Nine gang members detained for harassing, cheating foreigners in Hanoi

By Nguyen Quy, Pham Du   November 1, 2018 | 05:56 pm PT
Nine gang members detained for harassing, cheating foreigners in Hanoi
A street vendor walks along foreign tourists in Hanoi. Photo by Shuttershock/Minh Hue
Hanoi police have detained nine street gang members who were ripping off foreign tourists around the Hoan Kiem Lake.

The arrests were made after local media provided evidence of widespread harassment and price gouging in recent days at the pedestrian walking zone near the Hoan Kiem (Sword) Lake.

Police said the group, six men and three women with no stable jobs, gathered around the tourist hotspot to polish shoes and sell snacks, but their modus operandi was to coerce unsuspecting foreigners and charge them exorbitant amounts.

Four of the shoe-shiners had been arrested in 2016 and slapped with fines of $100 each for harassing and overcharging foreigners. They returned to their old ways soon, with the fines proving no deterrent.

Calculated assaults

The young shoe shiners, aged 20 to 30, would wander the area around the Hoan Kiem Lake and chose their “prey” well, typically targeting single tourists or foreign couples.

They would approach a foreign man or woman suddenly, point at their sandals, and all but yank them off the foreigner’s feet. They would polish the footwear and do some minor fixes, like inserting extra insoles or reinforcing the sole, and charge VND400,000 ($17.14) to VND800,000 ($34.29), against the normal prices of VND20,000 for polishing a pair of shoes or VND50,000 for minor repairs.

The gang members would even snatch the tourists’ wallet and take the money, or adopt threatening postures that make the foreigners pay up to avoid further trouble.

Many tourists have shared such stories on social media.

Australian woman Michelle James, who lives in Hanoi, said she was the victim of such a scam.

"A local shoe shiner glued the bottom of my flip flop and then asked me for VND450,000; I could have bought four new pairs for that price. I didn't ask him to do it, he just took off my shoe and started gluing and I kept telling him to stop and he’s like 'It’s okay,'" she told VnExpress International.

Meanwhile, some female peddlers selling Vietnamese sweets would invite foreign tourists to try the cake for free, and then charge them exorbitant prices.

For instance, for five pieces of a local donut costing VND3,000 each, or VND15,000, they would charge the tourists more than 13 times the price at VND200,000 ($17.6).

Weak enforcement

Such scams have only increased in cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City over the past few years despite occasional “crackdowns” by local authorities.

Street vending has paved the way for petty crime and disrupted order in the city, a police officer in the Old Quarter, who asked to remain anonymous, told VnExpress International.

Some vendors also tricked foreign visitors into buying things at unreasonable prices, he acknowledged.

Fining people who harass and cheat foreigners does not seem to be an effective deterrent, many people on social media have commented, blaming weak law enforcement for the continued fraud perpetrated on visitors, tarnishing the country’s image and discouraging tourists from returning.

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