Note: This page is current to around 2009. In recent years, as information on the internet led to better informed tourists, scammers switched to targeting Chinese and others Asian tourists instead of Europeans.
Left: Tourist warning sign near MBK - January 9, 2008
One of the most pervasive scams in Thailand is the Thai gem scam. Typically, a tourist meets a friendly Thai at a tourist attraction who eventually offers to take them to a "government" gem stone shop where the tourist is told about how they can sell Thai "blue sapphires" or other gems back home and make a 100% profit. It is all lies, of course, and the tourist ends up with a pocket full of overpriced gems. Like Thais themselves, the scam is low-key and the touts are friendly rather than pushy. A rule of thumb for Thais is that "real" Thais do not just walk up to strangers and strike up a friendly conversation. Thais typically "speak when spoken to." If you are approached at a tourist attraction by a friendly fellow who just walks up and starts speaking to you, watch out!
Too many otherwise wonderful vacations have been ruined by this scam, so watch out. 2B has followed this scam online for over a decade and make no mistake--the authorities have done little to stop it. No official ever dares mention the "protected" gold shops that actually run the scams (UPDATE: Gold stores were finally mentioned in a Tourist Police brochure circa January, 2004). One of the tuk tuk drivers who takes victims to be scammed operates in front of the Tourist Information Centre and the local Police Station on Khao Sarn Road.
The funny thing is that over the years the reports are from the same locations--only the names of the stores change. Officials claim that just changing the name of the shop prevents them from doing anything to stop the scam. See our Family Tree of Corrupt Shops. As one shop owner bragged to some cheated tourists: "I'll reopen again, just like I have for 20 years!"
This is a by-the-numbers scam. Most people have the exact same experience. It goes something like this:
1. You are riding in a tuk-tuk
2. The driver tells you that wherever you are going is closed for some reason.
3. The driver tells you he is specially trained to be helpful to tourists.
4. You are told the government has launched a promotion to sell gems to tourists.
5. In the course of riding around with the "friendly" tuk-tuk driver, you "accidentally" meet a well-dressed young man, an older, distinguished man, or even another tourist.
6. The younger man claims he is a student. The older will claim he works for the government and shows you his government ID. (Thai IDs mean nothing. They are readily available for a small fee to anyone.) The tourist will tell you he fianacnes his trips to Thailand by buy gems and bringing them back home for resale.
7. This person you meet will "independently" confirm the story the tuk-tuk driver told.
8. Eventually you ask to be taken to the "government" jewelry house and are told that you can make 100-150% profit by reselling the gems back home. It seems okay since the seller writes something like "if everything is not ok we will offer a full refund" and puts an official looking stamp on it.
9. You've now been cheated by one of the oldest and most openly practiced scams in Thailand.
Note: There are actually newer scam reports than those below, but we receive so many and they are all basically the same story at the same shops. We can just let these reports stand as representative of what is still going on...
Malaysians falling prey to Bangkok gems scam - Bernama, December 31, 2009
...He said the group members, some of whom he claimed were off-duty policemen, normally preyed on tourists at popular spots like the Grand Palace, Siam Square, Central World, Pratunam, Wat Pho and Khaosan Road.
A spokesman of the Thai Tourist Police said the number of reports of such scam had dropped in recent years, and added that most of the victims were from France, Australia, Israel, as well as Japan, Singapore and Malaysia...
Latest gem scam: Yindee Lapidary - December 4, 2009
Jewel scam in Chiang Mai - Lonely Planet, February 12, 2009
Thai Gem Scam simulation - The Real Hustle, May, 2008
[Thanks to Jaymes for pointing this out.]
Interesting simulation of the Thai gem scam that gets several key points wrong - the gems are not fake, the scam is recommended "randomly" by two independent sources, and the gems are sold from a "legitimate" shop, not an outdoor kiosk.
Scam report - April 3, 2008
Scam report - March 27, 2008
From a reader: I just finished browsing your web site and could not help crying over the scam I just went through this afternoon. The incident is exactly same as what most of people described on your web site, involving friendly thai in front of Grand Royal Palace telling me the palace is closed, best bargain price with 40Bah with Tutu driver, and the worst foreigner claimed himself coming from Belgium. I purchased Blue Sapphire and Red Ruby bracelets with about 135,000 Bah and don't even want to imagine how much they are really worth. I bought them really for personally usage, although the "Belgium" guy claimed those jewelry can be resold with double price. With a bit of suspicion, I search for "Golden Argosy Factory Export Center" and found out about the Gem scams on your web site. I am calling credit card company and Thai tourist police but none of them seem to be interested in helping me to get my refund. I am wondering if you have heard any news that the refund can be made 100%. If you do, please let me know. Thank you very much for posting those scams on the web site. Without your web site, I might think I bought those jewelry at decent price. Gosh, I don't even want to admit how stupid I am to fall into this trap. Thanks for your kind attention to my email.
