How I Almost Got Scammed: Lessons Learned from Trouble in “Paradise”

Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi, Phuket, Thailand

Enjoying Southeast Asia

Last winter, me and the girlfriend went on a one month tour of Southeast Asia. It was a fantastic trip, and the countries we visited were very beautiful; we stopped by Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Taiwan. We took in a lot of sights, ate many different types of food, and took in the countryside.

We also encountered many friendly locals, and some not so friendly. In Southeast Asia, a walking caucasian man is a symbol of a walking dollar sign. Many of the people there see this as a fact; however, most of the people we encountered in the less frequented areas or in the poorer areas were very nice and hospitable. In the more touristy areas, niceness and hospitality sometimes fall by the wayside. Nowhere do they fall further than at Phuket, which sees over 3 million visitors a year annually.

I want to tell you guys a story of how me and my girlfriend were nearly scammed out of thousands of dollars during our stay at Phuket, and how we managed to escape with the somewhat smaller loss of three hours of our time!

The woman on the scooter and the mystery prize

It happened during one of the three mornings that we stayed in Phuket. We had left the hotel to go on a walk, and perhaps to grab a bite to eat. We were stopped by a British woman on a scooter only a few hundred feet from our hotel. She asked us if we would like to scratch some cards to see if we were winners. I asked her what the catch was; she said “no catch and no obligations! Just scratch to see if you win, if you want to.”

I didn’t see the harm in scratching a couple of cards, so I went ahead and scratched it with my girlfriend. My girlfriend’s card was a dud, but the card I had been given was a “big winner”, and I had the choice of a camcorder, a vacation, and I don’t even remember what the third choice was; maybe it was a car. The woman immediately performed some kino on me and asked my girlfriend if I was a lucky man; she then told us how lucky we were, said something about there being some kind of presentation to see first, and that we were both a bit too young but they should still accept us. She then called her “boss” to see if they had time to see us, and then she walked with us to bring us over to the place where they were doing the timeshare presentations.

At this point, alarm bells should have been ringing off in our heads! We were both skeptical, but there was the low-hanging fruit of a won prize to claim. This lure kept us in the game and brought us into the hands of John, our main timeshare presenter.

John, our friendly timeshare presenter

John was a friendly guy and introduced us to the concept. He asked us if he had half an hour to an hour to spare, and I said “yes, but no more than that.” He brought us to a cafe, bought us drinks, and told us some stories about Thailand. He told us a little bit about what the timeshare program was about, but he was not willing to share details when pressed. When he asked us “do you think I’m honest?”, my girlfriend aptly replied “I think that you’re doing your job!”

We still wanted the prize, so to allay our concerns, John gave us the envelope with the two scratched cards and said we could redeem those at anytime. The process started to drag on and we both became impatient. John sensed this, so he offered to bring us on a tour to see one of the timeshares. I guess we must have seemed like big fish to catch at the time, or just very gullible because we were too nice to just tell him to get to the point or we were walking.

We spent another half an hour or so touring the grounds of one of the timeshares, and though the place was OK, I would have rated it on the same level as a three star hotel. The whole time, John was attempting to use neuro-linguistic programming on us by subtly dropping hints here and there to make the place seem better than it really was. He would say things such as “These places are a really great bargain; a developer once built these homes for the Thais, but they don’t like living in vertical homes, so we were able to buy these places up cheap and pass on the savings to you.”

Cutting a deal with Frankenstein

Finally, we were both getting very impatient as more than two hours had passed. We were getting ready to just leave, prize or no prize, since we were wasting valuable vacation time in a place we were only staying at for three days. We walked back to the office with John, where we sat down at a table and met Frank, the negotiator. The office was full of round tables and had perhaps 7 to 8 groups sitting there along with us.

I normally try not to judge people by their appearance, but Frank was a very scary looking character. Perhaps John felt that intimidating us after all of that would be the best pressure tactic to get us to buy. Our jaws dropped when we found out the initial price for entrance into their program: $11,000!

