Common Vietnam Scams and How to Avoid Them


Just when you thought that you could leave all of your troubles behind and relax on your trip, out of nowhere trouble strikes.

Suddenly, your valuables and money are gone and your left panicking in a foreign country where you can’t even communicate with people to ask for help.

Wait a minute…

This was never mentioned anywhere when you were researching Vietnam, you think back.

You only read great things about the country, never the bad.

You kick yourself and curse out loud, attracting many spectators that look at you as if you’ve just checked out of a mental asylum.

If only you had found this website and read this article beforehand, then perhaps this wouldn’t have happened to you.

Vietnam is a great and wonderful country that offers many opportunities for a fellow traveler.

Great weather, beautiful beaches, and absolutely stunning feminine Vietnamese girls everywhere!

But like all paradise’s, a country’s bound to have some downsizes.

And the major one you will probably face here in Vietnam are Vietnamese scams!

On today’s article, I’m going to be discussing common Vietnam scams and how to avoid them.

Common Vietnam scams consists of:

  • Motorbike phone snatchers
  • Fruit pole photo scam
  • Pick pockets
  • Shoe repair/shine scam
  • Free food scam
  • Motorbike rental scam
  • Dating scams
  • Dog thieves
  • Taxi scam
  • Currency scam
  • Getting ripped off and overcharged
  • Extra drinks on tab
  • Extra items charges on tab
  • Cyclo scam
  • Bait and switch scam
  • Free attractions admission fee scam
  • Card game scam
  • Fake beggars scam
  • Beg packer scam

Motorbike Phone Snatchers

This one unfortunately occurs quite often and plagues the country.

Both locals and foreigners are targeted by low life thieves riding around undercover on their motorbikes looking for unsuspecting victims.

These thieves love to prey on vulnerable targets, especially females and tourists.

Sometimes they work in pairs or even groups of four, but you can also see them snatch phones individually when the opportunity presents itself.

But they don’t just stop at snatching phones. If they see other valuables such as purses, handbags, jewelry, etc, their thieving hands will quickly try to get a hold of the item as well.

These people typically have zero regard for the victim’s well being when attempting their robbery, and often times the victim gets dragged and injured in the process.

When snatching purses and handbags, these thieves love to target women with their handbag slung over their shoulder to the side.

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Always be alert and on the lookup for suspicious activity around you.

You aren’t in the safe confines of your home country. Therefore you need to be extra careful and vigilante of your surroundings.

Never take your phone out when your on the road or riding a motorbike. Thieves can easily snatch it while driving by.

Also if you must use your phone, walk to the far side of the sidewalk away from the road and have your back turned so that your phone is not exposed for someone to drive by and snatch it.

Don’t use your phone for an extended period of time while outside on the streets.

I never once used my phone for more than 30 seconds while out on the streets.

Even when seated in front of a store, always keep a firm grip on your phone and be on the lookout for motorbikes that drive by. Better yet, just go sit inside if you intend on using your phone for a prolonged period of time.

Avoid bringing your handbag to busy touristy areas.

But if you must, try to keep it close to you in front and not to the side where thieves can easily grab a hold onto it.

Be extra cautious around districts with a lot of tourists and foreigners such as district 1, 2, Bình Thạnh, and 7.

Fruit Pole Photo Scam

This scam occurs mainly in popular tourist hotspots such as the old quarter, french quarter in Hanoi, and the reunification palace, war remnants museum in Ho Chi Minh City.

Typically you will see 1-2 ladies or guys carrying baskets of fruits such as coconut or pineapple on a long pole hung on their shoulder for support.

She will gesture for you to come take photos holding the pole over your shoulders.

If you refuse to take a photo, they may even follow you and forcibly place the pole on your shoulders regardless. Unbeknownst to the victim, after the photos are taken, she will demand that you pay her money for the photos.

The typical price they will ask for is between 100-200k vnd ($5-10 USD). If you refuse to pay, they will follow you and nag you like a little child asking their mother to buy them candy.

In some cases, they may just outright try to grab your wallet and take the money!

If all else fails, and they are unsuccessful in getting you to take a photo, the next trick up their sleeves involve them persuading you into buying fruit from them at overly outrageous prices.

Its not uncommon to be charged 100k vnd for a coconut that you could have easily bought for around 20-30k vnd at a local honest vendor or supermarket.

A similar scam exists in Italy where guys from Africa try to put a friendship bracelet on you, only to later ask you for an exorbitant amount of money.

I fell for a similar scam in NYC as well, back in my early travel days.

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

These scammers usually look for unsuspecting and confused looking foreigners.

If you appear confident and sure of yourself, they will most likely leave you alone.

