A vendor gouges foreign tourists at a street in Ha Noi's Old Quarter.
There have been around 130 cases of foreign tourists being harassed
and overcharged since the start of the year. — Photo www.antd.com.vn
Colonel Nguyen Phu Thang, deputy head of Hoan Kiem District Police Office, told An ninh Thu do (Capital Security) newspaper that street vendors, shoeshiners and beggars mostly gathered around Hoan Kiem Lake and the Old Quarter to persistently follow tourists, offering services and products and overcharging for them.
"As well as charging exorbitant prices, some regularly use tricks such as pretending to be social workers representing charity organisations in order to make money. Others even rob unsuspected tourists," he said.
Figures provided by the districts police show that since the beginning of this year municipal police reported 130 cases of foreign tourists facing harassment and overcharging. As many as 41 vendors and shoeshiners were arrested in a campaign held between August 16 and 28. Most of them were immigrants.
However, these people were only kept in custody for 12 hours and fined VND150,000 (US$7.5) each for causing public disorder and not carrying ID cards with them. The punishments were not severe as the arrestees did not directly rob foreign tourists of their possessions.
Lieutenant colonel Pham Van Ung, deputy head of Ly Thai To Ward's Police Office in Hoan Kiem District, said that prosecutions were rare as few foreign tourists reported cases to the police, even if they have had items stolen. He added that police found it hard to track down and check on offenders at their places of residence, as most were immigrants and changed location constantly. He also called for a review of the punishments faced by wrongdoers, arguing that the current level of fines were not strict enough to prevent violators from re-offending.
Police have said that those who relapsed into criminal behaviour of this kind should be sent to social centres for between three and six months. For those under the age of 18, local authorities and families should keep a close watch to ensure that they do not violate again.
Recently, eight people were arrested for robbing foreigners in tourism areas over the course of a week. Six of these were prosecuted and two were sent to rehabilitation centres.
About 50 workers from the Hoan Kiem Lake Management Board and a group of police have been charged with patrolling and inspecting crime hotspots in a crackdown on criminals cheating tourists to try and alleviate the problem.
John Smith, an Australian who has lived in Viet Nam for four years, said that common sense and knowing how to bargain for things was the most necessary skill to avoid being ripped off.
"Many people complain about being overcharged, but it's usually fine if you try to bargain when buying something," he said.
"Sometimes sellers have asked for VND100,000 ($5) for some fried cakes, and I have just left. If in doubt, the best way is to go to the supermarkets where there are price tags on all products," he added.
Nguyen Van Tuan, director of the Administration of Tourism, said that creating jobs for immigrant labourers such as vendors and beggars would better help solve the problems, as they were those who most commonly disturb tourists.
He added that local residents and managers of tourist sites should be more observant and report cases of these crimes to authorised agencies in a timely fashion.