May 25 2012

Phnom Penh card scam

Published by at 10:19 am under Health & safety

The problem with scams is we all think we’re too clever to fall for one, until we do. Tourists in Phnom Penh have recently been discovering that a friendly interaction can escalate into having their bank account lightened by US$4,000.

Spot the scammer, or they'll spot you

Spot the scammer, or they'll spot you.

As will all good scams, the set up is innocuous. A smiling non-threatening member of the gang, usually Asian but not Khmer, approaches you and compliments you on an item of clothing, or wants to practise their English.  They ask where you come from and, surprise, a member of their family is about to move to the exact same country, or is applying for university there. Seeing an opportunity to help, you agree to accompany them and offer assistance with the application form, or persuade mum that your homeland is perfectly safe.

Following drinks or lunch at a location a confusing tuk tuk ride away, the next invitation is to play blackjack with a friend or relative who is a croupier. Often there is a rich businessman whose wallet you can help to empty, thanks to a few secret signs you are taught beforehand. Unsurprisingly, the game is impossible for you to win, and the scam gang then ask to collect their winnings. If you don’t have enough cash on you, no problem — there’s an ATM close by.  By this time, you are feeling very threatened, you don’t know where you are in the city and you’re starting to worry that your credit card is not the only thing that’s going to get a beating.

Three's a crowd at an ATM

Three's a crowd at an ATM.

While this scam is not exclusive to Phnom Penh, there seems to have been an increase in tourists being approached on riverside, at Sorya shopping centre and outside the Royal Palace. I had been wondering why so many people seemed interested in my choice of ice cream flavour while making the most of the air-con in the mall in recent months. As a resident, I’m not the ideal target, and after establishing that I’ve lived here for a while, they’ve wandered off in search of fresher meat.

It seems obvious, but it pays to be on your guard when people approach you in the street to ask questions about your job, your home owner status and how long you’ve been in Cambodia. If it seems like too much of a coincidence that their sister is about to become a nurse in your home town, then it probably is. And while you could be missing out on a nice lunch, a healthy suspicion is better than going home early with nothing but a scam story to tell.

Further reading:
Forewarned is forearmed for Bangkok’s best scams
Other scams to look out for in Southeast Asia

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15 responses so far

15 Responses to “Phnom Penh card scam”

  1. Harryon 25 May 2012 at 11:38 am

    I was approached a few years back by a guy with a girl on the back of a motorbike in Saigon who told me that his sister, who was a nurse, was leaving for the US that evening and could I meet her?

    I should greet her with “Sawadee” and hands pressed together, he indicated, “as that is our custom.”

    Funny, I thought that was Thai!

    I refused the pressure to make my way into the taxi conveniently nearby and departed.

    People in these countries, unlike Indonesia, are just NOT that friendly!


  2. Bo Loevschallon 25 May 2012 at 2:51 pm

    I see the Card Gambling scam has arrived to Cambodia. It has been a classic in Kuala Lumpur for many years.

    For more scams, check out:

  3. David O'Raffertyon 25 May 2012 at 6:38 pm

    Are people really that stupid that they would fall for this ! Really people who do fall for scams like this should stay home.

  4. Reuben Snyderon 25 May 2012 at 9:00 pm

    This exact scam happened to me last year in PP when 2 friendly sisters ( Fillopinos) aproached me on the curbside and invited me home to meet their sister who was relocating to my city in Germany. I have actually been in their home, had a meal with the family, was aproached by the uncle who was going to teach me the skill of gambling but I steadfastly refused and then the warm friendly atmosphere changed…needless to say I never met the sister…and thank heavens I am not a gambler…I could have been in great sh%$* t

  5. wrightstateon 26 May 2012 at 2:39 am

    Yeah, exact same thing happened to me whilst sitting along riverside at PP two or three years ago! Two girls aproached me and asked where I was from etc and they said their sister – a nurse was moving to Manchester (I’m from London so they just pick a different city) and could I come back to their apartment just to reassure their Mum who was really worried. But once there and after introducing me to their brother who (you’ve guessed it!) works as a croupier at Naga casino and would I like to play a stacked private game in my favour with a guy who had a big win the night before!!! Anyway after the brother starts winking and nodding and trying to show me his tricks and then once this bloke walks in with a briefcase chained to his wrist, I made my excuses and asked for a lift back on the girl’s moto which they luckily did!
    Stupid I know, but David a scam is a scam after all! And compared to all the dodgy Africans a few years back there, this seemed an innocent and harmless way to while away an hour or so!

