Robberies on the rise in Vietnam hub's "foreigner-friendly' areas

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Age-old story continues: thieves steal expensive gadgets and money from travelers


Foreign tourists take photos on a Ho Chi Minh City street. Many tourists have reported being robbed of their cameras while taking photos in the street. Photo by Diep Duc Minh

Ho Chi Minh City neighborhoods frequented by foreigners are experiencing a steady increase in petty theft such as bag-snatching, pick-pocketing, and camera grabs, according to local authorities.

The HCMC Department of External Affairs has so far this year received 108 reports of such crimes from foreign diplomatic missions, doubling the number of reports it received during the same period last year.

Bite the hand that iPhones

In the latest case, early on November 17, a Japanese tourist named Yoshito Ogata was taking photos with his iPhone on Nguyen Khac Nhu Street, District 1, when Le Van Ngoc, 29, who was driving a motorbike, grabbed the phone from his hands.

Luckily, city traffic police officers Sub-lieutenant Le Thanh Hung and Sub-lieutenant Le Quang were patrolling nearby and witnessed the theft.

HOTLINE FOR TOURISTS IN HCMC

1. Police Department:

- (08) 3 838 7200

- For complaints related to social order and security, crimes against foreign tourists

2. Department of Transport:

- (08) 3 830 0701

- For transport-related complaints such as overcharging by taxi drivers and things lost in taxis

3. Tourist support force:

- (08) 3 925 0000

- For advice and guidance for tourists who want to complain about crimes

They chased Ngoc down on their police motorbike. When they got him to stop he resisted arrest and struggled with them fiercely, screaming that he had HIV.

Once Ngoc was apprehended, the phone was returned to Ogata.

A similar incident happened to Ogata's fellow countryman Takari Shigesawa on November 4.

Shigesawa was taking photos with an iPhone 5S on Ton Duc Thang Street near Bach Dang Wharf in District 1 when Phan Tan Dung, 24, who was riding a motorbike, sped toward the Japanese tourist and grabbed the phone from his hands.

Shigesawa shouted for help. Senior Lieutenant Nguyen Quoc Hung of the city's traffic police was patrolling nearby and heard the cry.

Hung and two other traffic police officers on the scene, Truong Quang Thanh and Tran Van Hong, were able to chase Dung down and return the phone to Shigesawa.

But not all robbery victims have been so lucky.

According to official statistics, in the first half of this year, city police received 63 reports of robberies in downtown areas. They have only been able to close 38 of those cases.

Helpless

Police have warned foreigners against the increasing number of petty thieves, fraudsters and con-artists at the War Remnants Museum on District 3's Vo Van Tan Street, an increasingly popular tourist spot.

Petty theft, bag-snatching and pick-pocketing are most common in areas around major hotels, tourist sites and public parks, according to police.

Phan Xuan Anh, director of Du Ngoan Viet (Viet Excursions), a local travel company catering to foreign tourists who arrive in Vietnam via ship, said at least some of his company's customers get robbed nearly every trip.

He said tourists are usually robbed at noon, when local authorities take siestas. The tourists finish their lunch and travel freely, with no local guides accompanying them, so they are easy to be robbed, he said.

When they get robbed, they usually do not have time to file reports with local police as they have to get back to the ship to continue their journey, he said.

As they fail to obtain police verification of the robbery, they also cannot collect on any insurance they might have.

Phan Dinh Hue, director of Vong Tron Viet (VietCircle) Travel & Service Company, said tourists are always worried when they first come to HCMC, with their cameras' strings wrapped around their wrist and their bags gripped tight in their arms.

He said the company's tour guides tell tourists over and over again to beware of thieves when they are about to hit the streets, although they know their recommendations may make the tourists feel insecure and worried.

The HCMC Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism received reports on 255 robberies against foreign tourists last year.

Beach-town boogeywomen

Besides HCMC, the beach city of Nha Trang has also become a hot-spot for pick-pocketing and robberies against foreign tourists.

Recently, local police warned tourists of a new trick used by women pickpockets in the "backpacker area" bounded by Tran Quang Khai, Nguyen Thien Thuat, Biet Thu and Hung Vuong streets.

Women stand outside bars and restaurants waiting for foreigners to leave alone and drunk. The women then rush to hug the foreigners and at the same time snatch their wallets.

H., the manager of a bar on Nguyen Thien Thuat Street, said a Russian tourist recently left his bar and was followed by a woman. The woman suddenly hugged him and then ran away into an alley.

The Russian man was surprised when he found his wallet and cell phone were then gone from his pockets.

Early on November 19, a local xe om (motorbike taxi) driver named T.Q.H. carried an Australian customer named Samuel Robert John from a bar back to a hotel.

When H. stopped his bike at a turn, a woman rushed to hug John, who was on the back seat, and then ran away.

When John arrived at the hotel, he picked up his wallet to pay and found his iPhone was missing from his pocket.

The Australian tourist reported the case to police. The woman named Ho Thi My Trang, 42, was then arrested. John got his iPhone back.

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