Getting scammed – The powdered milk scam
During our time in Asia we came across various scams, some we fell for and some we didn’t. We didn’t get caught out by this scam but we easily could have. This is the first post of a short series of posts on scams you might encounter while travelling in Asia. We hope reading about our experiences will stop you being tricked while you’re travelling and therefore reduce scammers motivation to use scams to make a living.
The Powdered Milk Scam
For me one of the downsides of Cambodia was the number of beggars. The people of Cambodia have had a very difficult time this last 50 years so I can understand why begging is rife but I worry that giving a few dollars to everyone isn’t actually helpful. One scam we encountered in Siem Reap that involved begging was The Powdered Milk Scam.
We encountered this scam on the popular Pub Street in the heart of Siem Reap. Often while relaxing with a 50cent beer we’d be approached by young girls carrying a sleepy baby and they’d ask us to buy powdered milk to feed the child. The girls all say the same thing “I don’t need money, I just need milk for my baby. Please help me feed her”. Lucky for us we had been told about this scam just hours earlier so our involvement stopped there but some other tourists aren’t so lucky.
If you agree to buy milk for the baby the young girl will lead you to a nearby shop that conveniently sells milk powder priced at upwards of $20, an expensive purchase in cheap Cambodia, but the baby is hungry and you’re not heartless right? So you buy the milk and hand it over the young mum, feeling altruistic. Now the baby and her mum can go home. No, unfortunately not.
The baby will never get the powdered milk. After you’re out of sight the milk is quickly returned to the store. The money is then given to local mafia who control the girls and rent out the babies! The pretend mums are then sent back on to pub street to find another westerner to trick.
Why this scam is so clever
People are more inclined to buy food or drink to those in need rather than giving money that can be spent on drugs or alcohol. How many times has someone advised you not to give homeless people money but buy them lunch or a hot drink instead? Well this scam plays to that rationale. I would have fallen for this scam for this exact reason. Lucky for us we had been told about the scam just hours before we were approached for the first time.
Saying no will help more than saying yes
Although it’s hard to turn down a young girl with a baby asking for help, as long as these scams are profitable these girls will be kept off school and the babies will be out in the blazing sun all day. I have heard people go as far as to say that the babies are drugged to appear docile. That is something I definitely don’t want to fund.
Child protection charities in Cambodia seem to be aware of these scams and publicise guidelines on how best to help local children without inadvertently putting them in danger. They encourage tourists to say no to buying powdered milk and instead to shop and buy their souvenirs from organisations designed to support local people. You don’t have to look far in Cambodia to find a restaurant run to train disadvantaged young people or a souvenir shop filled with handmade items by single mothers who are retraining. Supporting these initiatives will have a greater, more positive impact. Concert also have a good website that provides more examples of how to help – http://www.concertcambodia.org/
Please help me spread the word about this scam by retweeting and sharing this post.
Until next time, safe travels
I’d love to hear about scams you’ve heard of or fallen for in Cambodia? sharing is caring after all. Alternatively if you know of any initiatives that help local Cambodians, I’d be happy to help spread the word.