Unfortunately for both John and Frank, I had already become very impatient, and I had developed a bad feeling in my gut from seeing Frank. I asked for 5 minutes alone with my girlfriend; we both agreed that this was a waste of time and that it was time to just claim the prizes and leave. We then went back to them and told them “no” flat out.

The final tactic was thrown into play against us: the planting of seeds of doubt. Frank would ask us “why?”, and then show us BS charts showing how their program would save us money. John would say things like “I think that it would be stupid to pass up a great offer like this. Frank’s only going to make this offer for you today.” John was very skilled at his job, because although I resisted against being manipulated, I still felt an impact from hearing statements like that.

Frank offered us a $3,000 “trial” for 6 months, which we also said no to. John had told us earlier on that we could always just say no if we felt like it, so I called him out on that and said that they had wasted enough of our time.

Escaping from the jaws of the trap

John then showed us to the booth where we could claim our prize. We did, and the prize ended up being a 5-day stay at one of their timeshares! It also had to be used within the next 12 months. This was less than useless to us, because we have no plans to ever return to Phuket, and certainly not at one of their time shares.

We were supposed to receive free t-shirts, but they didn’t have any at the place, so we sat down and waited for another 5 to 10 minutes. I’m not sure if this was yet another tactic of some sort, but John came out during this time and told us that he was sorry that we hadn’t joined.

During that time, we saw other representatives pass by with families and couples in tow. I called out to one of those families and ask them if they had also won the big prize. The guy said “yes”, and I then told them to be careful and to watch out. Their guide was dragging them on and didn’t look very happy about that.

After those 10 minutes, we were told that the t-shirts were out of stock, but they could be delivered to our hotel. We told them to deliver them to the hotel we were staying at and then walked off. Some ways down the road, a guy with a scooter stopped us just to tell us that he’d be delivering the t-shirts. I was so pissed at the time that I thought the guy was another representative, and I didn’t actually hear anything that he said; I blithly ignored him and walked on by. My girlfriend heard, though, and told me that’s what he said.

It turns out that we never received the t-shirts. Not the next day, and not ever! At least we could have gotten that out of the wasted time, but even the t-shirts were a scam. :)

Lessons learned

I am proud that I followed my gut and that we said no, in spite of all of the pressure and tactics used against us. I am sure that me and my girlfriend were like two giant bluefin tunas swimming in the ocean, and that we were that close to getting ensnared and caught.

I am less proud of the fact that we were so gullible about the process in the first place; although I felt that we were being manipulated, the bait of a stupid prize lured us on. Here are the main lessons learned for the next time I encounter one of these guys:

  • Never be reluctant to just flat out say “no” and walk away right then and there. These people are not your friends, no matter how friendly they may seem.
  • There is just about never such a thing as a “great deal that will pass you by” that requires hours of the salesman’s time in order to marinate you and soften you up. If it was really that great of a deal, it would sell itself.
  • Any place that sees three million tourists a year is bound to have more of these sharks swimming about; although parts of the Phuket area were quite beautiful, such as Ko Phi Phi (where “The Beach” was filmed), and the road to the Big Buddha was quite nice with traditional restaurants, I found that the majority of Phuket was more fluff than substance, and the mass tourism definitely ruined the place.

So, reader, what do you think about our little encounter with trouble in Paradise? We walked away with a bad mood and three hours of our day completely wasted, but otherwise none the worse for wear. I would love to hear your own stories and feedback.

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  1. says

    I noticed that in highly touristic areas, anytime someone approaches you using the opening line of “My Friend…” he is out to squeeze $$$ from you.

    These timeshare presentation traps also exist in Canada btw, I’ve been to one of them and escaped with only my time being lost…glad it was not vacation time!

    Good post kevin!

    • says

      I suppose that in Canada, you have a little more recourse should things go bad! Good point Mich; if they have to tell you that they are your friend… they probably aren’t 😉

  2. says

    Good post Kevin. I’ve “been there” too. Not really timeshare scammers, but street scammers who prey on foreigners all the same!

