We got scammed by two dodgy blokes on a street corner in Vietnam

Saturday 6th February

Firstly, don’t worry about us. Yes we got scammed, but we weren’t robbed of much money at all. We came away feeling pretty stupid, having gained a useful life lesson and a good(ish) story, the details of which follow… 

So our back tyre was now kaput and it was time to find a new one. Eric tucked the tyre over his shoulder and we strolled off to the only bike shop marked on Google Maps. We found out that it was closed, and that basically all shops would be closed as it was the new year holiday. We were on our way back when a man by the side of road spotted us. 

“Hello,” he said. He asked us why we were carrying a tyre, and we told him that we were looking for a new one of the same size. 

“I can get you a new tyre, come with me,” he said. 

We followed him over the road, giving each other a very sceptical look. 

He approached another man who was sat by the side of the road with a small bag of tools. They spoke in Vietnamese. We gave the second man our old tyre, he had a look, he indicated that yes, he could get us a new one. 

While we were discussing this we saw a woman on a scooter pull up, and the second guy took a minute to pump up one of her inner tubes. It looked like he was running a kind of casual repair service by the side of the road. This was a bit reassuring, as it gave some context to the whole odd situation of guys by the side of the road being able to supply us with a new tyre.

After this he got on his scooter, hooked our old tyre over his head and shoulder and left to fetch this new tyre. 

While he was gone the first guy had a chat with us, asking us where we were from and what we were doing. 

The second guy came back with the tyre. We had a look. The quality seemed fine and it was the right size. 

We began to discuss price, and encountered some sales bullshit from guy number one, eg. the tyre was expensive because it was made in Japan (we pointed out that it said “Made in Vietnam” on the side), the tyre had cost 650,000 to buy, which was in the end proved to be rubbish (we thought), as we bartered him down from 850,000 to 600,000.

We had agreed on 600,000, which is £18. This is in between £4-7 cheaper than it would have been in Europe, so I felt like it was probably a good deal for them and a good deal for us. 

I started getting the money out of my wallet: one 500,000 note, plus some smaller change to make up the remaining 100,000. 

“Just give two 500 notes, then we give you 400, it’s easy,” said the first man. 

It turned out that I didn’t have enough change to make up the remaining 100,000 so I did as he said. 

The second guy took my money. As I was putting my smaller notes back into my wallet the second guy turned back, holding out a 500,000 note and a 20,000 note, which is similar in colour and slightly smaller. 

 500,000 dong and 20,000 dong 
“Wrong note,” he said, indicating that instead of giving him two 500,000 dong notes, I had given him a 500,000 note and a 20,000 note. 

In a moment of clarity, in which we were looking each other in the eye, I knew that he was lying, and I froze and glared at him, my expression making the accusation which I didn’t want to say. He met my gaze and then took out his wallet and showed me its contents to indicate that there was no 500,000 note in there – so how could he have swapped the 500,000 note for a 20,000? No, I had given him the wrong note. That was his story. 

“I was turned away, I didn’t see,” said Eric. 

The clarity was gone. Had I gotten it wrong? Was I being very rude to this man for no reason?

The rational part of my mind was very confused, but in my gut it felt wrong, and I just wanted to leave. I took the 500,000 and the 20,000 from his hand, and me and Eric began walking away.

“Have we just been scammed?” I asked Eric. 

“I don’t know, maybe,” said Eric. 

“Hey, wait, wait, what is the problem?” Guy number one came dashing after us. 

We told him that we thought we had just been cheated of our money. 

“But are you sure? Can you be sure?” he said. 

The honest answer was that no, I couldn’t be sure, and nor could Eric. 

But I had two compartments to my wallet, one for big notes and one for small notes. This made me more certain that I hadn’t made a mistake. I told guy number one as much. 

“Maybe someone else gave you the wrong note before,” he said. “He is a very honest man, he would not do that.”

By now guy two had caught up with us, and was speaking rapidly and angrily to his friend in Vietnamese. 

Were we insulting this man when he was just pointing out my own mistake? It wouldn’t be the first time I had gotten confused about Vietnamese money. 

Guy two showed us the inside of his wallet again, claiming his innocence. It was the inside of his sleeves I was more interested in seeing, but I didn’t have the conviction to say it. 

I learned that it is very difficult to call someone a liar to their face. 

Both of us were frowning and suspicious, but neither of us were sure enough to accuse them outright. 

“I want us to be friends, OK?” said man number one. “How about you take the tyre for 500, OK?” he then communicated this in Vietnamese to guy two, who once again gave a pissed-off sounding reply. 

Me and Eric looked at each other. We either walk away with no tyre, having maybe just lost 500,000 dong for nothing (or not?) or give these guys who may have just robbed us of 500,000 another 500,000, but get the tyre that we need. 

Pragmatism won. We needed a tyre, and with the new year holiday, shops could be closed for up to ten days. Guy number one offered both of us his hand and we each shook it. We gave them 500,000 and walked away with the tyre.  

At the moment we walked away I was about 60% sure that they had tricked us. The further we walked, the clearer I began to see what had just happened. By the time five minutes had passed I was dead certain that they had robbed us. What made me so sure? 

– The clearest indicator was that guy one had told me to pay with two 500,000 notes. He was setting me up. 

– Guy two had turned away briefly before turning back with the notes. He would have had time to quickly swap the notes and stash my 500 up his sleeve, or in a hole in the wall he was near to. 

– Guy two had been a little too quick to get his wallet out and show me his innocence… his excuse was too prepared.

– Guy one had come after us to try and make amends. Perhaps he was worried we would report them to the police? 

– After all the haggling over price, both were apparently willing to let us have the tyre for 500,000. If I really had been mistaken about the notes, I doubt they would have offered this price. 

– Finally (and this one’s particularly subjective) I didn’t like the way guy number one had chatted with us while guy number two went to fetch the tyre. He was saying all the right words, and yet his expression was cold and uninterested. He was trying to make us feel at ease, but I think he just viewed us as a target. 

I was angry that they had robbed us and I hadn’t called them out. Even though I couldn’t prove it and I knew it, I wished that I’d had the conviction to tell them “I KNOW WHAT YOU DID” – possibly in a Christian Bale “Batman” voice. 

The worst thing is, we have both heard of this type of scam before. Thieves will by something in a supermarket and then say: “Hang on, I gave you a twenty” when they are given change for the £10 note they actually handed over. We knew about this scam, but neither of us were thinking and it happened to us. 

You can bet that we are now counting our money a bit more carefully before we hand it over. 

So what did our stupidity cost us? If you take into consideration that we had agreed to pay 600,000, we lost a grand total of £12… not that bad. 

I was livid for fifteen minutes, then angry, then annoyed but kind of amused… and by the end of the day I had moved on to the “you bought a tyre from two guys on a street corner in Vietnam, what did you really expect?” stage. Time is a healer. 

So what did we do after this? We went to have lunch, but the place we wanted to go to was shut for the new year. We walked into the centre of town. Everywhere was closed, though we eventually found a sandwich stall. By this point it had begun to rain, and I had been so annoyed about the tyre incident that I had forgotten to pack umbrellas or raincoats. We walked around the citadel getting wet, and then concluded that this sucked and we should just go back to the hotel room. We decidedly stamped this day with “FAIL” and consoled ourselves with junk food and TV, which is after all very fun in moderation!

Tomorrow is another day…


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