*Days 65-66: The Blackjack Scam

Trip Start May 20, 2008
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Trip End Aug 19, 2008


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Flag of Malaysia  , Wilayah Persekutuan,
Saturday, July 26, 2008

So I've come up with a new game. It's called "find the Coffee Bean branch in the Malaysian mega mall." You see, I visited 5 malls during my brief time in Malaysia and each of them had both a Starbucks and a Coffee Bean. The Starbucks was listed on the mall directory, the Coffee Bean never was. If it was a computerized directory, Coffee Bean would be listed but the computer would misdirect you to Starbucks if you selected it. (this happened to me twice)

lol.

An early wakeup lead me to a food court in the local mall, where I ate two Chinese dim sum dumplings for breakfast. The seemingly inherent rude-for-dumb-reasons-ness of Kuala Lumpurians (jk no offense) surfaced here as well. In the food court was a dumpling kiosk, other restaurants, and an inviting coffee shop that served food as well. Craving coffee, I carried my dumplings over to said coffee shop, approached the counter with what should have been an unmistakably obvious intent on ordering, and before I could even place an order heard a squawking behind me: "You eat OVER THERE! That is not our food!" (unbeknownst to me at the time, KL food courts do not have free seating & you must sit by the vendor you ordered from) Slightly miffed, I shrugged my shoulders and turned away, thinking "okay, you don't want my business, not my problem." The other cashier, the one with the brain, shouted after me: "Oh wait, did you want some coffee?" Umm, yes... why the hell else would I have walked into a coffee shop? He took my order and within minutes I was slurping one of the better cups of Java I've ever had.

Sightseeing for the day included random exploration of KL's Chinatown, Little India, and Colonial districts, all of which actually did have a hustle and bustle feel unlike those in Singapore. If Singapore was a real city, KL is the city it would be, and for this I was happy and in the midst of fun. There wasn't much specific worthy of note here though, just an array of fascinating sights, people, and smells. Along the way I had my memory card emptied and burned to CD, incase that's worthy of note. I ate late lunch/early dinner at a Little India hawker center, again forgot that seating wasn't free for all, was again yelled at and kicked out of my seat (despite there being no seating by the vendor I'd purchased from), found a quite little corner and chowed down. It tasted pretty good but I could tell my stomach was loosing its temper. No more hot curry for a while.

While walking around Bukit Bintang afterwards, I was approached by a smiling middle-aged Chinese woman who asked where I was from. Finally, someone who was friendly! I told her I was from California, and she said she just happened to have a daughter who would be going to school there soon. Would I be willing to meet the daughter and give some info about CA? Sure. I accompanied her into a taxi an off we went to her home. A doubt ran through my head, thinking this wasn't the best of ideas, but I slapped my inane paranoia down and dismissed it as ridiculous. I would have never met magical folks like Ary or the Bukit Lawang gang if I was paranoid and turned down offers of hospitality all the time. Thus, we entered her house and chatted for a bit. I talked about my volunteer work, we both talked about politics, etc etc. It was a long, solid and deep conversation. Unfortunately the daughter was visiting a sick relative in the hospital at the time and the visit was rendered a bit moot. I was about to say goodbye and leave, but the husband inquired:

"Do you know how to play blackjack?"
"Yes.
"Do you know how to win?"
"Not really." ("Oh no, where is this going...")
"Come, I show you."

The goofy looking hunched Chinese man showed me into the dining room and set up a card table, and several red flags immediately went up. I switched to Yellow Alert mode and locked a hand over my moneybag. Under no circumstances was I to open it, I swore to myself. He laid out the deck, explained how he'd been a casino worker for years, and proceeded to teach me a laughably obvious hand signaling system where if he was the dealer, he'd be able to inform me of the next card and what the opponent's hidden card was. WTF...

"You see, last night there was this rich business woman from Brunei here, and we played Mah Jong. She won $50,000 and was greedy and gave only $200 back. She is coming soon to play again. I will tell her I found her a worthy opponent, but that your game is not Mah Jong, it is Blackjack. I will deal and give you the signals, you will win easily and we will split the winnings 50/50, deal? Here are $200 for you to bet (he shoves $200 into my pocket.)"