    My wife and I were in Spain a few years ago (Barcelona). We’re sitting in a restaurant, near the front window, enjoying our (well-deserved) red wine at lunch :) Our shopping bags were on my wife’s chair, because we wanted to keep a close eye on them (we thought)! A guy came up to the window, tapped on it, and we looked up. He wanted the time (so we believed). We looked at him, stunned for a moment – our spanish wasn’t the best. Meanwhile, a guy behind us was approaching. I turned around just in time; he darted the other way without any of our bags in his hands. I’m convinced they were working together, even though the guy who left the restuarant made no eye contact with the guy outside tapping on the window. He quickly walked away as well. Seeing the two of them in our vicinity so fast (the restaurant was half-full) was just too coincidental to me. I’m convinced it was our close call in Barcelona.

    I guess my story re-emphasizes a point you made above – if your gut is telling you something is “off” – it’s probably right. The world is a huge zoo, there are predators everywhere.

    • says

      I’ve heard that European cities can be notorious for that kind of thing; I wonder if the high unemployment rates can have something to do with it? That was a pretty sneaky trick; I’m glad that you came out alright!

  3. says

    That is my idea of hell. As soon as I hear ‘timeshare’, I run the other way as fast as I can.

    It is a good thing you were there a month – long vacation, as 3 hours is not as big a deal I guess as it would be if it were just a week. But I still would have been furious.

    You were very smart to listen to your instincts, that is for sure.

    • says

      We were definitely pissed off for the rest of the day, and even now, I doubt I’d ever go back to Phuket. There are some beautiful spots to see there, to be sure, but overall I prefer the less “mass-tourism” places such as Chiang Mai.

  4. says

    I actually WORKED in one of these type places! I was right out of college, and it seemed to be ok in the beginning.

    It was a camping type timeshare, where people were lured in by filling out a card to win one of these fabulous prizes. The prize was ski passes to a cruddy resort…..I never saw anyone win a big prize.

    I didn’t get paid unless I sold something, other than a “first commission advance.” Mostly I sat around until I got a tour. Now, I had a small car and would have to cram all these people into my personal vehicle (which had to be kept pristine), and drive around and talk them into buying this.

    I did sell a few….but never got paid beyond my “advance.” I quit shortly after starting.

    • says

      Ooff.. it could be that after all that effort, John didn’t get much to show for it. It was a lose-lose situation for both of us… we wasted our time, and so did he! On the other hand, they DO work and live in Thailand, next to the beach…

    • says

      Hi Larry,

      “The moral is that you should not sign anything until it is checked by your lawyer.” Unfortunately, that seems to be the case when dealing with these unscrupulous fellows. It would have been better for the elderly couple to have checked with their lawyer first, but it definitely does not sound like there was informed consent. I hope that they are able to get back the restitution that they deserve and stick it to those thieves.

    • says

      Hey Evan,

      The trip was great. Vietnam in particular is an exotic place that is like nowhere else that I’ve ever been. Hanoi, Halong Bay, and Nha Trang are all places that should be seen at least once, and riding a scooter on the streets (in Nha Trang, please… if you value your life ;)) is definitely something fun to try out at least once! Why? Almost no traffic lights or stop signs! Every intersection is a yield intersection…

      Cambodia and Siem Reap is also a striking place to visit (stay at the Shining Angkor if you go), and Thailand definitely lives up to its reputation 😉

      If you were to visit Taiwan, I would recommend going in the fall. I didn’t see so much in the winter there as the weather is bad in Taiwan at that time of year, and it was more to visit people than a vacation, per se; fall, however, is a great time to visit Taiwan and visit the countryside to see Toroko Gorge and Sun Moon Lake. Xinmen island is also interesting…

  5. says

    I went to Jamaica in June and was very cautious not get scammed because I had heard so many horror stories. We made sure that we stayed with our guide when off the resort and were even careful not to give the merchants our name. Some of the locals will write your name down on some craft and insist that you buy the craft that you “requested” be made for you. I”m glad you listened to your gut as well.

  6. says

    Oh dear! Good thing you got out safely!

