Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Scam City, do's and dont's

Look at that rusty rainpipe! Real Malay craftsmanship, sir!
The more tourist populated areas tend to attract scammers of all sorts. Armed with shorts, Hawaiian shirts and a dangling video-device around the neck, one attracts more unwanted attention than George Michael in a public toilet... (Did I say UNwanted? Okay, there are some minor flaws in my reasoning, but the point is clear, no?) All the guesthouses and Backpacker-hotels in KL seem to have numerous postings in their elevators, on notice boards and in toilets, but still it seems like some visitors insist on getting scammed! Of course, the people trying to get that extra little bit of money out of your pockets know their social skills well enough to pick out the valuable targets and leave Interpol's agents on the sidecurb. Even I wouldn't fall for those kind of Hawaiian shirts if I was looking to pick up a walking ATM. A general 'Do' would thus be to wear one of those shirts, if you want to be left unharassed. (Also this tactic will work sorting out your doubts in the "Are these girls smiling at my wallet or do they really like me?" racket.)
In general the scammers are actually Scam-artists, as they have perfected the Scamming into an art. They will not approach you by asking the time or anything, because even a desperate 32 year old virgin knows this is the shortest way to end any possible social talk afterwards. No, they will look for something that makes you stand out of the crowd. (Again, not the Hawaiian shirt, and not the video-device around your neck, as any stranger pointing at your precious holiday-attribute will be quickly categorized in the "suspicious" genre.) In my case, it seems like Basketball is a good starting point. Being a wee bit longer than most Asians with my 1 metres 91cm's I do tend to stand out of the crowd. And so it begins: "Waw! You are very tall!" Accompanied with upwards glancing big eyes and standing on tiptoes while trying to get a hand at the same height as the top of my head. This is ment to stop you in your tracks, catch your attention and make you smile warily and answer something generally nice. "Yes." Is my favourite answer. Not very cunning, I agree, but at this point you don't want to make any friends yet. The next one varies, depending on how fast they want to get tjeir routine going. When in no rush, the sports question will follow ("You play basketball?") otherwise they will start assembling more facts about this particular white specimen ("Where are you from?" or "You are from Germany right?"). By now, my scam-antennaes are already doing overtime, so the need to make friends is replaced by the need to show them I'm not interested. Thus, my answers will be something like "No, I play cards in Vegas when not travelling the world." in the sport section or "No, I'm from the Filippines." when in the data-assembling alley. Both answers are short and always seem to work, as 80 percent of the scam-artists are Filippinos and Filippinas trying to make you lose money playing cards. Of course they will not put it so bluntly, they rather smoothen you up, carrying their expensive looking shopping bags filled with lies rather than Gucci-dresses or Boss-shoes. (They don't catch big fish often enough to actually go shopping in those places with their petty commission-money they get from their way more cunning boss.) "Oh, you are from Belgium? Waw, what a coincidence, we are going on holiday there next month with our uncle (aha, also known as: the boss...) Mister pipi! Club Bruges? You from Brussels or Antwerp? (Sorry people from Ghent, never heard your town popping up) "Waw, Antwerp! City of Diamonds!! (Here they try not to make their eyes watery with anticipation, also, this is were their uncle -who has even more general facts about every country in the western world- will most conveniently have a cousin working in the diamond business. Thus their little holiday to glamorous Belgium. Tadaa!) Anyway, the general idea is making you loosen your shirt, start relaxing, maybe they even walk you around a little -pointing out unimportant facts about the city, getting you closer in their net of social pressure. Once you make it into the house, unvariably the uncle will be a most warm host, soften you up further by complimenting yuor roots and so, and after a while they will start talking about this businessman that has ripped him off in some kind of deal but still seems to be a close friend as he is coming over for dinner. He will insist on you learning a few card tricks as the businessman will be cautious of his riped off associate trying to get back to him. The idea is to make the man lose a lot of money, splitting the earnings 50/50. That's the kind of uncle he is, sharing his fortune with strangers, right? Of course the businessman is i on the deal and the victim will lose heaps of money if by then he still hasn't figured things out. And every dollar will be paid off, for they even go to the bank with you to exctract the necessary amount due to them. Social pressure is the overall leverage they use, combined with the fact that they never reveal themselves as scmaaers, and it will be the guy you were supposed to scam that will scare you enough to pay up. The uncle will remain on your side, trying to calm things down, but alas, he can't help it if you lost from this guy, better to pay him, you know, he's in all sorts of unmentionable businesses. And yes, there still are people walking into this trap. One of the notices in my guesthouse came from a Canadian who ashamedly admitted on losing 3000 dollars. (I hope it were Canadian dollars at least.) Which makes you wonder why people that are willing to lose such amounts of money in cardgames are staying in 5 dollar rooms...


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