How you can avoid Asia’s gem scams

Don’t fall into the infamous gem scam. Source: Shutterstock.

ASIA is home to many things, and boring isn’t one of them.

Most of East Asia has four very distinct seasons. However, the same can’t be said about Southeast Asia, home to islands, beaches, all-year sunshine and warm breeze. In fact, it’s possible to experience almost every type of weather and landscape on earth on this one continent.

Also, almost every Asian country has its own language complete with its own script, with some countries having numerous languages and dialects. This makes traveling within the region exciting.

In Asia, oriental and spicy food are aplenty, attractions are a dime a dozen, and shopping is mostly cheap, with steals and deals at every corner. But for tourists shopping for precious stones in Asia, the fear of fakes and scams can be a huge deterrent.

The mere fact that you can neither speak the language nor the dialect makes it even more challenging.

Asia is home to some of the world’s major gem trading hubs. Thailand, Hong Kong, and Jaipur in India are three of its key gem trading centers, according to Gemological Institute of America (GIS) senior analyst Russell Shor.

Thai capital Bangkok is known as the world’s colored gemstone cutting and trading capital, exporting more than US$600 million worth of gems a year, but the gem scam is also extremely prevalent in the city.

In fact, it’s one of the most pervasive scams in Thailand, having been in operation for the past two decades, and the victims tend to be tourists from outside Thailand.

It was demonstrated in a Scam City episode in Bangkok when host Conor Woodman uncovered a gem scam that involved a chain of scammers.

Thailand Gem Trade

A worker shows gems inside a champagne glass during a press conference for Thailand Gem Cutting Contest 2004 in Bangkok. Source: AFP PHOTO/PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL / AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL

Meanwhile, Hong Kong is Asia’s number one location for expensive gems, including “million-dollar-plus jade and ruby pieces.”

And tourists will keep flocking to Hong Kong to shop for expensive gems largely due to its tax-free shopping. Gem lovers contribute more than US$1billion a year to Hong Kong’s gemstone export trade.

Jaipur in India, on the other hand, is a hub for the sale of gems that are lower-end stones. They’re sold at kiosks, stores, and street markets throughout its Old City area – and that’s where the scammers seek out tourists who don’t know any better.

India’s gem scam is also one of the most common scams, with shopkeepers readily misrepresenting the quality and authenticity of gemstones.

“What’s particularly shocking is how readily tourists fall for this scam — even the most educated and intelligent ones,” tripsavvy wrote. Even those who aren’t looking to buy gemstones get fooled into purchasing them.

India’s gem scam is also common in Agra city, Rishikesh city, and the western Indian state of Goa.

India Gem

Gem-encrusted gold tiger from the throne of 18th-century Indian ruler Tipu Sultan on display during a press preview of an exhibition titled “Treasures from India, Jewels from the Al-Thani collection”. Source: AFP PHOTO / JEWEL SAMAD.

Still, these are a handful of Asia’s most popular and exotic destinations, with brilliant gems and stones to offer.

The question is, how can you discern real stones from fakes and avoid being scammed?

Speak like them

The first step is, of course, to find a credible seller.

Then, once you get the conversation going and start showing some interest, throw in some lingo and see how well the seller does. Gem lingo isn’t at all complicated and is quite universal wherever you go.

If you see something you like, ask the seller about things like its cut, color, clarity, and source.

Ruby Shopping

Source: Shutterstock.

This will tell the seller that you’re not an easy target and if he or she fumbles, get out of there.

Learn to value

Start with the basics: color, clarity, cut, and carat.

High-quality gems have pure colors, deep tones, and saturation; be symmetrical and in proportion, thanks to a good cut; and will not be 100 percent flawless due to their formation.

Fake or synthetic stones are also going to be denser than real ones and therefore should be heavier.

Learning the value of gems

Source: Shutterstock.

For more information, check out the International Gem Society, which has both free and paid content including an online gemology course.

Trust no one

Moving from store to store in search of that perfect gem? Do it yourself.

By that, we mean you shouldn’t trust tour guides, taxi drivers or touts, as there’s a high chance that they’ve been told to direct you to specific gem shops and will get paid hefty commissions for doing so.

Research qualified and trusted ones and visit them on your own, taking the extra effort to stop by as many stores as possible to compare prices.

Source: Shutterstock.

Be wary if you notice a pattern in the behavior and sale tactics of the staff in different shops.