    South East Asia (or really anywhere in Asia including India) is really good at scamming us foreigner’s for money.

    We’re like walking money bags, really!

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    I’ve been asked in Vegas to attend time share presentations for free show tickets, free dinners, too. It was tempting, but thankfully my boyfriend helped me say “no thanks” because I personally was blinded by the word “free” =)

    • says

      Yep, you gotta be careful in SE Asia, though it only gets really bad in those areas where there are a lot of uneducated tourists. I did not experience the same in Cambodia; in fact, I was greatly humbled by the people there. I would highly recommend anyone stop by Siem Reap, visit the temples at Angkor, and head out to the floating village on Tonle Sap lake and watch the sunset. It was quite the experience…

  7. says

    My wife and I went through the same ordeal years ago, but in Bangkok. It may have been the same company because the places they showed us also looked like 3 star properties.
    The price also sounds similar, but it was a long time ago so I can’t be too sure.

    We also sat through a presentation of the Marriott Vacation Club in Phuket, and while the price was a lot higher than mentioned here (about 30,000 USD, 5 years ago), it wasn’t a sleazy high pressure deal and we actually really wanted to buy into it, but being newlyweds, we just didn’t have that kind of cash laying about.

    • says

      Yep, 30,000 is quite a bit of cash. I know some people would go for these things, but I personally would only go for it if there was a developed market for buying & selling, and if it was a place I would want to return to year after year. There is just so much of the world to see, and I am still very young 😉

  8. says

    I’ve always passed up such winnings or offers; I guess I’ve heard too many stories for relatives that experience such scams. Sometimes I wondered if they were real or not, but later I always convince myself that they were scams…

    • says

      Unfortunately, so long as these guys manage to scam 1 out of 1000 successfully, they will still continue their practices. Your relatives’ stories have probably saved you from listening to a lot of boring presentations and wasting your time!

  9. says

    Hi Kevin! I’m from the Yakezie.

    Thank you for sharing–I didn’t realize they had timeshare presentations in other countries; I am posting two articles this week about our own timeshare experience. It’s amazing how much alike it was with yours!

    • says

      Thanks for stopping by! It seems that wherever there are flocks of tourists, one of these guys won’t be far away. I’m looking forward to reading about your own experiences!

  10. says

    My wife and I went to St. Kitts and they had a table set up right in the hotel lobby that tried something similar with us. We scratched and “won” a mug. I lived in NYC for 5 years and have worked in NYC (live in Jersey now) for 6 years, so I’ve seen my fair share of scams. I agreed to sit with them (because I had just said I wanted a mug for the coffee maker in the room… odd) but only if I had the mug in had before we sat down. When I sat down they started asking questions. I replied politely with “are you trying to sell me something.” They tried to avoid the question but I kept asking mine (politely) – I ask questions for a living, so I’m not shy about that. Finally they said “yes.” I said I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time and wasn’t interested in buying anything, thanked them for the mug and wished them luck.

    It sounds like they had their “game” down with you. Glad you got away!

  11. Alan Slater says

    Its such a shame when a perfectly great holiday gets ruined by these scammers, I was approached in Spain and ofcourse my husbands scratch card was a dud but mine was a winner, luckily we didn’t follow it up, but nowadays purchasing time shares doesn’t have to be a con there are some perfectly legitimate sellers out there

  12. Herschel Langmyer says

    Interesting stuff! I went to Britain this summer and had my first ever afternoon tea and scones, and it was absolutely delicious I decided to try and make my own last week. I might have broken a few rules maybe – I found a website full of random scone recipes and made 6 different kinds! My friends were so happy when I brought them round for tea and scones. Terrific fun!

  13. adventure world tours says

    The last time I was on a round the world tour, they budgeted $100,000 per person for travel expenses. What the actual expenses were, I don’t know.. but we hit it pretty close because the last month of the tour the accounting types were all but beating us over the head the entire month about not being ‘wasteful’.

  14. Harry says

    Why did you go in the first place.

    The companies are very good,and provide a great service.

    I have had nothing but great holidays with Absolute.


    All the best


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