  6. yakob larmaon 06 Jun 2012 at 4:34 pm

    david is correct, and i may add you are all a bunch of ‘Rubes’. incredible that anyone on the planet that purports to be a traveler could possibly fall for this. how many decades have i traveled? 5? i never, but never make any contact in the street. if someone approaches me i ignore them, and maintain full control by never responding or making even eye contact. if you went further on involving yourself in this game you are just as guilty as the flim flam artist in attempting to jack someone out of their money being cut into the juice by the con artist.

    on the street you have to avoid them, as they attempt to get your attention. as long as you avoid contact you maintain control of your own life, they recognize this and they quit the attempt. someone walks up to me, i ignore, make no eye contact and never ever divert myself physically from the trajectory of my walk. what else they attempt to do is get in your path; i walk right over them if need be.

  7. Seanon 03 Jul 2012 at 2:09 pm

    I was approached twice last week in Phnom Penh. Once along the river by a Filipino ‘couple’ with a ‘sister abroad’ and once near the Royal Palace.

    I had my suspicions right at the start and they were confirmed when an elderly western guy with a long beard came over and just shouted “Be careful. Do you know who they are?”

    The second time a Filipino woman asked me to take her photo with her camera. I did but knew what was happening and just played along until she mentioned her relative abroad and until she asked if I had a spare few minutes.

    I can’t believe this is still happening. I was approached 15 years ago in the Philippines and I never fell for it then either.

  8. Laurenton 12 Feb 2013 at 5:03 pm

    Thank you internet and blogs because guess what, tomorrow I’m invited for lunch! I’m a bit shocked by what I read because the guy I met was very nice and cultivated giving me some tips on how to find cheap guest houses. I’m supposed to meet his niece who wants to practice her French and would like some advice on how to come to France… One thing that raises my suspicion: He asked me how much I earn in my work…

  9. Dave greenon 20 Feb 2013 at 12:34 pm

    This happened to me 3 times in about an hour near the river in Phnom Penh ,all with exactly the same speech, just be polite and keep walking and they lose interest very quickly

  10. Ryanon 13 May 2013 at 3:45 pm

    i was approached with by a friendly phillipino guy. He asked where I came from when I replies with the state in the US which is Massachusetts he immediately and excitedly said BOSTON!!!! to which i said yes! He goes on to tell me how his sister is going to be a nurse there and is leaving next month for the job. His sister is nervous as well as mom and wants me to go meet with them to talk to them and tell them about my city. I luckily declined as I am pretty wary of over friendly and smooth talkers. At that point he called his sister on the phone and had me talk to the sister and she also tried to get me to come speak to them in person. I said I cant I have an appointment to get to even though they told me their house was only 5 min away. He asked me if i kept my passport in my front pocket I think because he say close to me and i had my hand on my pocket the whole time. Strange question I still dont know why he asked it. I walked away and said bye and he all the sudden sounded like dissapointed in a weird way. I thought something was fishy to be so nice and then be disappointed in the way that he was. I walked away from him 100 meters then to the street. A tuk tuk pulled up to me and told me how lucky I was that I did not go with him. I said what do you mean, He said did that man tell you he was from the phillipines and his sister is going to your home country to work and ask you to go talk to her about it. I said ya and he said well he was planning to take you somewhere where a group of people are waiting with weapons, they take your passport and force you to withdraw $1000 from your bank account. I was told by the tuk tuk driver that it happened to someone last week and to never trust anyone here.

