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Hanoi: Capital of Copy Cat Scams

VIETNAM | Saturday, 28 July 2007 | Views [4530]

Countries in Asia are known for their cheap mass production of fake goods.  We see it all around us:  shops lining the streets and market stalls with copy CD's, DVD's, and latest software prominently displayed.  Western brand name goods, logos purposefully placed in their correct areas such as North Face, Nike, Gap, Quicksilver and others hang on display... all fake.  It's taken to the extreme in Vietnam.  people specialize in making copies of famous paintings; the Mona Lisa, Picasso, Monet and others hang from the walls in little art shacks.  Silk tailors copy fashion designers and produce look alike product for a fraction of the real designer cost.  In Hanoi, they have gone as far as replicating well know businesses.  It's difficult to even know if you're at a legitimate place of business.  
Take for example, a travel/tour company who has a well published reputation in guide books- Sinh Cafe.  They sell bus tickets, boat tickets, hotel rooms and other tours.  We were given the recommendation to book our Halong Bay sailing trip through them.  After having done research and learning of potential "copy" or fraudulent vendors, we thought we knew where the "real" Sinh Cafe was.  We get to the street that Lonely Planet said it was on, and see the sign, logo, and cruise in with our friends Jet and Jafra, to purchase the tickets.  We talk to the sales manager about the company, the tour, the boat, and he shows us pictures and even speaks at length about other "fake" Sinh Cafes that are illegitimate.   We pay a deposit and sign over our commitment, and for a moment a doubt funs through our minds.  Darrin asks, "How do we know you're the real Sinh Cafe?"  We open up the guide book (which also happens to be a "fake" copy of a Lonely Planet Vietnam book).  Without looking at the book, the sales manager says, "We're #22 on the map."  We looked, and indeed, #22 is Sinh Cafe.  We leave the office and check the store front address- #31 Hong Bac Street.  In the guide book, one reference doesn't have an address, another listing says its 52 Hong Bac.  My heart falls into the pit of my stomach.  We had carefully researched this one, read the horror stories of those people who went to the "copy cat" cafes unknowingly, and were sold a bum deal.  I think we've just fallen into the same scam/trap.  As we walk outside and look up and down the street, we spot five more Sinh Cafes, all in close proximity.  We walk down to #52 and ask if the branch up the road is part of their company.  They say, "No, it's a fake."  So we thought we'd try a rational approach and go back and talk to the "fake" Sinh Cafe manager who just sold us our tickets, to see if we can get a refund, given the false pretenses with which we were sold the tickets.  Darrin and I would lose our $20 deposit, not that big of a deal; but our friends paid in full, and they'd be out $100 if the manager refuses to refund and the trip is a scam.  As we thought, the guy turns hostile and refuses to admit that he's a fake, and that he's just used deceptive advertising practices to win our business  He places a call to someone he says is his "boss," someone who speaks English, and he makes me speak with him.  The guy on the other end of the phone is completely rude, and the purpose of this call is to reinforce that once we signed our name on the dotted line of the receipt, that we are now obligated and would not receive any of the deposit, despite the receipt that says if we cancelled that we'd get back 50% of what had been paid.  The guy is so completely rude, and when I ask him basic questions about the trip that he can't answer, I immediately know this guy on the phone is not the sales guy's boss, but rather a friend of the sales guy who is in on the scam, who speaks English, and whom the sales manager is trying to use to strong arm me into forking over the remainder of the money and continue with the trip.  At this point, I let the sales manager know how disappointed we are with his fraudulent business practices, and that we would hate to have to get the police involved, so we should just resolve this now, between us here, and just kindly refund our money and we'll go away happy.  He then says the police speak no English and would be of no help to us.  There is no negotiating with this guy.  He's a scam artist, and we got suckered in.  I tell Darrin, let's leave now and write off the deposit as a learning, regardless if they have a real tour behind the drama.  I do not want to go with them or pay them anymore money.  We finally get up to leave, after talking in circles.  They guy tells us to come back in 30 minutes - that we need to cool off, and he'll address the issue with us later.  
We really didn't expect to go back, and have written them off.  But several hours later Darrin decides to swing by and the guy asks him what he needs to be happy... Darrin said, "just return our $20."  The sales manager reaches into his wallet and hands over a crisp $20.  We take our business down the road to ET-Pumpkin, a company that chooses to actually pay for their business registration/license, so there's only one of them on the street, and we book our tour.  We feel much more comfortable with this company, as the sales manager is actually reading recent web-based reviews that clients have posted about his company and their tour experiences.  He tells us improving their service is most important, and that he checks out these sites daily.  Wow, I think we found an actual legitimate business.  We were just waiting to walk out of the store and see a boatload more "ET-Pumpkin" signs over store fronts, but to their credit, there are no copycats like Sinh Cafe.

Tags: Scams & Robberies


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