By extra cautious around tourist attractions, as that’s where these people love to base themselves at.

Don’t even acknowledge them if you see them trying to talk with you and follow you. Just ignore them!

In the unfortunate event that you find yourself in the process of getting scammed, take out your camera or phone and video record or snap some photos of them and tell them that your going to report them to the police.

Then immediately go look for a police officer. They usually wear a green uniform.

Forget about getting the beige uniform officers to do anything. Their useless and only go after drivers on the ride for traffic violations and coffee money.

When buying fruit or anything for that matter, always ask for the price first.

Fruit seller Vietnam scams

Pick Pockets

Not really a scam per a say by still something to watch out for.

Like their cousins the motorbike phone snatching thieves, these guys love to target females, unsuspecting victims, and foreigners.

They usually operate at tourists attractions such as the Ben Thanh market in district 1. In fact, there are actually signs at the front entrances of Ben Thanh market warning visitors to be careful with their belongings due to pick pockets.

Sometimes these these thieves work in groups or pairs, but they can also work solo.

If they work in pairs, expect one of them to try and get your attention by either bumping into you or doing something to distract you. Their partner in crime then snatches your valuables while your attention is focused on their accomplice.

pickpocket Vietnam scams

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Be extra vigilante around tourist attractions such as Ben Thanh Market.

Don’t bring your valuables with you outside unless absolutely necessary and keep them in front where you can see and feel them.

Consider buying a money belt or a hidden travel leather belt.

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Ignore people trying to solicit something from you.

Try to avoid crowded areas.

Split up your money and valuables in different pockets or pouches when going outside to minimize the damage done in case you become a victim.

If someone tries to distract you, immediately secure your valuables and double check that they are still there.

Shoe Repair/Shine Scam

This scam usually involves targeting foreigners.

A person shining or repairing shoes will pester you to get your shoes shined. When your seated down on a chair, the person will remove your shoes and start shining them.

Once they notice that you have let your guard down, they will run off with your shoes and either try to sell them or they will demand that you pay them an exorbitant sum to receive them back.

Even boys will attempt this scam on you!

In another version of this scam, they will try to remove your shoes even without your consent. Once the job is done, they will then ask you for an outrageous price for their service ranging anywhere between 200k vnd to 1 million vnd.

Shoeshine scam

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Ask for the price before allowing any work to be done on your shoes.

If getting your shoes shined, only give them one shoe at a time to shine while wearing the other shoe. If they point to the other shoe, ask them back for the shoe that they are working on first.

If they try to scam you, quickly try to locate a police officer and report them to the authorities.

Or better yet, save yourself the trouble and don’t get your shoes shined by shady looking people out on the streets.

Only use shoe repair and shining shops that have been well researched or introduced to you through word of mouth from trusted sources.

Free Food Scam

This scam is quite common in Hanoi. You will see some street vendors carrying around some deep fried donuts or buns trying to solicit you to try one.

Once you do, you will then be pressured into buying a bag of donuts. The problem arises when they vendor demands a very high price for the bag of donuts and will harass and follow you until you agree to buy it.

It creates an unpleasant and embarrassing scene for foreigners who end up buying the donuts out of shame and guilt.

free fried donut Vietnam scams

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

If anyone offers you anything for free especially on the streets, just decline the offer and walk away.

If they insist and pester you, just give them a big firm NO!!! and continue walking.

If it’s from a well known store and the person offering you the item is a store employee with full uniform, it may be ok to try a sample.

However if you see some shady looking people wearing straw hats, all covered up in dirty old clothes carrying baskets around the area, then that’s a huge red flag.

If its too late and you’ve been doped, try to go and look for an officer immediately while ignoring the street food vendor. They will quickly get the clue that you mean business once they see the police officer and quickly scurry off to look for another victim.

Motorbike Rental Scam

There are two versions of this scam:

Version #1: The owner rents you a motorbike only to follow you around so that they could later steal the motorbike with a spare key.

Once you return back empty handed, they will demand that you reimburse them for the cost of the motorbike.

Version #2: The owner rents you a motorbike that has mechanical problems. You won’t notice these issues until later in the day.

When you return back with the motorbike and bring up the mechanical issues, they will accuse you of having broken their perfectly working motorbike. You will then be asked for compensation to repair the bike.

Motorbike rental scam

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Only rent motorbikes from well established businesses or from your hotel. Never rent one off the street.

Be extra wary of anyone that tries to befriend you off the streets and then offers to rent their motorbike to you for cheap.

Make sure you test the bike right in front of the person renting it for you so in case anything breaks, the fault won’t lie with you. You never know what sort of tricks these people will have up their sleeves to scam you.

Make sure you have a valid driver’s license to operate a motorbike here in Vietnam.

