The powdered milk scam

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 –


Please help me spread the word about this scam by retweeting and sharing this post.

Until next time, safe travels

Lisa x

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. 

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  • Jessica Jane February 24, 2015   Reply →


    Monica from ax pairs has given me this link as I’m going off travelling in November me and my partner are travelling the first month round Cambodia and Vietnam! Were is a must go and were should we keep clear? Thanks Jessica

    • Lisa April 7, 2015   Reply →

      Hi Jessica,

      Sorry for the slow response. We LOVED Cambodia so that’s exciting you are going there. As for Vietnam we haven’t been yet but we are planning to go in July. As far as where to visit in Cambodia we loved Siem Reap and Kep.

      Siem Reap is quite a small city but its packed full of culture and great restaurants. You can get a beer for 25p. It has a really fun atmosphere and obviously is home to Angkor Wat! While in Siem Reap we stayed out of town at V&A villa which was very good but wasn’t very central so we had to get a tuk tuk back every night. Tuk tuks are cheap though, around $2. We’d recommend visiting Angkor Wat for sunrise.

      Kep is a coastal resort, in south Cambodia. It is a very quiet town with a thriving crab market, beautiful natural park and a small selection of boutique hotels and resorts. We choose Kep instead of Sihanoukville because of the rumours that Sihanoukville has a large Sex-pat community which makes me uncomfortable. Reading reviews Sihanoukville sounded like Benidorm in Asia which isn’t really our scene. In Kep we stayed at Bacoma Resort and would highly recommend it. It was only $5 a night for a cabin and the setting is so peaceful and tropical.

      We did visit Phnon Penh and I think you should visit but I wouldn’t stay for longer than a few days. It’s very busy, dirty and disorganised.

      Things you must see would be
      – Angkor Wat, Siem Reap
      – Tuol Sleng, Phnom Penh
      – Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh
      – Crab Market, Kep

      If you haven’t already you might be interested to read, and

  • Andrea April 4, 2015   Reply →

    Wow! That is a sneaky and clever scam. Thanks for sharing it!

    • Lisa April 7, 2015   Reply →

      Isn’t it! I would definitely have fallen for it had I not known. No worries, have you ever been scammed?

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