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There isn’t anything more terrifying than getting scammed in another country, where you may not have help to get you out of a sticky situation, and just like any other city in the world Phnom Penh has its fair share of them.


Top Backpacker Scams in Phnom Penh


These scammers can be quite sneaky and very persistent in order to get what they want, and will usually go to unstoppable lengths, but the best way to stay safe is to avoid scammers all together. One suggestion that works when being approached by a scammer is just saying “No” and walking away from the situation as quickly as possible.

We’ve encountered and heard many stories by fellow travelers where plans to travel have been cut short because of getting scammed, so in order to avoid it we’ve put together a list of the most common scams to look out for while visiting Phnom Penh.

‘Numismatics’ Scam

Numismatics–the study or collection of coins, paper currency, and medals—is one of the most harmless scams in Phnom Penh. These scammers are usually easy to pick out. Just make sure to keep an eye out for any local that approaches you and introduces themselves as a well-educated coin collector.
In more instances than none, they politely ask for some loose coins in exchange for his riels, and  before you know it, you have given the ‘collector’ free money.


Blackjack Scam

This scam can typically occur along the Riverside, near Sisowath Quay, where a girl accompanied by a companion will approach and try to befriend you.

Once a conversation is started she will invite you to her house, and offer to make dinner in order to get to know you better. But as soon as you come home with her there isn’t much to eat, and instead she will introduce you to a man that just so happens to be a professional card player. Typically, they’ll offer to teach you how to play and later ask you to bet your own money, or sometimes even force you to withdraw cash from the nearest ATM station.

And before you know it all of your money is gone.


Fake Monks

Monks are highly revered in Cambodia, so imagine meeting one. But how would you know if he is the real deal or not? You can typically tell them apart by noticing what questions he asks you. It’s hard to miss them, as they all have shaved heads and wear long, orange robes. But, if you approach a monk and he asks you for a money donation then you know it’s a fraud.

A real Monk will not approach strangers, nor will they ever ask for money. You can also pick a fake one out by watching to see if they walk in front of particular businesses with donation bowls in their hands—but also please keep in mind there are real monks who do take advantage.


Motorbike Rented And Stole

Motorbikes offer a great way to get around, while also cutting down transportation time, as you can typically see more attractions a day than the average person. However, if you chose to use one make sure that you are renting from a legitimate agency.

If you are renting from a proper place then they will always provide the rider with a written agreement. But if you are renting from a scammer the written agreement will include that if you lose the bike you will have to pay the full amount for it. Typically what they will do is have an extra key, and once the rider takes the bike out and parks it somewhere, they will have a worker with the spare key come take the bike without your knowledge. In these cases, the rental agency will have your signature agreeing to pay the full amount, and fees range from $1000 and up.


Corrupt Police And Government Officials

This scam is more susceptible to expats riding motorcycles. In a typical situation, a cop will approach the rider and blame it on a small traffic violation, however, instead of a small fine the cop usually adds additional ones that the driver is not guilty of committing.

Make sure to always as for a written statement and receipt if you are ever pulled over. We’d also suggest asking the name of the cop, and requesting them to bring you to the police station in order to check for legitimacy. Because chances are if it’s a scammer they will stop prodding you for money to pay the fine.


Robbed Fellow Traveler Scam

This typically happens when a fellow traveler comes up to you and says they have been robbed and lost everything. Usually, he/she will ask for some type of comfort, or money to eat and sleep, and help to find their “missing passport.” Instead of falling under their trap the best thing you can do is help this person find the nearest police station to report the crime, and if it turns out to be a legitimate robbery then they shouldn’t have a problem going and reporting it.


Orphanage Donation Scam

Unfortunately, not all orphanages in Cambodia are genuine. There are some that serve as a shelter for children with parents that are still alive. Watch out for the orphanages that let visitors come right in a play, or even worse take a child. Most of these children are forced to learn scripture verses and perform in front of crowds; and are beaten if they choose not to.


Hooker Scam / Rape Scam

This scam is more common among men who go to the city and look for a quick romance or hook-up. We’d recommend to always be careful of the company kept, as many times the scammer will look for an opportunity to slip drugs into the visitor’s drink and steal valuables. Another common situation happens when the scammer has a partner and set up a situation where if the visitor doesn’t pay for sex they will threaten rape in exchange for money.


Fake Border Visa Office

This scam typically happens to those that cross the border by bus to Phnom Penh from Vietnam or Thailand. The perpetrators are usually drivers who offer to take the victim to a visa office for faster processing. Not only is that not true, but they typically over charge you twice as much. That’s why we recommend patiently waiting until you’ve reached the border where you will see the official Cambodian visa station.


Baby Milk Scam

This scam usually occurs when young mothers with their babies approach visitors and ask to buy their milk, and most of the time its fake. This scam is  prevalent in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Once the scammer has gotten the visitor’s pity they will lead you to a shop where the baby’s milk is sold. I saw two young dirty mothers in Royal Palace just recently, despite the many writings online they seem to don’t care or the local government may not be doing something about this.

Always remember this, trust your intuition – our human body and mind react differently during difficult times so always have a present mind. Always store the hostel’s number in your phone, as well as the local police.




About the Author

Mad Monkey is Southeast Asia’s leading hostel operator — born in Cambodia with more properties in Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, Laos, and the Philippines. We pride ourselves in creating meaningful and sustainable travel experiences for our guests, whilst promoting socially responsible tourism.