Thailand - Land of Smiles and Scams



According to statistics provided by News Limited over 650 000 Australians travel to Thailand each year and over 22 million tourists from around the world. It's a popular destination because it's relatively cheap, it has sunshine all year round and it's host to some of the prettiest beaches in the world. It's also known as "the land of smiles" as the people that live there are said to be the happiest people you'll ever come across.

As much as it's a beautiful destination not everything is always as it seems, and travellers to the country need to be aware there are also many scams in Thailand to take advantage of the huge crowd of people who visit each year. Anything from corrupt police, to gem and Jet Ski scams ensure you're aware that these things can occur and protect yourself from becoming a victim to the latest scheme.

A lot of scams can be avoided by general common sense, acting responsibly and not falling for anything that sounds too good to be true. However some detailed scams have the involvement of many parties and can fool the wisest of the travellers. We've listed some common scams below that occur regularly throughout Thailand.

Airport Taxi Scam

Firstly, when you arrive be careful what airport taxi you choose. Airport taxi scams are frequent in Thailand. They're likely to try every trick in the book including pretending they're lost whilst they drive you around the streets or simply ask for an inflated fare. You can avoid this by requesting airport transfers through your hotel or making sure you only get in licensed taxis with the meter running the whole time. Never get in an unmarked car and if they refuse to run the meter simply exit the vehicle and find another. It's actually illegal for them to not run the meter and anyone who is telling you otherwise is trying to scam you.

Jet Ski, hire-car or motorbike scam

The Jet Ski scam is one of the most common scams in Thailand but can also occur when hiring a car, motorbike or scooter. A lot people are in on this scam including the operators, the guides and the local police. When returning the Jet Ski (after you have hired it) they claim that you caused significant damage underneath it and you must pay a large sum of cash immediately. If you refuse the local police who are in on the scam are called over who will also insist you pay and probably a sum for their troubles as well. Often you're threatened with violence and have no choice. Renting a jet ski in Thailand is one of the riskiest things you can do, but if you're determined to do so your best option is to ensure you photograph every part of the jet ski beforehand, especially underneath and make sure the operator sees you doing that so they know you are wise to the scam.

Corrupt/Fake Police

Thailand is well known for the amount of corrupt police who think taking bribes is an acceptable practise. It's rampant through the whole country and tourists are often the easiest targets. One scam is known as the "zig zag" where a person is falsely accused of shoplifting and needs to pay a large sum of "bail" for the theft. Other corrupt police will pull you over in a vehicle or motorbike and advice you're doing something illegal and you need to pay your way out of it. In most instances people who find themselves in this situation are doing something wrong and make it easy to be taken advantage of. The best advice is to act sensibly and familiarise yourself with the local customs and laws. Never do anything illegal and in most cases you won't have any problems.

Gem Scheme

Another very common scam in Thailand is the gem scam and this often occurs in popular tourist locations such as Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Khaosan Rd, Siam Square or may be initiated by a tuk tuk driver. It's a scam with a lot of people involved where the con men present the tourist with an opportunity to buy highly discounted gems. They're told they can bring the gems back to their own country completely duty-free and make at least 150% profit on them. Many people are staged in the scam along the way to each tell the tourist about the gems and how much money they're worth and encourage them to buy the gems. The tourist will eventually find themselves in a jewellery store, and if they do purchase the gems they're are sent directly back to their address in their own country so they don't have to pay for shipping. If the gems do actually arrive they'll find that they are nothing like what they thought they were purchasing and are most likely worthless. We would advise using your common sense in these situations, if it sound too good to be true it probably is.

Bird poo/Spilled condiments

If you find yourself in the situation where bird poo falls on you or someone "accidentally" spills something on you, do not accept the help of that friendly stranger with a towel at all costs. This is a scam where you'll find your belongings and valuables taken off you whilst they are towelling you. Just refuse help politely and get yourself away from the scene as soon as possible.


As discussed before the jet-ski scam also occurs with motorbikes and scooters. Another scam you should be wary of is the stolen motorbike/scooter scam. You've rented one for the day but when you stop somewhere you come back to find it has been completely stolen and the only other key is with the rental company. As you've already handed them your passport and signed a contract, you are obligated to pay the full sum of money to replace the scooter. The best way to not fall prey to this scheme is to avoid stopping anywhere straight away. If you do make sure you are with someone else and take it turns to stay with the scooter if you need to go somewhere. Also the rental company is relying on your passport being of value to you, so you will pay anything to get it back. Supply them with an old one instead and never give a valid one to anyone whilst you are there.

Timeshare Scam

Timeshare scams are common in Thailand and this is definitely one you need to be careful of that can fleece you for thousands. Often people are roped into this scam by being given a "scratchie" by the con men (who often have British accents) where they win a holiday, and then to claim the prize you are taken to a hotel to watch a 90 minute presentation. Timeshares and these sales tactics are common, but in Thailand the actual timeshare is a scam and if you agree to it you will find yourself having to fork over at least five thousand dollars to something that either doesn't exist or is nothing like what you were promised. Avoid taking any "gifts" in Thailand from people you do not know and if you do find yourself somehow watching that presentation, do not agree to do it and do not sign anything. You will regret it for the rest of your life.