There are several scam taxis in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City that only pick up foreign passengers, and it is strongly advised that foreigners look for help from a green-uniformed team when it comes to hailing a cab.
A Malaysian tourist and an Australian couple this week shared with Tuoi Tre News accounts of how they lost cash after falling for relatively similar tricks employed by two different scam cabbies in the downtown area.
The bad news? They were not the only victims.
A common trick these scammers use is insisting they be paid what the taxi meter shows, even though the foreign passengers offer generous tips.
The passengers will thus have to take out their wallet to find money, which is not an easy task as they are not familiar with Vietnamese banknotes.
Then, the cabby will try to create a messy situation to distract the tourists from their wallet and steal their cash without them even noticing.
In the case of Y.L., a Malaysian tourist, the fake Vinasun taxi driver used a newspaper to write down the amount of money he wanted to be paid and showed it to her husband, while the paper was in fact used to cover his hands stealing VND1.5 million (US$70) from him.
Aussie Paul Threlfall, in the meantime, dropped some of his money onto the scam Mai Linh taxi floor after the driver tried to grab his envelop, where he kept the banknotes. The cabby quickly took AU$250 ($182) when he was busy collecting the bills back.
Y.L.’s husband offered to pay VND30,000 for a VND27,000 ride, whereas the Australian tourist generously gave VND100,000 even when the meter showed only VND23,000. But in both cases the drivers refused to take the gratuities.
“The driver who robbed Threlfall had previously targeted another foreign couple with a similar ploy,” Ho Ngoc Dat, a member of a team in charge of assisting and guarding tourists in the city’s downtown, told Tuoi Tre News.
Dat is the man who helped Threlfall find the scam taxi driver and got back his money.
The Australian thought he was helped by a police officer, but Dat is actually a member of the ‘tourist guard’ team, managed by Thanh Nien Xung Phong Co., a city-based public service provider.
The team members wear green uniforms and stand guard in front of popular attractions in the downtown area, ready to help foreign tourists.
“The dishonest cabby [who defrauded Threlfall] always targets foreigners, and he drives more than one fake taxi,” Dat revealed.
“Today he will be a [fake] Mai Linh driver, and tomorrow he’d disguise himself as a Vinasun cabby.
“Police officers are kept informed of his cheating.”
Asked to be separately seated
Both Y.L. and Threlfall managed to have photos of the taxis that defrauded them, which show they were victimized by two different scammers.
The Australian tourist, in a separate email sent to Tuoi Tre News, also described another trick by such fraudulent taxi drivers.
“I think there are some taxi drivers in Ho Chi Minh City who try to separate wife and husband into front and back seats to cause confusion and argument to distract passengers,” he told Tuoi Tre News.
Before stealing Threlfall’s cash, the scam Mai Linh driver asked him and his wife to sit separately, and the couple was told to do the same when they flagged down another cab after the incident, which helped them realize it was indeed a trap.
“After our experience with the taxi driver from Mai Linh, we looked for another taxi to take us back to our hotel,” he recounted.
“We waved down one outside the Saigon Central Post Office, and the driver indicated that I should get into the front seat and my wife into the rear, just like the bad driver we had at the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica.”
Realizing it was a ‘bait’ similar to what he had previously undergone, Threlfall refused to sit as he was told, and got into the back seat with his wife.
“It was at this point that the driver made indications with his car key that he could not start the cab and that we should get out and hail another taxi,” he said.
The couple eventually got out of the cab, only to see that “ten seconds later the car 'magically' started and drove off without us.”
Dat, the tourist guard, eventually helped him hail an authentic cab.
Seek help from tourist guards
Dat said his teammates know clearly which taxi drivers are dishonest, so it is recommended that foreign visitors request assistance from the team.
“After helping Threlfall get back his money and flag down a taxi, I told the dishonest driver not to continue swindling foreign tourists as it just ruins the image of the city,” Dat said.
The tourist guard revealed that fraudulent taxi drivers usually offer to give the team ‘coffee money’ to ignore them, but they will never accept it.
“I hate dishonesty so I always keep a close watch to be able to provide help on time,” Dat said, explaining why he could easily help the Threlfalls to find the driver who had cheated them.
“I just do my job to keep the image of this city a beautiful one.”
Thanh Nien Xung Phong Co. says on its website 60 percent of the tourist guards can speak English, so visitors will have no problem asking them for help.
“We are tasked with protecting foreign tourists when they are disturbed by street vendors or overcharged by xe om [motorbike taxi] or taxi drivers,” Nguyen Thanh Tuyen, head of the team, told Tuoi Tre News on the phone.