It is important to touch this difficult topic and I find it useful for many people visiting Cambodia in the aim to know its temples, working in any company or organization or willing to settle in the country. It is likely possible that a first impression of the kingdom will be very positive due to the kindness of the Cambodians. But we must be aware of the scams, so real here as in any other country of the planet. Foreigners, especially new comers, are the most vulnerable to be victimized by scammers that could come from the same authorities or from anybody, including other foreigners. You can find scams in practically every nation, so I am not completely agree with the idea that it is more common in developing countries like Cambodia. Here I let some examples of typical Cambodian scams, but I invite those who have been victims or witnesses of any other, to relate it at the comment in the ideal to prevent it to other visitors.
There are three kinds of Cambodian scams:
The first is the one performed by persons with some authority or rank, especially policemen. This group is difficult, because it is naturally assumed that men or women in uniform should provide protection and security. The fact is that in many cases it is not like this in Cambodia. The best prevention is information. Reporting suspicious behaviors will help to improve the situation in the future and will help others and asking to see other persons with a higher rank of the person you feel is not fair, could help.
The second group is made by the charitable context. It is also difficult because it can involve feelings and vulnerable people like children and handicap people can be used to commit the scam. But it can come also from unpredictable situations as we are going to see after.
The third is related with common scams involving theatrical situations with the intention to extort money.
Extortion by authorities
Frankly we can say there is an improvement on the fight on corruption over the last years in Cambodia. The hurry to present a modern country has involved the stop of several corrupt behaviors in airports, international border gates and other places where foreigners have to see with the police or other authority. However, still much to do, since you will find several occasions where corrupt practices are assumed as ‘normal’ or you find that some persons involved in such practices are not even aware such actions are corruption. ‘Tip authorities’, for example, in order to hurry any processes, seem a ‘correct tradition’ in our modern Cambodian society. Then if you do not ‘tip’, people assume already that the process will take much time than usual. This fact makes people, especially those who cannot ‘tip’, powerless. See this in getting a Cambodian passport, a defendant waiting for a tribunal, processing a driver license and many other things.
In the Cham Yean Thai-Khmer Border Check Point, for example, you find a kind gentleman saying to you that he can hurry the stamp of entrance or leaving the country at the Cambodian passport check point for 5, 10 or 20 US dollars. ‘There are many people over there. I can do it for you, the police know me, you will get it quickly. If you don´t do it quickly, you will lost your bus or taxi.‘
If a policeman asked you extra money to do any official process for visa, ask him to talk with his superior only. Ask him also a receipt. They will stop to ask any extra bill, though his smile will freeze and, by sure, he will make you to wait more time than usual. Don’t shout them. Keep smiling, even asking your rights. Do not be afraid. Cambodian policemen are not violent with foreigners.
The tender scam
In this situation you can be a victim, but it involves other victims: children and even handicap people. Children are mostly used to beg money at the streets, markets and beaches. They are not asking money for themselves. They are asking money for criminals that can be their own family. Children asking money or selling things on the streets can be considered slaves. Just report any thing suspicious to the due authorities. Do not give money to children.
If you want to make charity, give funds to organizations providing support to children. They know their situation. Take care with facade NGOs. Do not participate in tours through orphanages. Most humanitarian organizations in Cambodia do not recommend it, because most of those orphanages are using children to make money out of tourism. Children are not a tourist destination.
Do not make loans to persons you just know. You are teaching English or anything to a group of young people. After a some days one of your students come to ask you some money he or she needs… Ask him to direct his needs to the person in charge. He will forget it.
Don’t bring your wallet at the back pocket, especially if you are in crowds.
If you go by motorbike, put your belongings in a safe position. There are thieves by motorbike snatching purses.
Take care with easy women. She can be inside a scammer team making a performance where you become automatically a sexual abuser. Providing money to them will be the best way to escape, but your feeling and your economy will be destroyed.
If you need a special medicine, do not buy in any farmacy. There are places selling fake medicine or expired medicine – there is not yet a full control over it. Check the expire date if it happens you might buy it.
Be aware of other foreigners as well. When you are abroad, there is a tendency to trust in other foreigners. It is a feeling of solidarity. But it happens that some foreigners are in Cambodia not because they are necessary good citizens in their own countries. Some of them are even search by their own authorities.
The I lost my wallet and passport scam is one of the most popular involving other foreigner. He is in your same hotel. You make friendship with him. He even invites you to drink something. One day ‘hey, man, I lost my wallet and passport… now I have nothing. I have to go to the Embassy to report my passport… maybe you can lend me some money for the bus. I will give you back as soon as I can get some money from home…’ If it happens that you are a very good man and you feel pity of this story, offer yourself to bring you to the embassy, but do not give him money. He will refuse the offer!!!
‘Sir, I help you to get a good price‘ scam is a very good one. You want to buy a pair of shoes. A man comes to you ‘sir, let me help you to talk, because you cannot speak Khmer‘. If you accept this kind helper, you will pay to the seller more than what you can think (usually the seller is part of the game). The helper will tell you that he got to reduce the price in, for example, 50 %!!! You invite him to a beer to ‘thanks his support’!!!
‘Different price for foreigners.‘ Realize: several places in Cambodia discriminate prices between locals and foreigners. If every foreigner in Cambodia just stop to buy things where he or she has to pay more just because his skin has another color, we can stop this hideous practice. Please be aware, there are business locals where it is written in Khmer language – so foreigners do not understand – that, for example, a beer is half US dollar for Cambodians and 3 US dollars for foreigners! Investigate it first and just refuse to buy or get service on those places. Apsara Authority, for example, discriminate people that way. It would be good to make a campaign from foreigners not to visit the temples from one month to see what happens.
Fake Buddhist monks can be easy to detect. First of all, authentic Buddhist monk will not take the initiative to talk to you. Do not believe in talkative Buddhist monks. It will be as if you find a Carthusian monk talking in a New York street.
See also the Pot of Milk Scam, very common in Siem Reap.