On the Road

Gem Scams

This is one of the most common ways travelers get scammed. You’ll arrive somewhere like Bangkok or Jaipur in India and suddenly get the idea that you were always cut out to be a gem merchant. You’ll be befriended by some smiling local who announces that there’s a special fair going on with discounted rates, or maybe that his uncle is going out of business and can sell stones at half price. Why, invest $1000 in sapphires and you’ll triple your money back home!

If you’ve ever wondered why you haven’t got involved in the gem business before it’s probably because you have no idea what you’re doing. If you ‘don’t know much but you know what you like’, then you’re in the wrong business.

The gem scammers, on the other hand, know exactly what a stone is worth and also know every trick, con and scam in the book. For them, you’re little more than a piece of fresh meat and they’ll take you for all you’re worth at the slightest opportunity.

They may even sell you a stone cheaply that is worth something, so that you make a little cash and get enthusiastic. Every hustler in the world does that, lets you win a little bit first before taking you to the cleaners. But in the end you’ll part with a lot of money for a case of gems that are worth nothing at all. You’ll be lucky if they’re not made of glass.

Jaipur, in Rajasthan, India is one of the worst places for this. Rajasthan is over run with tourism and right after seeing the Taj Mahal in India, tourists head along to get scammed in Jaipur. The gem scammers are so crafty that sometimes they may befriend someone for weeks, inviting them for dinner and trips around the city before they strike.

A common scam is to invite you to become a gem courier, taking advantage of your western passport to carry a small box of rubies or whatever to the West with you, where their brother/uncle/cousin will pick you up and pay your commission. Naturally, they need some cash deposit from you to ensure that you don’t run with the merchandise… – the gems are worth nothing and there’s no one to meet you at the other end.

If you have to lose money buying precious stuff in Asia or anywhere else, buy silver. Buy from a reputed store and maybe you’ll break even or better if you have any taste in designs.

Remember also that the gem merchants can be very tough customers. In Bogota, Colombia, a disagreement in business can lead to someone being murdered with a burning tire around his neck. Nothing personal, just business, as they say.