Before I could even say "Hell no," the businesswoman conveniently appeared and I'd found myself whirl winded into the middle of a shady card game and a pawn in a scheme to (supposedly) swindle thousands of dollars off of a rich lady. I froze for a minute, probably weirding them out, as I slowly thought my way through what might me the most dangerous predicament I'd stumbled into yet.

"You're trapped in these peoples' home and thus can't get this guy in trouble with the business woman, which rules out an immediate and alarming escape. So you're stuck. Okay, so what are the possibilities:
A: You play an honest game, make sure she knows your playing an honest game & not looking at any signals, either win or lose, and decide what to do afterwards when that bridge comes."
B: She's in on the scam, in which case stick around for shits & giggles and under no circumstances part with your own cash. (not that I would in option A either)"

I elected option B. I didn't look at the old Chinese man, and ignored his wife's constant and slightly creepy patting of my hands as if to reassure me. Instead I kept my eyes locked on the business woman's, probably creeping her out but at least she'd know (perhaps too well) that I wasn't looking anywhere else, and proceeded to play. The deck was surely stacked, I can't remember the last time I was dealt such good hands. Having "won" a crapload of money from her without cheating, I tried to end the game. This wasn't part of the plan though, it was my money they wanted, not her's. Both the businesswomen and the elderly couple ignored what would usually be my right to end the game, and proceeded with what they emphasized would be the final round. I tried to lose just to see if it was possible, but won again. Now $23,000 of her supposed money was in the pot, and $23,000 of this Chinese man's ("mine") imaginary money was also in. Before we would flip over the cards however, the scam's punch line revealed itself. The business woman wanted to see $23,000 of "my" cash on the table before revealing the cards, because this for some reason would make her feel more secure. The husband stepped up and vouched to her that my "credit" was legitimate, guaranteeing me to her. She wouldn't have it, and agreed to depart for an hour while we "went to the bank" to arrange the cash. Minutes after she left, the husband hushedly explained to me his plan. He would go fetch as much hard cash as he could while I went with the wife to an ATM to withdraw as much cash as I could muster. The final red flags in my head went up, but an ATM trip represented an escape opportunity. I agreed.

During the car ride, the husband called the wife and relayed the message that he'd have to take out a bank loan to muster the cash, and that he needed me to muster the $2,000 interest payment, which for some reason was needed immediately in order to take out the loan. I shouldn't worry supposedly, as soon as the card matter was resolved I would be $15,000 richer and the husband would drop the money off at my hotel. Riiight... I played along, hung up, and proceeded to explain to the wife how while volunteering in Nepal, my host family introduced me to the art of Gurkha knifery. I invented some BS Nepali knife-related martial art and innocently, nonchalantly explained how I'd been taught how to use the knife to stab specific spiritual centers on the neck and could kill with a single blow. (all lies) Also, I explained that due to it being a valuable possession, I kept the Nepali blade on my at all times to make sure it wouldn't be stolen, and all times included now. (this actually was true, it's a Phurba blade I got as a surprise present for Jeff who is on an airplane at the moment and won't be reading this before the surprise) With the wife now noticeably scared -my desired effect - and wondering why I was choosing now to talk about this, we exited the car and approached the ATM. Goshdarnit, as it turns out I'm poor as dirt and didn't have much of a bank account balance to "help with the interest." I showed her my measly balance, and she realized I wasn't a good scamming target. (don't worry, she didn't see my PIN #) Still playing along, she told me that now that we couldn't prove to the businesswoman that we had $27,000 or whatever it was in hard cash, the card game was lost and it'd be really nice of me if I reimbursed the husband $100 to help pay for the $200 he "spent" on the initial betting. Psshaww fat chance. I refused, she played the "my mother is dying of cancer and we need $ for medical stuff" card, I called her bluff and said that if I could visit her Mom I'd give her the $100, not surprisingly she wasn't in the mood to visit her Mom at the moment, and... deep breath... at long last... we parted ways.