If the cops catch you, they could potentially impound the motorbike and you’d be left with a hefty fee from the owner for lost rental income + a hefty fine!

If your lucky, the cops may just ask for some coffee/tea money usually in the amounts of 200-500k vnd and let you off with a warning.

If you don’t have a Vietnamese driver’s license, you can always just opt to go by Grab or GoViet. Rides are pretty cheap and its much safer to let a seasoned veteran drive you around instead.

You may also consider getting your own personal motorbike lock.

Dating Scams

Some devious Vietnamese girls know that a lot of foreign guys are naive and gullible when it comes to women.

They prey on their ignorance and lack of presence in the country to conduct the scam.

There are various versions of these dating scams:

Version #1: The Greencard/Citizenship Chaser

In this dating scam, the Vietnamese girl tries to locate a naive foreigner that she knows is thirsty and desperate to get some female attention. She then sweet talks and may even sleep with the poor guy. Once she feels she has gotten her claws sunk into him, she will ask him for marriage.

If he brushes her suggestion, she may suggest that there are other guys chasing after her but she wants to be with him. She will use every trick up her sleeves to try and ensnare the male to marry her.

Once they are married and she has arrived in her destination of choice, she will attempt to break up with the guy. These might include:

  • Her trying to start fights out of thin air
  • Her accusing the guy of beating her or sexually abusing her
  • Shaming
  • Cheating

The list goes on. Before the sucker knows it, she’s gotten her free citizenship/green card and he’s left supporting her through spousal support for several years. If the poor fella managed to get her pregnant, then he’s doomed for 18 years of child support!

My uncle was a unfortunate victim of this scam conducting by a coworker and his in-laws to try and get his sister-in-law abroad.

Version #2: Asking for money

These girls usually fall under the category of “gold digger“.

They love to target foreigners, especially those that don’t live in Vietnam because it allows them to juggle and string multiple guys along for the ride, multiplying their earnings.

The girl will start off either asking for money from you outright or if she’s a bit smarter, delay asking any money until she’s won over your trust.

In the beginning, dating will appear great, and she will try to please you any way that works to win over your trust.

Once she’s certain she has you won over, this is when she will either start asking for money or implying that she needs it.

She may even resort to rejecting your offers of giving her money to make it seem like she really isn’t interested in taking your money.

But don’t fall for it, its all an act!

Excuses she may try to use might include:

  • Family member got sick and she doesn’t have the money to pay the medical bills
  • Needs the money to improve her English to better communicate with you
  • Lost something of value and now can’t afford to replace it

The money isn’t used at all for any of the things that she mentioned but rather to fund her extravagant spending habits.

In the more direct approach of her outright asking for money, she may try to guilt trip the guy by mentioning how her friends got a hold of some new handbags or that they went to so and so place but she hasn’t gotten the opportunity yet.

If that doesn’t work, she may even bring up how her friend’s boyfriends are getting them all these expensive things yet you get her nothing and don’t care about her.

These girls will have multiple sponsors in the background from various countries.

When one of these sponsors visit Vietnam, she will dedicate and devote most of her time to this guy to not raise any suspicion.

Once he’s out of the country, she will repeat this pattern with a different sponsor.

These girls can make quite the living off of these clueless men.

Gold digger

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Always screen girls that you date. Look for things like:

  • Lots of foreign guy friends or guy friends for that matter
  • A second phone
  • Seems materialistic
  • likes to show off
  • Asks you a tonne of questions about living abroad
  • Seems more interested in moving abroad then staying in Vietnam
  • Has money to spend on material things yet works at a low paying job
  • Has traveled extensively
  • Asking you for money, to buy her things, or to take her to expensive places
  • Works at a club or bar
  • Works as a promotion girl or model

To learn more about these types of girls click here to read my article about Vietnamese gold diggers.

Any girl that asks for money should be immediately dropped.

You can also throw in some tests to see how she reacts.

Tell her you have no intention of moving back home and intend on staying here with her.

See how she responds to the news.

If she seems less than thrilled about you moving here, then she probably isn’t all that into you but what you can offer her.

The best course of action with these types of girls is to just break things off with them and cut your losses. There are way better catches out there that won’t try to leech off of you or use you to leave the country.

Dog Thieves

Not really a scam but something to really watch out for here in Vietnam.

No dog is safe with these thieves as they steal from both locals and foreigners.

Anything with four legs and barks is fair game for these guys.

Usually 2-4 guys will work together to nap dogs that they see on the streets and even in people’s houses.

The dog’s are then either resold back to their owner’s or in a worse case scenario sold to a local restaurant and used as food for customers.

Several people that I personally know got their dogs stolen, including my aunt.