From a reader: My husband and I were recently scammed by Leela Lapidary in Pranakorn. We would like our money to be returned. Thank you in advance for any assistance you can offer.
On 1 January 2008 around 11:00 am, my husband and I arrived at the Grand Palace. We were told by a man at the entrance that the palace was full and would not allow more people in until 1:00 pm. He recommended that we visit Wat Benchamabophit and Wat Saket, as well as a place he called "Thai Center," which we thought must be a cultural center. Refer to the map attached where he wrote this information. He called over a tuk-tuk driver and arranged the fare for us. At one of the wats a very friendly Thai man approached us. He told us that it was a good investment to buy gemstones in Thailand, that they would bring us luck, and indicated that the "Thai Center" had very good prices.
The tuk-tuk driver took us to the "Thai Center," which turned out to be the jewelry store Leela Lapidary (address: 589 Prasumeru Road, Wat Borwornives, Pranakorn, Bangkok 10200. Tel: 2629-4513-16.) My husband was lured into buying a sapphire ring by the saleswoman who kept insisting that the rings were such high quality, we would save on taxes, all the Thai people shopped here because of the good wholesale values, etc. He paid 153,300 bhat for a ring that was only worth 85,533 according to Mr. James Corbett, a registered gemologist in Australia. (Refer to the receipt from Leela Lapidary and the valuation/appraisal from Mr. Corbett. Note that the valuation shows Australian dollars. I have written in US dollars.)
We began to realize that we might have fallen in prey of the scam group only on our return to Australia the following day. We would like to inform you about the crooked sales tactics of this shop and ask for your help in getting our money back (preferably in US dollars). Unfortunately, this ruined our wonderful holiday in Thailand.
We will be returning to Thailand on March 26 for a couple of days. We can bring the ring back at that time. We would prefer not to mail it, but will do so, if instructed.
Accounts of the gem scam
Benjarong (March 8, 2002)
Burapa Lapidary (March 28, 2002)
Christie's Lapidary (October 30, 2002)
Mahachai (October 19, 2002)
Marin Gems Company Limited (March 14, 2002)
Orchid (November 11, 2002)
Siam (formerly Komkien) (July 30, 2002)
S.S.S. Jewelry Limited Partnership (May 14, 2004)
Sukothai Jewellers? They've been closed so kiss your money goodbye! (February 5, 2002)
Universal Gems and Jewelry Export Co. Ltd (May 12, 2002)
One day in Bangkok: Nine tourists/1,204,320 baht scammed/police refuse to help - (October 17, 2002) [This article mentions: Charlermthai, Christie's Lapidary, Oscar, Orchid, and the goldsmith Hang Thong Thong Bai/Ranghang Thong Thong Bai]
Taxi drivers help with the scam (June 6, 2002)
August 2006 - State of the gem scam during the Thai Rak Thai government years
| Since Thai Rak Thai came to power the government has ceased all action against the gem scam and simply announced that the problem was solved.
The reality was that several key shops--Blue Dragon, SSS, and Piyamanee were allowed to remain scamming. Police no longer conducted raids or forced shops to close. Instead, the shops were required to operate under Department of Internal Trade rules that stipulates an 80% refund must be offered to a buyer.
While we have heard statistics of the number of police reports of the scam per year, as far we know police no longer take reports, but send the cheated tourist back to the shop for a refund.
| Back When...
When we first started following the scam in 1990, it was almost always based around blue sapphires. Many even called the scam the Thai Blue Sapphire scam. The story went that there were lots of cheap sapphires being smuggled in from Burma and Cambodia that foreigners could buy, bring home, and make a fortune. Since then the type of gems mentioned in the scam has become more varied.
Left: Tipnapa Ltd., Part. was the first gem scam shop we investigated in 1992. The shop is long gone, but was located not far from the Vandee shop.
The Thai Gem Scam Group - website created by a group of tourists who want to end the scam
Tourism Authority of Thailand Gem-buying page (dead link as of 2007) - "Buying gems or jewellery to resell at double or triple the purchase price is an impossible proposition under any circumstances and should not be attempted."
Thai Gem and Jewelry Traders Association
Tourism Authority of Thailand warnings about the scam
Bangkok Post has an in-depth article (August 21, 2000) on the scam with lots of good background: Gem deals are too good to be true