What.
The frak.

I at no moment parted with my own cash (counted it afterwards to make sure) and emerged without a scratch. This incident removed my last shred of trust with the locals in this part of the world, I'm going to have to turn down any further invites into local homes after this even if they're just trying to be friendly and need English practice. Sucks, but further entrapments & shady card games are not on the itinerary.

I retreated to an internet cafe for a bit afterwards to chat on Facebook and check my messages, ate dinner, and spent the rest of the night at a free open air concert on the main Bukit Bintang street. It was an Arabic-oriented concert, filled with dancing North African and Middle Eastern men, some with colored hankerchiefs wrapped across their faces. Malaysia is more economically developed than Indonesia but the Islamic population here seems much more devout. Woman in the full, hardcore, eye slits are the only exposed skin Burkhas are a common sight here, and were present around the rims of this concert. The live music was quite good, I noted the name of the band and will be buying a CD or two of theirs when I get home.

The next day and night were train travel days, nothing really to talk about there so in the interests of saving internet money I'm going to skip writing about it. I'm safely in Bangkok now in the nicest hostel I've ever stayed at, and will meet Jeff at the airport by 4pm. Following this rendezvous, I will be traveling with a friend for the remainder of the trip. Bangkok itself is a surprisingly nice, cosmopolitan city, indistinguishable from those in 1st world countries. Haven't seen much of it yet, gonna go correct that problem now. Adios!
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Comments

Almost scammed too on

I just got back myself and had almost the exact experience.

A Malaysian girl 'Susanna' around 35yo approached me at the base of the Petronas Tower and started chatting. She was waiting for her sister 'Kata' to finish work, then was going home for lunch... I got invited. We got into a taxi and drove for ~7 mins NW of the tower to their place - a nice 'middle class' area I guess.

We entered the house and I was given a coffee as her brother 'Al' came into the room. He appeared genuinely surprised and said this was 'the first time a white person had been in his house'. I don't think he was expecting me, but they were well set up for opportune targets, even having a fridge full of bottled water and cans of drink. I got the story about the sick grandmother too and a younger sister who was about to go to Brisbane, Australia on a nursing scholarship for six months.

Al took over the conversation from S. and told how he was a casino table manager at 'World Casino' in Genting. He said he'd been a card dealer for 15 years before becoming a supervisor a few years ago. His story continued about the night before, when he was entertaining a wealthy visitor from Brunei who had lost $280000 playing Mah Jong. This man (I'll call him 'Mr B') was supposed to pay him and hadn't, and also, by chance, Mr B was about to drop in to take him out to dinner. The story was made to make it seem ok to rip this person off.

We had lunch and then I was offered to be shown some card tricks and the signals as mentioned, for Blackjack. Shortly after, Mr B arrived and we played - I didn't provide any money and wasn't pushed for it - it was provided by Al as 'credit'. Mr B flashed some wads of US$ - at one stage a block that was supposedly $30k. Of course I won almost all hands and as we were about to disclose the winner of the last hand, Mr B wanted to see my cash. There were questions about bank balance, cards, US cash on hand etc. I made it clear that I couldn't get it that day and didn't offer anything else.

From there, Al pulled me aside and said he would try and get money from his relations if we could delay the game overnight. So our cards were put in envelopes and locked in a filing cabinet, with the key given to Mr B to keep overnight. I was to call them the next day to see what happened...

I was given a lift back to Bukit Bintang and was asked for RM50 to cover fuel and to get some flowers for sick granny... S. knew where I was staying and said she wanted me to meet her younger sister (soon heading to Australia). I left the hotel before they could find me again...

I was given these numbers:
Susanna - 6016 672 3547
Al - 6016 621 7484

I can easily see how some would be drawn into their stories - there was a heap of detail that I've left out - but luckily I escaped undamaged. I wish I had seen your post before I went so I could have totally avoided it, but hopefully I can at least now help warn others too.