Dog lying down

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Never leave your dogs unattended when going outside.

At night, either bring the dogs inside of your house or make sure that they are in a secure area far away from the gates and doors of the house. Thieves have been known to use stun guns mounted onto pikes to snatch their prey.

Taxi Scam

This one usually happens with scam taxis or when you use cyclos. There have also been a few instances where driver’s from reliable taxi companies have also attempted these scams.

This scam is very common around the airport area.

Version 1: Airport scam

The scam begins by having someone claiming to be from one of the reputable taxi companies usually Vinasun approach you and asking you if you need a taxi at the taxi hailing area outside of the airport. You then follow them as they lead you into some dark hidden parking lot.

There you will be instructed to get into a taxi which may or may not resemble a reputable taxi such as those from Vinasun. The guy whips out his calculator and tells you how much your going to be charged.

Once inside the cab, another driver will take over and mention that the other driver is the manager and then proceeds to drive off.

Once he reaches near the toll booth, he will ask you for money to pay for the toll. It is at this point he gestures for you to hand over your money so that he can grab the small toll charge from your stack of bills.

As you take out your money, he quickly snatches it from your hands and pretends to look for the proper change to pay for the toll.

It is at this point that the driver will quickly swap out the larger bills in an instant without you noticing and hand you back a smaller denomination of bills.

You won’t realize you’ve been doped until later on.

Version #2: Short Change Scam

This version of the scam is similar to the first scam in that the driver will quickly swap out a larger bill for a smaller one.

When you’ve arrived at your destination, and you hand over the driver a bill that resembles a smaller denomination bill in color, he will attempt to swap out the bills and then tell you that you didn’t give him enough money and ask for more.

A few of the Vietnamese dong bills have a similar color and design which makes it awfully easy to get confused.

The 10k and 100k bills are similar in color, and the 500k and 20k bills are also the same color.

A 10k and 100k Vietnamese bill
A 10k and 100k bill
A 20k and 500k Vietnamese bill
A 20k and 500k bill

The 10k and 200k bill is also of a similar color. I have unfortunately mixed up these bills more often then not.

These driver’s are extremely quick with their hands and can swap out bills in the blink of an eye.

Version #3: Fake taxis

This scam involves the scammers trying to pass off their taxi as being from one of the reputable taxi companies here in Vietnam (Vinasun & Mai Linh)

They will usually have a similar name such as Vinataxi or even the same colors and designs as the aforementioned taxi companies.

Once your off on your journey you will quickly become surprised by the price of the fare. It’s not uncommon to be paying at least 2-4x as much compared to the reputable taxi companies.

Scam taxi

Version #4: Tampered meter

In this scam scenario, the taxi meter has either been tampered with and the price will increase by quite a bit for a very short distance. In some cases, the driver may have some sort of button that is hidden out of sight that he can press to increase the price at will.

A 1km ride that would typically cost you between 25-30k vnd would now cost you over 500k in some instances.

In another scenario, the meter may not even be turned on. That’s your cue to get the heck outta that taxi cab and look for a new one.

This scam usually happens near popular taxi areas such as Ben Thanh market and the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Be very wary upon getting into any taxi cabs in this area. Its better to just walk a short distance away from these areas and then hail a real taxi instead.

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Never hand the driver over the money when he gestures for you to do it saying that he will help you sort out the money.

When taking out your money, keep it a safe distance from the driver so that he can’t grab it out of your hands.

Take your time no matter what to count the money before handing it over to the driver.

A driver that snatches the money out of your hands is 100% a scammer. You should immediately demand that he give you the money back and thoroughly check that you received everything back.

If you don’t have exact change, make sure you know exactly how much you will receive back, or better yet, give him smaller denominations of bank notes.

Don’t get into any taxi’s that aren’t from reputable companies. In Vietnam there are mainly 2 reputable companies: Vinasun taxi & Mai Linh taxi.

Do not get into any taxi cabs around the ben thanh area. Most of those are scam taxis.

Look for the official phone numbers from Vinasun and Mai linh prior to getting inside of the car.

They should be plastered on several places on the taxi cab.

Vinasun: (area code) + 38 27 27 27

Example for Ho Chi Minh City: (028) 38 27 27 27

Mai Linh Taxi: 028 38 38 38 38

The drivers should be wearing the official uniforms when driving customers which includes a white dress shirt with a red tie.

Their ID cards should be displayed clearly inside of the cab.

Look for the taxi logo on the taxi’s and avoid any that don’t look like official taxis.

mai linh taxi
Mai Linh
Vinasun taxi
Vina Sun

In the event of a dispute, take photos of the driver, their id card, the license plate, and call the hotline and file a complaint.

Click page 2 to continue reading.

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