Thursday, July 26, 2007

More Koreans Fall Victim to Crime Overseas

The Interiror of Korea's Incheon International Airport (Random trivia: Incheon Airport is the 2007 world's best airport according to the Official Airline Guide.)

This is interesting.

More Koreans Fall Victim to Crime Overseas

As increasing numbers of Koreans travel overseas, fears grow that they are becoming targets of abduction by foreign militias and organized crime groups since they are seen as rich. “Some Korean tourists are inviting trouble by showing off their wealth abroad. There is a widespread belief that Korean tourists carry cash instead of credit cards and traveler’s checks among foreign organized crime groups,” said Prof. Lee Chong-hwa of Korea National Police University.
I agree with this completely. In Korea, it's very safe to walk around with wads of cash. Seriously. This is because the highest bank note is the 10,000 won bill (around $9 to $10 USD depending on the exchange rate.) And, Seoul and Korea, in general, is a pretty honest place to live when it comes to issues like theft. They might be dodgy on other issues, but if you drop your wallet or accidentally leave you cell phone on a bus seat, a Korean is more likely than not going to be honest in that situation. That leads to a general atmosphere of being more trusting.

Where I'm from not being very vigilant about your money at an ATM is inviting someone to trail behind you and jump you. It's also why back home I'd maybe have $20.00 cash on me and would mostly rely on personal checks or credit cards. If someone steals your card you can get a new one. If someone steals your checks, which happened to me in San Francisco, you can report it to the police and not be responsible. However, if someone takes your cash you're just out of luck. I'm just someone who is from the big city and who has been the victim of theft a few times: cars and an apartment broken into, checks and valuables stolen, etc. Luckily never a physical crime, so I'm grateful 'cause I know most "stuff" can be replaced. I still have a higher alert meter even though I've lived here for awhile. I tend to look over my shoulder more and just be more cautious in general.

I had to teach students in the Japanese Tourism department this last term. Even though they'd just taken a class trip to Japan, quite a few had no idea what traveler's checks were and why they would be preferable on certain types of international trips. I'd say to Japan not so much as it too is a pretty honest place. However, when I travel to other spots, I like the security of knowing if my purse or wallet is lost or stolen I'll get my money back. I brought some checks into class so they could see what they looked like up close. I had a student ask why have these instead of cash. I explained that if I took his wallet full of money then he's just out of luck. However, if I take his wallet full of traveler's checks and credit cards he could get a quick refund or replacement, depending on the company. It sunk in for them then. I also stressed that they need to keep the traveler's checks receipts in a different spot because the receipt is essentially your claim form.

I just think it's interesting to watch. In general, Koreans tend to be much more trusting and open in public re things like money and status symbols. Like the article says they do flaunt their new money and the status that comes with it. That makes them targets. In contrast, most people I know back home, even if they are rich, don't go out of their way to wear their net worth on the sleeve.

Flaunting your status here is a relatively safe and common thing to do here in Korea. It ties into a lot of aspects of their culture where what you see is taken very seriously. In contrast, when I worked in a clothing store in the Beverly Center, some clerks learned real fast that simply because someone wasn't flaunting their money didn't mean they had none. I do worry for some of my friends when they travel abroad. I gave a girlfriend of mine a crash course in Surviving European Pickpockets 101 before she left for Europe recently because I was worried.

Plus, I've heard stories of some Koreans traveling, acting as if they were in Korea. Examples: leaving a hotel room door unlocked to chat with a travel companion in the next room and coming back to a missing suitcase which had cash and travel tickets and about a Korean girl who'd traveled to Paris, had her stuff nicked by the famous Parisian pickpockets and ended up crying her eyes out at the base of the Eiffel Tower. I know that I even let down my guard at the Musée d'Orsay the last time I was there and another tourist was kind enough to tell me that she spied my bag being opened out of the corner of her eye (nothing had been stolen...thankfully.) However, I didn't want to hear a similar story from my friend.

I think a lot of it has to do with the high amount of new money and the Korean tendency not to discuss unpleasant topics. They've definitely got to start talking about them more as more Koreans start to travel abroad.


The end of the article, I chose not to quote because there may or may not be a significant correlation between the US, crime against Koreans abroad and terrorism. The same argument should also hold for Japanese traveling abroad, and I haven't seen the numbers for them. I would agree that it doesn't lessen their chances one bit. However, framing it that way sets the stage for blaming the US any and everytime Koreans have some misfortune abroad.

