I’m a highly seasoned traveler with more than 65 country stamps in 5 passports, but even the most vigilant can fall prey to sleight-of-hand artists adept at a kind of bill-switch/confidence game. Nowhere does this seem to work better than in Vietnam (and specifically, in Saigon, aka Ho Chi Minh City).
My first mistake was stepping into a nicely disguised fake cab. My second was trying to make sure the driver knew NOT to turn on the “tourist” meter, but the “regular” meter. One clocks at a normal rate, the other 10 times faster. He feigned assistance by proffering a wad of bills and pretending to show my traveling companion how much the trip would cost. I was instantly skeptical but my friend and I don’t share a language, so it was difficult for me to explain to her what was happening.
The “driver” does the confidence move – handing her HIS wad of bills, which my friend takes, then hands it back to him with some of OUR money, and WHAM! BAM! Faster than lightning the guy has palmed two large denomination notes and secreted them in a pocket somewhere, then “graciously” returned the wad in “change” to my friend, who hasn’t a clue as to what’s just happened.
Were we dumb as a hammer? Yup! Did I argue with the guy? Yup! But one only dares push that so far. And yup, we took photos of the cab, the license, the “driver.” But that does you no good here. We later witnessed the SAME scam – but avoided being taken – with scooter taxi drivers and some street vendors.
BOTTOM LINE: NEVER TOUCH THE MONEY. DON’T TAKE THEIRS, DON’T OFFER YOURS UNTIL THE RIDE IS OVER. AND NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, EVER SHOW THEM A HANDFUL OF BILLS. TURN YOUR BACK, TAKE ONE AT A TIME, STARTING WITH THE SMALL ONES. THESE GUYS COULD FOOL PENN & TELLER IN A HEARTBEAT. AND THEY USUALLY HAVE COHORTS OR RELATIVES STANDING NEARBY.
USE A CALCULATOR – THEY ALL UNDERSTAND THE NUMBERS. WATCH THE METERS CAREFULLY – IF THEY SEEM TO BE GOING UP VERY RAPIDLY, SHOUT, SCREAM, THROW THE DOOR OPEN AND GET OUT. YOU’LL BE LOST IN THE CROWD IN SECONDS, AND THEY’RE STUCK IN THEIR VEHICLE.