    Then the tuk tuk driver told me he was a night teacher for a local orphanage. He asked me if I wanted a ride to go see the orphanage. I dont know if the tuk tuk was phase 2 of the plan or just a really nice guy. I thought it was weird he knew the exact details of the scam he may have tried to build up immense trust with me by telling me this in order to get me to go with him. Or maybe the knowledge of what almost happened to me put a little paranoia in me. In either case dont go with a local for any reason. They may seem like great people but in the end its just not worth it.

  11. Filly Pinoon 23 Jul 2013 at 2:22 pm

    just happened… Phnom Penh, within 2 hours of being in the city. An older gentleman who was on route to hospital because of his eyes and his 30 something niece, Suzanna befriended me (Fillipino). They came out with what I now know as the usual story… sister, Maria, moving to my country. They are indeed so slick.

    Foolishly I agreed to meet an hour later and go to theirs to meet the sister. 1 Hour later the 30 something lady was on her own and we took a $3 tuktuk, which I paid for, to the house. Coffee, instant noodles with a fried egg… seemingly not drugged thankfully. The sister did turn up, was pretty damn hot and had a lovely adopted american accent.

    Anyway, guy sat on sofa watching sports like I’ve now read elsewhere and lots of questions fired at me to distract. Another uncle enters who happened to have worked in various Australian Casinos that I had been to. Went upstairs to learn ‘the secrets’ of gambling. Blackjack bullshit, clearly the man was good with his hands as the practice rounds just so happened to perfectly show the various different scenarios. What are the chances?? I am enjoying the little meet up to this point, although I do naturally feel uncomfortable at being so welcome immediately in someone’s house. Seemed all rather innocuous and friendly. Of course, the family keep hinting and pretending that the hot sister is now my girlfriend. ha. ha

    Anyway, turns out the Uncle’s friend won $40,000 last night at the house and only gave him a little tip, now he wants to get his friend back and with my help. Whips out 2 $100 dollar bills. I foolishly pick them up and then my mind finally clicks. I place the money back on the table and I calmly say that I have no desire for money and anyway I no longer gamble as some of my family have got into major debt due to it (somewhat true). He seems rather disappointed and I reassure him that he will get the chance to avenge this friend some day. He says something along the lines of ‘yeah, with a knife to the neck’. Cue nervous laughter from everyone at poor joke.

    Rather abruptly my little family visit comes to a friendly end. The cute sister takes my email address, maybe she will add me on facebook? The 30 something women shares a moto away from the house with me, getting me to sit in the middle, with her behind, probably in an attempt to slip her sly hands into my pockets/bags. She got nothing and instead, she ends up spending most of the journey feeling my arms and insisting that I hold on to her thighs for safety. Even kissing her hand on her departure from the moto and placing kissed hand on my lips. Perv.

    The sister said she will email me tomorrow to see if I want to meet up. Fat chance of that now unless they want to try to re-scam me. Shame, she really was nice.

    The search for a wife continues

  12. Mariaon 13 Jun 2014 at 12:03 pm


    Good to post this article. I have no idea to comment this. I hope u have more good idea to post for ur reader.

  13. […] guys can be dangerous – see this very good article from Travelfish. Don’t go anywhere with them, just walk away. Be rude if you must – your politeness is […]

  14. Davidon 08 Dec 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Just had a nice free lunch at their place, and then told them friendly that I had to go back to my hostel. This time it was by a Thai female claiming to be a singer in a band, and that I had to meet her daughter who didn’t show up in the whole play. The location they brought me to was between 350 and 163 street. I couldn’t go up their balcony (I would burn my skin in the sun) and they are making a lot of phone calls during the scam.

  15. luluon 13 Dec 2014 at 4:09 pm

    Happened to me just now… I pride myself on being a smart.traveller and knowing scams and avoiding them. But must have had my first day of travelling excitement and wasnt thinking. As you say they compliment you and then say they have a sister coming to your country. I was unlucky and was a room I could not get out of. I tried twice but was cornered. I got scammed out of a lot of money, now feeling very stupid and poor. Luckily with support of family I can continue my trip. Plwase be careful of this scam! They are amazingly smooth talkers and good actors

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