Sphere: Related Content


  1. I *love* travelers checks (although if you ever go to Russia, it's a bitch trying to find places/banks willing to cash them). I had my wallet stolen in Italy, but luckily it was full of travelers checks, which I was able to have replaced the next day.

    I had to explain the concept of travelers checks to my Russian students. The chapter in our book on should/shouldn't had a section on traveling with the following questions:

    When on vacation, you should/shouldn't carry lots of cash.

    When on vacation, you should/shouldn't carry travelers checks.

    Even after explaining the concept of travelers checks, nearly every student (all adults) said that you *should* carry lots of cash.

    Of course, in Russia, while they do have a lot of crime, most people don't have credit cards, and as far as I know, checks do not exist.

  2. I've been to Russia and the time I went it was on a huge cruise ship. We docked and just ran wild in in Vladivostok for a day. That city was a trip. I believe that I changed currency somewhere but, for the life of me, I can't remember where. However, I believe it was on the ship because I was buying stuff even as I went back to the dock and boarded the ship again. I do recall two ATM stops and few minutes at a money change booth. I shopped a lot that day as the ship had a formal the next evening and I'd forgotten to bring shoes, so I bought a pair there and tons of other crap, and I also popped by a pharamcy for diabetic glucose test strips.

    I know the cruise ship had a tour and that was the first thing we did. However, I remember not carrying traveler's checks on that cruise as it started in China, went to Busan (yeah, that was actually fun when we got in range I could make phone calls), Russia and Japan.

    With those countries, I rely more on credit cards and withdrawals and advances via ATMs. I still keep cash to a minimum if I can. Any traveler should know that they're easy targets when they're flashing their cash around.

  3. ExpatJane
    Execellent article. One has to be careful when it comes to money. Like some of these rappers I see coining this stupid phrase Make It Rain like drop money on people. My friend that is nothing to be proud of and you will get robbed.

    So hopefully people will become more educated about how to handle a money situation. The answer is dont and if you do, handle very little and take travelers checks or credit cards as you say.

    Heck I have a friend from Brazil who witnessed a girl being robbed on the Ipanema beach in broad daylight but you want to know why? Well number one she was a tourist and number two she put her jewlery in a bag and placed right next to her, hello can we say target. So be careful and America cant be blamed for misfortunes that may happen, heck you can be robbed anywhere if you're not wise or alert.

  4. I always get travelers checks when I travel. I prefer not to take any chances. Would you happen to know the type of punishment/sentence a thief is sentecnced to in Korea. How safe are foreigners in Korea?

    I must tell you again that I really enjoy your blog. I have a small section of black bloggers who travel and live abroad on my blog, and your blog is on the blogs noted. My blog is fluff but your blog is the real thing.

  5. dwilliams

    That Brazil story made me laugh a bit. Yes, I know, I'm a mean person for that. But good Lord, how dumb can you be going to the beach with jewelry on and then putting it in a bag next to you.

    DON'T WEAR JEWERLY TO THE BEACH. Actually, that's what I'm talking about. I had a friend who went to the city of Busan here in Korea. She tends to wear expensive things and expensive accessories. She went out to the beach with some pair of expensive earrings and lost them. That's not theft but it's just carelessness. She didn't get much sympathy from me when she told me the story because I'm sitting there thinking "who wears expensive earrings to the beach?"

    They'll learn. They might have to loose a lot of valuable stuff but, eventually, they'll learn.

  6. beauty,

    I have no idea how much time they get here in Korea or what the process is.

    Foreigners tend to be very safe here. I think the exception is the foreign male/Korean woman situation when they're near drunk Korean men. Most of the crime I've heard about here has been foreigner on foreigner crime. I have heard of sexual assaults happening and I'm definitely careful. However, in general, I feel safe heading home solo after a night out and I wouldn't feel that safe back home.

    BTW, thanks for the compliment ;-)


Hey there! Thanks for visiting my blog. It's my first blog, and I'm glad folks are still stopping by even though I'm no longer living in South Korea. Feel free to comment. If you want a personal answer, leave your email, and I won't publish the comment. Nasty comments and spam links will not be tolerated.