Exposed: Tourist blackjack scam in Vietnam

Written by  on May 17, 2015 

Martha makes an

agreement with the banker: he can keep some of her personal valuables as

collateral while Louie and the rest of the family escort her to a bank to

withdraw the rest.

Sitting across

from Martha is a man who Manoy introduces as a banker from Singapore. Both are still regularly seen with groups approaching tourists.According to some estimates, more than 50 individuals are working in an organized gang within Saigon, divided

into multiple cells. She has 21 but not enough cash to

keep going. All three men are from the Philippines and unknown to Martha, have been

running a gambling scam in Ho Chi Minh — also called Saigon — for several


The gang let her go, now that they have what they were after.

A well organized syndicate

While most

scenarios involve a conversation that evolves into an invitation to meet a family

member who happens to be visiting the victim’s country of origin, there are other variations.

Even though the

group may successfully lure a victim to a secluded location, they aren’t always

able to dupe them into card games. The hardest part is getting past the

humiliation and anger at myself for allowing this to happen to me.”

An invitation is

extended for you to meet the daughter, due to the coincidental connection.


importantly, Martha isn’t a professional gambler. He says he’s a professional dealer at the “Royal Hotel.”

Police said one

victim had been taken for US$20,000. She’s just a regular

backpacker visiting Vietnam

on holiday and today she’s also the Filipino card sharps’ “mark.”

The hook

“I tell them

that they’re the 10th, 11th, or 12th person who knows someone going to work in a

hospital in my home town and I think it’s very interesting,” says one traveler, sarcastically.

A difficult investigation

He added,

“A few arrests of Filipino nationals reported to the Embassy by other Filipinos

did not progress into court cases.”

Meanwhile, the card sharps continue to stalk the streets of Saigon, waiting patiently for the next innocent tourist to fall into their trap.

Those aren’t

their real names.

Our banker isn’t

Singaporean or even a banker. Most are from the Philippines although they have

Vietnamese accomplices.

Inside a small

house in Ho Chi Minh City in


four people sit at a table playing blackjack.

“As well as the

money I handed over to them, they also took my camera and I was threatened with

violence if I didn’t co-operate. So instead you will be invited to lunch.

Vietnam card scamVictims have accused this man of posing as a dealer named “Woody” or “Let.” This story is

one that’s often repeated in Saigon.

But not everything

– actually nothing — in this high-stakes card game is what it seems.

vietnam card mafiaTwo card sharps flee security guards at a shopping mall. He has told the woman beside him, Martha, that he is a local gym


Lunch turns into

a friendly blackjack game, when suddenly one of the players, a “Singapore

banker,” pulls out a case containing around US$50,000.

The game sours

In a letter sent last March to Thanh Nien Weekly, the Philippines’ ambassador, Jerril G. In these cases, some victims allege being

drugged or kidnapped and then robbed.

Efforts are

being made to clamp down on the scam artists.

According to

sources however, most or all of these individuals have since been released. 

. Martha, a recent victim of the scam and whose name has

been changed here, explains: “If I walk away, he wins the pot. Santos, wrote: “As of December 2, 2010, we know of five

cases involving nine Filipinos in detention centers or awaiting trial in

court … only arrests that progress into court cases are officially conveyed to

the Embassy for appropriate consular assistance and representation.”

However, on

arriving at home, the daughter is at the hospital because the grandmother

has been taken ill. “I lost US$12,000, I feel like such a fool, I knew I

should have walked away but I didn’t,” blogs a victim named Mick.

They wait on streets

frequented by tourists, such as Phan Ngu Lao, Le Loi, and Dong Khoi.

Travel warnings

regarding these cases have been posted on the U.K., U.S., Australian and Canadian

embassy websites.

“Uncle Manoy” is

dealing. She hands it to the men, who

accept, saying a loan shark could cover the rest.

The “banker” ups

the ante to US$1,000. One ploy is to say their daughter is

applying for a visa to visit your home country.

Martha manages

to withdraw nearly US$1,000. Manoy, who has previously agreed to be her “secret partner,” winks and lends her the necessary US$1,000.

She wins again. 

Not so fast

“Cousin Louie”

sits opposite. Most

players would consider him the ideal opponent; he’s throwing around lots of

cash carelessly.

Their daily

stakeouts include landmarks like 29 Thang 9 Park, adjacent to Pham Ngu Lao; the

front entrances of Parkson and Vincom shopping centers; and Bach Tung Diep Park in

front of the Ho Chi Minh City


Though most

travelers who are approached do not go along with the con artists, many

visitors have complained that the group is a nuisance.

That’s when

everything falls apart. … Already

over-extended by US$1,000 and not wanting Manoy to lose his money, I panic.”

When six Filipinos

in the group were arrested last May, grabbing headlines across Vietnam, city police

said they had assembled a special investigative task force following complaints

from mainly Japanese and South Korean tourists who had been fleeced out of

large sums of money by “Asians speaking English.”

The scam

artists’ aim is to snare foreigners who are traveling alone and have

just arrived in Vietnam

for the first time.

Another common

scenario starts with a request for the victim to translate a letter received

from overseas.

Some victims are

not as lucky as Martha. A Japanese national allegedly lost US$8,000

Some victims lose big

Manoy and Louie

are not Vietnamese, nor are they Malaysians, as they claim.

The stories are

often similar in nature: a person claiming to be from Malaysia

strikes up a conversation with you in the street. Martha’s heart pounds

Max Lyons

Max Lyons

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Max Lyons

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