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Published: Saturday January 2, 2010 MYT 3:14:00 PM

Malaysians falling prey to Bangkok gems scam

BANGKOK: Despite numerous reports on the infamous Bangkok gem scams, many unsuspecting Malaysians, lured by the sparkling gem stones or sheer greed, are losing thousands of ringgit to such scams.

In the latest incidents, a family on tour here lost 130,000 baht (RM13,000) while an executive with Malaysia’s oil firm, Petronas, spent 88,000 baht (RM8,800) on poor quality gems.

In fact, some of the buyers were thinking of making a quick buck back home as they were told that the gems could be sold back to leading jewellers in Malaysia like Poh Kong and Habib at more than 80 percent profit.

It is learnt that an average of five cases of Malaysians being cheated were reported to the Thai authorities and the Malaysian embassy here every year.

”This is the tip of the iceberg. There could be many more such cases as not many buyers realise that they have been conned, or they just don’t have the resources to pursue the matter once they are back home,” an embassy official said.

Many of the complainants were those who took the trouble to check the authenticity of the gems with dealers back home, while some realised it after browsing the Internet and reading thousands of reports on the scam.

In fact, there are 36,400 entries about Bangkok’s gem scams on Google.

Many tourists coming to Thailand are usually attracted by the country’s popularity for gems stones. Thailand exported about US$8.27 billion worth last year.

The scam is well-organised and targets tourists and expatriates in the capital.

Many Malaysians working here or their visiting relatives and friends have often been approached by the scammers, who are mostly well-dressed individuals working in hand-in-glove with tuk-tuk drivers and the gems shops.

Recounting his experience, a human resource manager with a multinational here, who declined to be named, said he and his family were approached by a young man when we went to visit the Grand Palace.

The man told them that the palace had been closed for some prayers and offered to take them to another famous temple called Lucky Buddha.

The man then called tuk-tuk which was willing to take them around for a mere 20 baht.

He said they were taken to a gem shop after visiting the temple but despite the sweet talk they did not buy anything as he was suspicious from the start, he said.

He said the same thing happened to his mother and a family friend a few months later but they again did not buy anything.

But not many were so lucky. In a report lodged with the embassy and Thai authorities, a man said he and his family were taken to a shop where the manager claimed that it was the last day of promotion and normally they would not sell to tourists as they were wholesalers.

”We saw that there was ISO9001:2000 banner hanging outside the shop. Therefore, we were more convinced to buy their product. She (manager) also told us that their shop supplied gems to Poh Kong in Malaysia,” the man said.

They bought two pendants, a ring and a pair of ear-rings for 130,000 baht, only to be told by two certified gemologists in Malaysia that they had been conned as the gems were treated with beryllium to change the sapphire’s natural colour.

In another case, a Petronas executive said a man approached in Khao San Road and persuaded him to visit the Black Buddha temple and few other shopping centres in a tuk-tuk for just 20 baht.

Later, he was taken to an export centre where he was told that the Thai government was holding a promotion only for students and tourists, with items being sold without the usual 195 percent tax, as well as another 20 per cent discount.

He bought a set of blue sapphire with diamond ring, ear-rings and pendant in white gold setting for 88,000 baht but instead of taking the items to the hotel, he was taken to a courier agent and told to courier them immediately as it was not safe to carry them around.

After browsing the Internet, the executive was shocked to find out that hundreds of people had been conned by the same shop for years.

He lodged a complaint with the embassy and the shop agreed to pay back 90 percent of the price.

A taxi driver, who previously worked with the scammers, said they were normally paid a commission (up to 30 percent) once a transaction had taken place, or at least some money to purchase fuel.

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 Khao San Road.

A Thai Tourist Police spokesman said the number of reports of such scams had dropped in recent years, and added that most of the victims were from France, Australia, Israel, as well as Japan, Singapore and Malaysia.

In 2007, there were 62 gem scams reported compared with 83 cases in 2006.

The spokesman said police could not do much as these were criminal cases and those cheated were advised to file a complaint with the Office of the Consumer Protection Board. - Bernama

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