A foreign tourist (R) reports on leaving behind some valuables in a taxi at the office of Vinasun Taxi in Ho Chi Minh City
It is not a problem that is unique to Vietnam in any way.
But it is one that has risen to proportions that have forced owners of taxi operators and anti-crime authorities to acknowledge its scale and pledge remedial action.
Major taxi firms in Ho Chi Minh City have committed to taking action after too many passengers have complained of losing their valuables in cabs and being unable to reclaim them from dishonest drivers.
Ta Long Hy, director of Vinasun Taxi, said the firm has opened monthly training courses in ethics for their drivers recently.
The Mai Linh Taxi company requires drivers to sign a commitment to "always remind passengers not to leave anything behind" when dropping them off at their destinations. The company has set up a division to search for valuables lost by their passengers, said company director Truong Quang Man.
Dang Hoang Phuong, chairman of Sai Gon Hoang Long Taxi, said the company would ask for police intervention if dishonest drivers persisted in their innocence after passengers claim to have lost valuables while traveling in their taxis.
However, several industry observers say these actions are unlikely to solve the problem because dishonest taxi drivers are well aware of a lack of drivers in the market, which means they can get a new job easily even if they are fired.
An Australian expat who has been working in Vietnam for several years said she lost two laptops on two different occasions during her stay in HCMC.
The first time, she accidentally left a laptop in the taxi but was fortunate to recover it. She knew the cab company, the drop off point and the exact time she took the taxi from the airport.
Her colleague was able to get the laptop back for her because she flew to Australia soon afterwards.
However, she was not so lucky the second time in December last year, when she didn't remember the details. But she is convinced the driver had robbed it.
"I'd called for a cab early and piled my luggage in. On the way, I stopped at a Shop and Go outlet to buy a coffee. I arrived at Tan Son Nhat (Airport) and checked in. Once in a cafe in the departure lounge I took my laptop out of its bag. Or, rather, I didn't. It was gone," she told Thanh Nien Weekly.
"The cabbie had obviously lifted it from the bag when I was in the convenience store. As my laptop bag is weighed down with various plugs, microphones and reference books it wasn't obvious from the weight that the small computer was gone when I carried my bags through check in," she said.
Nguyen Tien Nghia of the Crime Branch Police Department said a major taxi firm in HCMC has received nearly 2,000 reports from passengers about forgetting their belongings in taxis.
Due to the increasing presence of criminals at airports, the Crime Branch Police Department and Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam last October signed a note on coordinating with each other to maintain security, he said. This division is tasked with busting criminals on roads connecting to the airports, he added.
Nghia said many passengers have made complaints to either the taxi firm or the airport security department after losing their belongings. They only reported the incidents to the Crime Branch after the other two agencies had failed to reclaim their belongings.
"This results in a much delayed start to investigations and experienced criminals can easily conceal evidence," he said.
Nghia said taxi passengers should immediately call his agency at 0693.6830, or contact the office at 258 Nguyen Trai Street in District 1 whenever they lose their belongings in a taxi.
Last month, Nghia's division handed Tran Minh Quoc to the HCMC police department for investigation.
Police said Quoc was the one responsible, in May, for a Malaysian tourist being charged VND4 million ($194) for a seven-kilometer ride that should have normally cost $7.
Quoc confessed he was driving a taxi with a fake logo imitating Mai Linh Taxi and took tourists from Ben Thanh Market to Tan Son Nhat International Airport.
He handed over VND4 million to the police and confessed he had swindled tourists in two previous cases with the same ploy to get a total of VND8 million.
Although the number of passengers losing their belongings in taxis and being unable to reclaim them has increased in Vietnam, many people say it is a common problem, and that people should be careful.
"Generally I find that I have few issues with cabs. Living in Hanoi, I know which ones to take and from where. I never catch a cab in certain parts of the Old Quarter. This means I rarely have problems with fares," said the Australian expat who lost the laptop in HCMC last December.
"Speaking rudimentary Vietnamese helps here. Others I know have been charged VND2 million for a short trip from the Temple of Literature to the Old Quarter," she said. "What should be remembered is that taxis can be dangerous everywhere. People regularly run into trouble in Australia with cabs as well. Though it's a problem, blaming Vietnam won't help."
Early this year, Ngo Thuy Anh, a Vietnamese expat in the US, took a Petrolimex taxi from the airport to Binh Tan District's Binh Long Market.
After paying the fare of VND200,000 and tipping $2, she got off and found she had left her wallet in the cab with more than $1,000 in cash, five credit cards and other personal identity papers. However, the driver had fled.
After the firm and the airport security department were unable to find the wallet, Anh contacted the Crime Branch Police who investigated the case which lead to the driver, Mai Khac Duc, confessing to the crime.
Ta Long Hy of Vinasun Taxi said not all taxi drivers are that dishonest.
"Between 500 and 700 Vinasun drivers return belongings to absent-minded customers every month," he said.
In July last year, one forgetful man panicked after leaving $26,500 in a HCMC taxi.
He called the Cuu Long Petro Gas Service Transportation Joint Stock Company, and explained his dilemma.
The driver, Doan Thanh Xuan, heard the radio call and headed straight back to the passenger and returned the bag.