-off.

Third, compromise.  We pulled up to our hostel, Josie still putting up the charade of misunderstanding.  “We already paid.  The hostel pays you.  Come to the hostel and get your money.”  Obviously, they couldn’t do that.  So instead Mr. Hanoi broke character and said that there was a misunderstanding.  Maybe we got in the wrong taxi, like it wasn’t his damn fault.   Josie threw out the compromise of paying them the 18 dollars that we should have paid the hostel.  With some resignation, the man agreed.  We got our bags out of the taxi and Josie handed Mr. Hanoi exactly 18 dollars.  Mr. Hanoi, for his part, took the money, looked at it, and with a shit-eating-grin asked for a $20 dollar bill instead.   Needless to say, he didn’t get the extra 2 dollars.

US dollars turned to local currency sure makes you feel rich.

It all worked out for the best.  We informed the hostel what happened and they sympathized with us.  They didn’t even charge us for the missed taxi, so the cost of the taxi ride ended up being exactly the same.

So, did you figure out our mistake?  Mr. Hanoi came up to us calling out our names.  He had a rolled up piece of paper we assumed had our names written on it.  Looking back, I assume that he looked at another person’s sign and read our names.  He approached us before the real driver was found.  Do you think you would have avoided the scam?

Overall, it’s a learning experience.  This was one that didn’t cost us anything but hassle.   Another example, was in Ha Long bay.   It didn’t happen to us, but another person we were traveling with.  We just got off the boat to Monkey Island. Incredibly, a few monkeys came to great us.  One was so brazen as to go down to the walking path where all the tourists were traveling.  A seemingly perfect photo opportunity.  Everyone drew around the money taking several photos.  However, the photogenic monkey was just a plant.  While one was diverting all the attention towards itself, another took the opportunity to relieve a tourist of their can of Pringles.  Proving that, even for simians, once you pop you just can’t stop.

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One Response to “You’ve been scammed. Now what?”

  1. It’s great that you managed to get out of this situation with no harm. You need to be careful on Vietnam. I’ll give you a tip: don’t “try” food from Street vendors. You eat a doughnut pushed right into your hand by a Charming lady and then she wants 200k VND for that. Also Carry a small notebook and a pen and ask vendors to write “how much”. Also never take a motorbike taxi offered by a stranger. I guess I could write a manual of “how to avoid being scammed in Vietnam” 😂

    Liked by 1 person

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