Scams, Rip-offs, Thieves and Tricksters

It has often been said, "If any scam is possible, you will find it in Vietnam".

Only a very small minority of Vietnamese are scammers, so do not go there with the belief that it is riddled with scammers. This is Vietnam, not Cambodia.

I think I should share this true story with you. In late 2008, heavy rains in Hanoi caused significant flooding. Poorly made streets and roads offered little drainage resulting in numerous road closures. What was widely reported is that along Hanoi streets, the water was trapped unable to drain away leaving a lake of waist deep water at intervals along the roads. One group of enterprising men got old blocks of concrete and stacked them up on the roads edge and stood on top of them casually smoking cigarettes. This gave the appearance to oncoming motorists that the water that was across the road was only an inch or two deep and they drove on regardless. After getting their car or motorcycle inundated with water, those same men standing on top of the concrete blocks would volunteer to push the vehicles out of the water and repair them..... for a fee of course.

So below is a ever growing list of scams and rip-offs common in Vietnam.

The Government is successfully clamping down on the fake taxis, but there are still quite a few out there. These are old cars with the taxi sign being a magnetic sticker on the door, or a magnetic taxi light on the roof. The meter within will either be an empty box, a faulty one or one borrowed from a legitimate taxi. The taxi fares are based on distance, not time. So while sitting in a run down car (taxi) and not moving and you see the meter ticking over.... suspect a scam. The fake taxis will either charge you an agreed price, or the meter will read higher than it should. And be aware that each different legitimate taxi company charges different rates to add to the confusion.

The fare reads 68,000 dong and all you have is 80,000 dong. Many will have no change, so they say. It is not much they are ripping you off for, but it's the principal of the driver imposing a mandatory tip for himself.

Foreigners with out street maps will take a taxi, pay a fare of around $10 for the 45 minute journey, and in the later light of day while taking a walk, discover the final destination was only a few hundred metres from where the taxi collected them. One fellow Australian said she arrived on the late night bus at Pham Ngu Lao street in HCMC, took a cab to her hotel on Biue Vien Street, and was charged $10 USD. Next morning she took a walk to find those two streets run parrallel to each other less than 100 metres apart.

Many bus and train staff will ask you for a modest fee for your heavy or large baggage, since it is larger or heavier than normal. Truth is, there is no extra fee. It is just the staff member pocketing a couple dollars from you at your expense. If you can carry it and stow it, there is no extra fee. This scam is most common on trains.

The taxi or cyclo driver appearts to know enough English to get you to your destination. You arrive, to discover he took you to the wrong place. He then takes you back past where he collected you in the first place and then to the correct location, saying "I don't speak English" when you try to argue the higher fare he is now asking. In Hanoi, I was taken to an Art Gallery, then a Womens Museum and then finally to the Army Museum which is where I wanted to go in the first place. I am certain he knew exactly where I wanted to go, since upon arrival, he was able to say "Not open on Monday". And it was Monday. After that, what I had to say was responded with "I don't speak English".   I was present when my travel buddy was talking to him a couple days prior and he spoke perfect English then.

Common scam. Bottles of beer are frequently kept cool in a bucket or tub of ice. Sitting in water, the labels often will come off. The scam sellers take advantage of that by serving you a lower priced beer at the higher price of a different beer that comes in a similar bottle. Unless you are familiar with the taste of the beer you ordered, you can not identify it due to the missing label.

I hate this scam. Got ripped off myself. The scam is not common, but it hurts when it happens. Their target is a male drinking alone over an extended period. They give you the bill when you are ready to go, but they have increased the number from what you actually drank. Being an Australian, seven beers over five hours is not a lot for me. After all, what I was doing was taking advantage of the free wireless connection with my lap top, and buying just enough drinks to keep them happy that I was not free loading. I ask for the bill, and seven beers became a bill for 21 beers!! Who do they think they are kidding??!! I heard from other they have been ripped off on occasions in the same manner.  The tip is ask to keep the empty bottles on the table or close by. That way neither can dispute the final bill. And if the police do come, who will they believe...? The clearly sober staff members or the customer with beer on his breath?

This scam is where you and a buddy or somebody you just met are drinking together. One pays his share of the bill and leaves. When you get your bill, it is higher than it should be. The staff will say the other person only paid for a lesser number of drinks than his/her share, leaving you to pay the difference. In other words, they are double dipping.

