Gem scam account: "Two Friendly Men" Ruin a Vacation - January 3, 2001
After a pleasant holiday in the Northeast of Thailand and a week on the island of Ko Chang we returned to Bangkok for a short visit and the flight home. On December 21st we decided to do some sightseeing as a farewell to this country we like so much. When we were on the square of the Democracy-Monument we were approached by 2 friendly men who told us they were students and asked us where we were going. We told them we had no definite plans, but wanted to visit some temples. They told us it was our lucky day, because governement was having a tourist promotion, there was no entrance fee for tourists in the temples on this day and every tuk-tuk driver would get a coupon for 5 l of gas if he took tourists to some temples and then to a government-owned shop - the Bangkok Royal Export Center with a promotion for silk, jewels etc.
We didn't quite believe what they said and walked away, but curiosity kills the cat, so after a short walk we asked some tuk-tuk driver waiting near the curb, if the story about the coupon was true. He said "yes" and he would take us to 3 temples and the governement store with the promotional sale. After some hesitation (normally we don't like tuk-tuks) we said, why not, and the driver took us to the Temple of the Standing Buddha. We visited, returned and were taken to the Chinese temple of the Lucky Buddha, which seemed a bit strange, because it was a long drive and there would have been a great many temples nearby.
In the temple of the Lucky Buddha we "met" a middle-aged man who identified himself as the owner of the temple and showed us an identification card from the Thai governement saying he was a costums official working at Don Muang airport. After some small talk mostly about travelling he told us that for Thai students the stiff costs of travel and studying abroad were subsidized by the Thai governement with tax free sales of jewels, which the students could sell in the foreign country with at least 100% profit. We were lucky (again!), he said, because for the short period of a week governement would allow also tourists to buy jewels on the same conditions as the students, and today was the last day of the sale and it would be open only until 2 pm, we would have to hurry.
Although I would have liked to stay a little longer and take some pictures of the pagoda, we let ourselves be ushered out to the tuk-tuk and after a short trip we stood in front of an impressive facade with gold lettering: the Bangkok Royal Gems & Jewellery shop. In a lucid moment I asked myself if Royal meant gouernemental but in a hurry we were greeted by a very jovial elderly man and led into a separate room away from all the other tourists in the showroom. We were served some chilled Coca-Cola and talked again about travelling, high taxes etc. Then the salesman told us about the possibility for Thai students to finance their studies and that once a year tourists would get the same opportunity to make money, because the Thai governement wanted to encourage tourists to visit the country again and again. He told us, there would be no taxes to pay due to a special governement to governement agreement. We didn't believe this but thought it was a typically oriental way of doing some business on the side and circumvene costums rules and taxes, it's imaginable that one tourist bringing one set of jewels doesn't have to pay as much taxes as a wholesaler buying hundreds of sets.
Then the man who had introduced himself as a Mr Pra-Yuth informed us about the Thai blue sapphires. He said that there was a great demand for them, even in Austria we could sell them without a problem, but the easiest way would be to sell them to a wholesaler named Kris (or Christ) in Munich, Maximilianstrasse. He said he knew Mr Kris personally been drinking beer with him on the Oktoberfest and Mr Kris would buy everything we brought and would be happy to buy from us because he would save costs for air tickets, hotels and other expenses he had to pay, if someone of his staff flew to Bangkok to buy jewels.
Finally each of us decided to buy a set of stones for 101920 baht each.
Mr Pra-Yuth insisted on sending the jewels by EMS, it would be safer for us and there would be no problems with costums and taxes. If there were some taxes to pay it would be a small amount and Bangkok Royal Gems & Jewellery would refund them. We paid with VISA and Mastercard, then the jewels together with an impressive looking certificate were put into an envelope which was sealed with tape and we had to sign it for proof.
Then we got a "complimentary service": A car with driver and tourguide should take us to some more temples. The tuk-tuk driver had been dismissed long ago, for our safety Mr Pra-Yuth told us. And they kept us busy for the rest of the day.
In the evening grave doubts set in and we phoned a lawyer-friend in Austria and asked about the governement to governement agreement concerning jewel imports. When he told us there was no such agreement the whole story began to crumble. In the morning we were quite sure we had been cheated and went to the shop as soon as it was open. Nobody we recognised was there but after some arguing the "manager" was called and talked to us and promised us we would get a full refund if we brought back the jewels. We didn't believe a word he said but there was nothing left to do. We tried to catch the parcel in Laksi post office and although the people there were very helpful we had no success - the jewels were on their way to Austria on board a plane.
Later, too late, we read about gems scams in our "Lonely Planet" and what it says about greed involved etc. We don't think it's pure greed if you accept the possibility of financing another visit to a country you like very much but can hardly afford because it's so far away. We are deeply disappointed after a wonderful holiday but what hurts most is that we feel we have lost all our trust in Thai people however friendly and amiable they appear to be. Whenever a Thai smiles at you and offers his help you automatically ask yourself if he really means it or wants to cheat you.
One important point has to be mentioned: the word ROYAL in the company's name was one cause for our trusting the company. We read everywhere that Thai people love their king and that one has to be very respectful with insignia and terms relating to the king. We could not believe that a scam of that kind could run under the title ROYAL.
On December 22nd we went to the tourist police. They said our only chance of getting at least part of the money back was to either stay in Bangkok and ask a friend at home to send the jewels back or to return with them personally to confront the shop owner in the presence of the tourist police.
Unfortunately we could not extend our stay and flying back to Bangkok is rather costly, on top of which there is no guarantee that the shop will still exist on our return, which would still raise our losses. Our urgent question is: does anyone know another possibility of getting our money back?
We hope to overcome all our disappointment one day and to be able to return to Thailand. It still is a very beautiful country.
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