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Thailand's Notorious Gem Scam, The Oldest Trick In The Book

Updated on February 20, 2012

Scams In Thailand

It is still quite common for first time tourists to Thailand to fall victim to various scams of all shapes and sizes, even though many of these scams have been highly publicized, they are still going on today. Many of the scams are designed to take you to a specific hotel, gift shop or tailor shop, where a taxi driver or tour guide will get a commission. Often the tuk tuk drivers will tell tourists outrageous lies and elaborate stories, just to get them to visit one of these places. When you get into a tuk tuk or a taxi, and tell the driver to take you somewhere, they might tell you that it is closed due to some holiday, or that it burnt down, moved, never existed in the first place, or a variety of other excuses not to take you where you want to go. If this happens to you, simply get out of the taxi or tuk tuk immediately. The oldest trick in the book, has got to be the infamous "Thai Gem Scam", we will explain how this works, so that you can avoid becoming the next victim.

The Thai Gem Scam

Over the years, hundreds of thousands of people have fallen victim to this elaborate hustle, normally involving tuk tuk drivers in Thailand's largest cities, such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai. I have never fallen victim to this scam myself, however I watched a friend of mine fall hook line and sinker.. even though I had warned him, he spent over 1000USD on low grade gems that were not worth half of what he paid. This scam likely has many different twists and turns, but I will tell you how it happened when I witnessed it in Chiang Mai almost 10 years ago.

We were walking around downtown Chiang Mai, looking to hire a tuk tuk, I don't remember exactly where we were going, but I remember the driver had tried to get us interested in some sort of gems right off the get go. I gave him a serious look, and told him not to bother me about anything else, and just take us where we are going, otherwise I will find a driver who would be more willing to accommodate. He agreed, and just started driving us to our intended destination, however after a few minutes, we suddenly stopped, and the driver claimed he was having engine troubles.

As soon as we came to a stop, another man approached us, as if he was just looking to offer assistance. When he asked us where we were going, he immediately said with great enthusiasm, that he was going to buy gems, as the government was offering just this one day of the year, an unbelievable price on rare gems, in order to help students that were learning abroad. He claimed that the students could easily buy gems at a low price from the Thai government, and then resell them for a large profit in foreign countries. It all sounded like a load of bollocks to me, but my mate was all over it. To top it all off, this stranger that had appeared out of nowhere also had a cousin that had traveled to our hometown just last year, and this cousin had managed to resell some of these gems to a jewelry store in downtown Vancouver. The man even gave us the name and address, and of course we were impressed, because it was a well known area of the city.

Before we knew it the tuk tuk was fired up and roaring to a giant gem factory. The gem shop itself look very official, with plenty of ISO logos, to ensure that it was authorized, registered and legitimate. There were no Thai students inside, and that should have been a clue for my mate to wake up and get out of this before he gets taken to the cleaners. Sure enough he got out his credit card and spent over a grand on a little green emerald. He wasn't the only one, there were crowds of tourists, many of them were buying gems as well. As it turned out, the gem was not fake, it was just grossly overpriced, and all the stories were just part of the scam. Apparently high ranking government officials own these gem shops, and that is why they are allowed to stay in business.

Hand Made Jewelry

There are actually many great deals on jewelry and gems in Thailand, if you know where to shop. The craftsmanship of precious metals like gold and silver is as good as anywhere, but often much more affordable. The hill tribe people of Northern Thailand are world renowned for their skills in fashioning handmade silver beads and unique designs of traditional silver jewelry. Hill tribe silver is available in the markets of Chiang Mai, as well as online at Many tourists have made fortunes buying affordable Thai handicrafts and exporting them to western countries, and selling them online.


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    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 5 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      So difficult to tell the good from the bad gems unless you are an expert. I was watching a gem program on T V and the guy said he buys his gems in Thailand. Difficult to tell the genuine from the fake. Thanks for the warning!