Gem Scam Report: Benjarong

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Gem Scam Report: Benjarong
March 8, 2002

From an email we received:


Ever read/heard from the newspapers, magazine, TV, promos or public media about experiencing beautiful and wonderful Thailand? But my experience was a terrible one which I have lot of doubts about Thailand now. Frankly speaking, it used to be one of my favourite traveling places.

After this incident, I know I am not the only victim on this but this has been going for long time - jewelry scam. I truly hope that all the relevant government authorities/organizations and tourists will be aware of it and to be brought together to crack down this crime. Very typical one but seems not much help from the police and the tourists has to take care by themselves.

I arrived on 9 February, 2002 in Bangkok for a stopover before heading to the next destination the next day. Went to Wat Po and was told by a man standing outside the Wat that the Wat was closed due to Buddha's Day Ceremony. After a small talk, he then suggested me to visit other Wat instead such as Lucky Buddha and Happy Buddha (oh! he definitely meant I was his lucky and happy Buddha!) He also said that there was a jewelry exhibition going on which was promoted and supported by the Thai Government. In fact, it was the held once a year and happened it was the last day of the promotion week and I could have a look after visiting wats. He then asked a tuk tuk driver to drove me to the wat and the jewelry center - "Benjarong" situated at 27-29 Soi Chalemket 2, U-kol 1 Street, Thepsirim, Pomprabsatrupai, Bangkok 10100 (Tel: (0) 2223-1126; Fax: (0) 2223 1128).

Arrived in the center at around 4:30 p.m., a lady called herself, Thita came to me showing lot of jewelry with ruby and sapphire. Then we discussed about the jewelry was intended for my mother for her birthday. She then said the same thing again about this was the promotional week supported by the Thai government. They were only allowed to be opened to the public for sale this week. The jewelry are all in very good quality and prices, it was impossible to get the same good quality jewelry from other places. She also reassured me that I could always get the full refund if I was not satisfied about this. What a big promise! Then I was convinced to buy a ruby set of jewelry in the sum of 212,850 Bahts (approx. US$5,020). When we discussed about the payment and delivery, she said since they were merely the wholesaler and the jewelry was expensive, they could only accept cash or gold for payment and they arranged the jewelry to be delivered by mail/courier with full insurance cover to my home country. I was then accompanied by their colleague to go to the goldsmith and get the gold and then this deal was made.

On 15 February, 2002, I went back to Bangkok for a stopover before going home, I spotted a notice posting outside the police station regarding jewelry scam. It was so much like I came across a week ago. I realized I was being set up.

I immediately went to the Tourist Police Station, Patdamnirn Nok Road to ask for help. A police officer attended to my story and said nothing I could do because I did not have my jewelry in hand. Even I had, the chance of getting a full refund is not good and the shop might be closed any time. He suggested me going back my home country and bringing back the jewelry as soon as I can. I then asked him to check the name of the center to see whether there were any similar case regarding this center. Bingo! It was blacklisted. But still the police could not do anything for me. At that moment, he would check if the center was still open and then call me the next day. Since then, I had not heard from him. So I was in the plane the next day heading home.

On 23 February, 2002, I received the jewelry by post together with a wrong description printed on the Guarantee as sapphires instead of ruby). I then kept on calling the police and sending him emails to ask for the situation. Finally, he returned me an email on 26 Feb saying that the manager of the center told him that the center could buy back my jewelry or refund the customer just 60%. And I could get the money on the day I come to Bangkok. The officer said he had no power to accept and suggested me to compromise directly with the center and come to Bangkok as soon as possible.

I immediately told the police officer that I would definitely come to see him on 1 Mar, 2002 and asked him to arrange a meeting with the jewelry center for further discussion.

On 1 March 2002, I came back to Bangkok. As I had an impression that the police was not eager to help, I went to seek legal advice from the local Thai lawyers before the meeting. When my lawyer called the police officer, the police officer said the shop was closed on 27 Feb. But how come he did not tell me right before my coming!! He had all my contact details like phone and email address. Anyway, I decided to go to see him with my lawyers and asked for an explanation and the truth.

When I asked for his explanation, he said tourists seldom come back to him even though they promised they would. So he assumed I was kidding! And he was not very co-operative when I told him that I wanted a criminal case against this jewelry center. The atmosphere of this meeting was very tense. He then tried to convince me to drop the idea of going after these people cause nothing I could gain from it but wasting time and money (appointing the lawyers and those expenses on flying back to Thailand). The process would take long time and it was not worth to it. Yes, he was right on this point - I did lose a lot of money already. A bit strange was that he requested a private conversation with me (without my lawyers' presence) on persuading me to forget about filing a criminal case.

After 4 hours liaising with the police officer, our persistence paid back, a formal written and report was officially filed with the police even though the police told me that the chance of getting back the money and tracking down the relevant persons was not looking good or seemed zero. I left the jewelry to the police to check for the real market value with the gem association and my lawyers would act on behalf of me as I am not living in Bangkok.

This is not the end. Cracking down and nailing down the crime/bad guys should be the job of the Thai police and the relevant authorities but not the tourists. At least the Thai Government has to take the initiatives to do something. Other organizations like gem associations and professionals should come together to discuss about implementing new rules and regulations. I do everything I can on my part to report and voice out my opinion. Someone gets richer and I become poor. Lost all my money and I have to work even harder to pay the legal fees as well. I believe if no one speaks it out, there will be more victims. And the Thai government is not even care for tourism or its reputation, I can't see why this is a beautiful and lovely country. Bad guys are protected and no justice at all. EVERYONE SHOULD THINK ABOUT THIS BEFORE GOING THERE. THE BAD PEOPLE ARE WAITING FOR YOU. THERE IS NO ONE YOU CAN TURN FOR HELP.

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