Kate on

Another person scammed
But i lost no money so and it was too well set up not to be scam
A guy coming to a simple house with 30 thoudand cash no way
But they let me leave and have a shower and i was wondering how the scam actually makes money if he puts up the 25,700 you indebted to show the guy you have enough money!!! I said i would not put up anymoney as i said im at the end of my travels and have none. they said they could come up with the cash and i had a shower and smarten myself up. I look like a normal backpacker and said i have no nice clothes.
They said have a shower and we will bring you back and you can have the 15 thousand !!!
Im not going back of course since this only happen 2 hours ago and lied about which hotel i stay at but hiding in a internet cafe
But i thought would they convince me to have another game or actually go to the casino i don't know but how could you fall for something like this.
Also i was lucky becuase i don't carry atm cards unless i need them and i only had 150 ringouts me when they asked for the cash. I only wanted some mc donalds!!
People might fall for it but it seems like some thing out of set up t.v

Kate Again on

I have the same phone number as well and same names

Blakjack Techniques on

Blackjack is a good entertaining card game and provides a full excitement to the player.

Alfietucker on

Almost exactly the same thing happened to me about ten years ago! Clearly this is a well-rehearsed routine that these people do to travellers. So beware - and never get into a taxi with someone you've only just met!

Traveller on

What is wrong with you people....would you hop in a car with a stranger in your own country that you had just met? NOOOO!!!!
I am always amazed that more people aren't put into really dangerous situations. I have heard of horror stories of travellers losing large amounts of cash when these "charming locals & their innocent card games" turn nasty. Please use your commonsense when abroad. If you want to meet the locals & have a local experience thats great but there are safer ways to do it! Try couchsurfer.com or just hang out at a local coffee shop but dont be hopping into taxis or cars with people you have just bumped into.

Scilly Mea on

Identical thing happened to me in Ho chi Minh city in August 2010.It was very cleverly done.

Btyy007 on

wish I would of read this earlier in my travels. I just got scammed in KLCC. A mid 30 year old lady came up to me and asked me where I was from, when she found out I was from America she was excited and told me her sister will be going to the states and if I can meet up with her to give her advice. I agreed and she then said he mother and sister were in the hospital and we will meet them at their house. she then hailed a cab and we went to a house along the road about 15-20 min. from KLCC. Her uncle then was there and said that he is a professional black jack dealer and ask me if I wanted to learn, I said ok you can teach me. Meanwhile while i was there a guy from Brunei came in and wanted to play. the uncle told me he wanted me to play, I was hesitant so the girl started playing the cards. He then took a wad of cash about $40,000. The next thing I knew is that they drove me to a gold and diamond shop and con me into purchasing gold and diamonds. They left and took my jewelry with them, at this time I still didnt realize what was happening. I now know that I was drugged, I would of never made this decision.
Needless to say, they won! Over 10,000 US dollars, I am just happy to be alive.

dooo on

I don't like Malaysia, especially Kuala Lumpur, people are so rude, their taxis are the worst in the world, many pickpockets, and if you're not careful enough you'll get scammed! Tourists come to Malaysia because we expect to meet friendly people, oriental culture with modern infrastructure as it's shown in the advertisement, I guess their tourism ad is also a kind of scam since none of them is true!

cdnski12 on

I hope Lonely Planet & other travel books & Travel Web Sites will warn travellers about these Casino Dealer tricks & traps. Like others say above ... why would a single traveller get into a car and drive off somewhere in a dodgy city with a stranger?

sirrocko711
sirrocko711 on

Yeah, under normal circumstances it would seem like (and WAS, admittedly) a bad idea to get in a taxi with strangers... I think for me though, I had just come from rural Indonesia, where I was being invited into locals' homes quite often for tea & hospitality, and it was never an issue there. Got lulled into a false sense of security. But yeah, be careful. I was definitely very lucky to get out of that without much issue. Stupider than getting in the taxi was the cup of their tea I drank, which could have been but luckily wasn't drugged.

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