In my visit to Vietnam in late 2008, I received many reports of criminal activity at internet cafes. Most do not have anti-virus, anti-spyware software installed.  I heard from many that said there had been numerous emails in  their outbox offering Nigerian and 501 scams.  In those cases, their web based email accounts had been compromised. I was told by two separate people, one in Saigon, the other in Hanoi of actually witnessing people in the internet cafes writing down passwords and user ID's they were gleaning from key stroke logging software that was installed.  Obviously, if you are banking online or your email in-box holds your personal and financial data, you are at risk of theft.

Thousands of them out there. You can even have some of them make dog tags to order. As an amateur historian, I can tell at a glance the difference between a US helmet from the Vietnam war and a current Belgian helmet that sell in surplus stores for a few dollars each. In the north, I found many selling barnacle encrusted Belgian helmets attempting to pass them off as genuine US helmets from the war. The supposed bullet holes have clearly been made with a drill, and the barnacles come from submersing them in the sea for a few months. I also saw current Chinese bayonets being passed off as old American knives.

So you take a boat cruise at the very cheap price offered you as you were walking along the river bed. They take the money up front and offer to take you to an old village or old ruins. You arrive, step off the boat and take a walk. You return to find the boat now no longer on the shore, but within speaking range as you now have no negotiation powers on the price for the return journey. The key here is NEVER pay up front, and ensure the agreed price is a return journey and that the fee is for everyone in your group. A four dollar boat ride can become sixteen dollars on return when you realise he was charging that price for each of your group of four people.

So many to mention here....
The cripple with dirty soles of his feet from  walking before he got down on his knees and started faking it. (some even have their shoes with them)
The "my baby is so hungry" with the woman carrying the sleeping baby that is not even hers but rent paid to the mother, and the child given a shot of liquor to keep them to sleep.
My mother is so sick, says the younger lady helping the older semi-crippled lady walking along as they beg for money to pay for the surgery. As soon as they are out of the sight of the tourists, the old lady straightens up, the pain is gone and off to the markets they go.

Silk is a relatively cheap product in Vietnam. Surprisingly, some scammers are selling synthetic fabrics, passing them off as silk. I say surprisingly since, the imported synthetic fabrics can be dearer for the scammer to buy than genuine silk. In general terms, silk clothing is tailor made, while the synthetic clothes come out of China pre-made. To test for real silk, take one of the threads and pass it near a flame. If it shrivels back and or melts, it is synthetic. Real silk will hold shape and smolder.


Common scam in the mountain hotels when it is cold. You ask for a room with a fireplace and you get one at the right price. You go to your room and the fireplace is near perfect. No wood to burn, so you ask and they say..." that will be another $2 please".
Then in the south, it is hot and steamy. You ask for a room with an air-conditioner. You get to the room and there is no switch to turn the cooler on. You ask at reception..... they say.. ""that will be another $2 please".
Also remember - the bottled water in the fridge is not free, neither is the instant coffee unless they specifically state it is free.


Common scam..... you closely inspect the quality of the product you are looking at buying. Upon your decision to buy, they volunteer to wrap it. Under the counter or by a quick switch, they swap the product for one that is a lesser quality or broken and otherwise unsaleable. Most visitors won't bother returning it, or in a big market, won't remember which booth it was purchased from.

Some roaming shoe shine boys will cut stitching while they are some distance from you polishing your shoes. They will return and show you the 'worn out' threads they just noticed. For an extra few dollars, they will fix them for you. The other is the solvent that dissolves the glue in your shoes. They will shine your shoes at a very low price. Even though your shoes are in no need of a shine, they will inspect your shoes closely over the next couple days as they wait for the glue to give way. Of course, for a fee, they will happily fix them for you. When they polished your shoes that day or two earlier, they have squirt a glue solvent along the seams. These scammers are an extreme minority. Word gets round pretty fast  with that scam.

You will find many wandering around selling lottery tickets. Often, the ticket on top of the pile is an expired worthless ticket from the previous lottery.
Sliced fruit, nuts or popcorn gets put in front of you at a cafe, bar or restaurant.  They are not free, and the price is so high that if you saw the price on the menu, you would not want them.  For example, a half cup of peanuts at the price

These are a bit of a rarity, but they are out there. Men of the right age group who pretend to be a former South Vietnamese soldier. They will have a tattoo (real or fake) on their arm of an American style eagle or the letters/numbers of a military unit. They will sit and talk about the war, while you buy them lunch and drinks. As a parting gesture they ask if you would be so kind to buy them a English/Vietnam dictionary. You oblige them, you go, and they take the book back to the store for a refund, less a commission to the store, then go look for another victim. Non-Veterans can't get scammed by these. You can not fake being a veteran of a war to a person who is a veteran of that war. They get their facts wrong, as they do geographic locations and the year in which an event occurred.

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