PH Embassy in Laos warns of Filipino card sharks preying on tourists
Vientiane, Laos, PDR — Filipino professionals are not the ones seeking work in Laos. A group of alleged Filipino card sharks called the “Blackjack” group is also busy preying on tourists and has alarmed officials of the Philippine Embassy here.
The “Blackjack” group started in Vietnam as early as 2009, and then later branched out to Cambodia, Thailand and Laos.
So what is the modus of the syndicate? Who are the people behind it?
“No one really knows. There was one complainant. He filed it at the police station and left. The case cannot push through,” says Vice Consul Jose Carlo Morales.
According to Morales, an Australian national sought their assistance because he identified members of the group that tricked him as Filipinos.
William (not his real name) was a retired police officer from Australia. He came to Laos for a short visit. While strolling at the Vientiane Night Market along the Mekong River, he was approached by a middle-aged woman. She introduced herself as a Filipina. Later that night, she invited William to her home, which the latter gladly accepted.
When the woman opened the door, her ‘family’ was there as if waiting for them. They warmly welcomed William, considering him already as a ‘family member.’ He was offered with food and drinks.
Later William remembered that an ‘uncle’ told him that a visitor – a businessman actually wants to play blackjack with him. At first he was winning, but after a few rounds, he was losing. Wanting to get his money back, the woman convinced him to withdraw money from a nearby ATM machine.
Afterwards, everything was vague. When he regained consciousness, William went to the police. He was able to meet with Philippine Embassy officials.
William still recalled the landmarks where he was brought, but he could not pinpoint the exact location of the house. Investigators faced a blank wall. No names. No address.
William could also be charged for breaking the law because gambling is technically illegal in Laos except in designated Golden Triangle Special Economic Zones.
Third Secretary and Vice Consul Iris Vanessa Caranzo said members of the “blackjack” group usually targets backpackers, and those who are just on short visits to Laos or Cambodia. They usually approach a lone tourist and befriend them. They also target tourists who could hardly speak English like Japanese and Koreans.
“They know that these people cannot pursue a case because it takes time,” Carranzo said.
Vice Consul Morales added that the ‘blackjack’ group frequents the tourist areas in Vientiane like the Night Market along the Mekong River.
“But if they hear that you speak Tagalog, or you have the Filipino accent, they will not approach you,” he says.
There are already reported cases in Cambodia and Thailand. A member of the syndicate was apprehended in Phuket. Nine Filipinos and two locals were arrested in Vietnam in 2010 but were later released because the case did not prosper in court.
Several travelers also posted their experiences with the scammers on Trip Advisor in 2015.
Vice Consul Caranzo explains that the syndicate members are also fluent in the local language where they are operating.
The “blackjack” has local accomplices in the countries where they operate, the Embassy said.
Filipinos in Laos
There are 1,747 Filipinos registered at the Philippine Embassy in Laos as workers or long-time residents. They are in various professions such as teachers, development workers, and consultants to various international aid and humanitarian agencies. Hundreds of Filipino engineers are also employed by multi-national companies in the constructions of dam and road networks across the country.
Vice Consul Morales explains that the Embassy seldom receives complaints and assistance. However, he is worried that if more cases against these Filipinos are filed and brought into court, the good image of the hard-working OFWs will be tarnished.
The activity of the syndicate also affects the tourism activities in the area, Morales said.
The Embassy officials warn Filipinos and other nationals not to trust anyone especially those who are offering them cheap accommodations, food, and friendship. /muf
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