There comes a point in many people’s lives when the urge to escape life becomes overwhelming. Fleeing from bank debts, failed businesses, relationship breakdowns, loan sharks, drug dealers and illegitimate children happens often enough, and is sometimes justified and sometimes not. Countries with large, anonymous cities – Dundee or Penzance, Wichita Falls or San Jose – make it easier to leg it to
Back in the ‘good old days’ of decent chirpy cockney criminals, you’d have to rob a train in order to live the quiet life in a Rio suburb, or make away with a shit load of gold bullion and spend out your days in a beach side villa outside Marbella.
With the rise of cheap airline travel, it’s never been easier for anybody with a passport to pack up a bag full of someone else’s money/drugs and do a bunk to sunnier climes where a new identity can be forged without resorting to plastic surgery.
Cambodia is brimming with undesirables: it’s a veritable haven for the mad, bad and dispossessed. Many settle down well enough, keeping their heads below the radar; however, for others, old habits die hard and they swiftly return to their old tricks.
Unfortunately for the latter group, this is a small country with very few places to hide and, having no passport or valid visa will inevitably lead to the ne’er-do-wells being screwed harder than the only hooker in town when the entire US Pacific Fleet steams into harbour.
I’d like to introduce you to one of these perpetual lowlifes: Michael Nicholls/Mike the Fat Liar/Mike the Crackhead Pizza Chef/Mike Scallen.
Now this guy rolled into the bar one morning with a rather far-fetched sob story that went a little somethinglike this;
Living in Thailand, Mr Michael and his Cambodian wife decided to do a visa run at Poipet. Somehow, between the 2 border posts, he’d had the misfortune of losing both passport and wallet full of cash, relieved from him by an uncaring jao. Somehow a delightfully caring border cop had let him through the checkpoint with help of his Khmer wife. Michael’s father back in Blighty was sending him some cash, but with no passport or ID, he was looking either for a job to tidy him over or for some kind fellow countryman to lend him a few bucks until he could arrange a money transfer. Now he was stuck with his in-laws, residing in a shack somewhere nearby.
Having grown up in a city full of junkies and blaggers, it’s easy enough to spot a smackanory. He didn’t appreciate any form mild interrogation and, sensing we could smell the aromatic stench of horseshit, he gave us a clammy limp handshake and made his way off to rehash his tall tales to the rest of town. Never trust a man with such a poor handshake.
The story screamed drugs, with the only thing in his favour his bloated, borderline obese stature. Junkies can’t be that blubberous it was agreed – with the exceptions of Diego Maradonna and Fat Matt from Croydon.
A golden rule with scamming must be consistency and keeping the tales of woe identical each telling!
The next restaurant was treated to another monologue, this time on how his evil Cambodian in-laws had robbed him of $10k, and he’d come over from Thailand to track his missing moolah down. Of course the passport and wallet theft remained an integral part of the story, but his recent unfair treatment at the hands of his fellow countrymen (us, in previous bar) gave the sad sorrowful story a little extra padding. He was told to jog on there too.
Eventually, someone did take him and his ‘wife’ of 5 years at face value glossing over the inconsistencies with the lure of 7 years top chef experience. Our friend was warned, but chose the benefit of the doubt over common sense. Bloody hippies.
The next time Fat Mike surfaced was when a slightly naive friend, Chunk from the Poipet trip, announced he had found a bargain apartment. The too-good-to-be-true offer of a lifetime was thus;
“I rented this place for me and my Cambodian family. The rent is already paid, 6 months in advance for $100 a month. We’re moving into a villa, and so not to let anybody down, I’ll let it go for $80 + the deposit I’ve paid.”
Now, a red flag was raised over this, and what with Chunk not being the sharpest knife in the drawer, he was persuaded that this probably had S.C.A.M. stamped all over it. Luckily, he listened to our sage advice on this occasion.
Then along came the stories of many a white man’s downfall – crystal death amphetamine. I just love it when my preconceptions turn out to be spot on, so when a little bird told me about the amount cash Mr Mike was splurging on the filth, I could foresee tears before bedtime, if not sooner.
By now, Mike Nicholls had used somebody else’s money to open up a hole in the wall pizza shop and out of curiosity, boredom and the desire to wind fatty up a bit, I decided to pay a visit.
All it took was the mention of one name for the cranked chubber to break into a sweat, his eyes as wide as saucers.
‘Keep walking’ he said ‘You’re not welcome’.
‘Lay off the pipe, son’ I replied.
Pathological Lies + hard drugs + poor customer service doth not a success make, and as a preemptive strike, he complained about how I was picking on him to anyone who’d listen.
Then the scamming came; lots of it and quickly.
One of my sidelines is provincial sales for a company in Phnom Penh. One morning the big boss called excitedly regarding a new customer in Battambang called Mr Richard. Mr Richard had contacted head office personally and requested $600 of stock on credit for a bar that didn’t exist. The mysterious Richard did have a phone number, but strangely the owner hung up when I called. Some amateur sleuthing confirmed the origin of the order. Have three guesses who the potential customer was.
Not long after, in a meth-fuelled frenzy, our villain left the guy who had given him the ‘benefit-of-the-doubt’ in the lurch and out of pocket, buggering off across the same street to open a new hole-in-the-wall with the next sap who took him in, and again fronted the cash.
Things moved quickly after this. The original injured party, the one with misplaced trust, did a bit of detective work himself and found some very interesting information about his former employee. Mike Scallan, as his true identity has been revealed to be, is something of a famous scammer around the country – even meriting his own webpage with a photo of the fugitive and his missing passport (a one year issue, presumably because previous ones had been ‘lost or stolen’) and a visa expired in November.
“Michael (Mike) Scallan, confidence man from Sheffield England, has traveled over the world cleverly tricking people out of money and property.
He is wanted by for questioning by police in Sihanoukville Cambodia over theft and fraud allegations and is by all accounts very smooth ‘operator’ so, if you are reading this in Cambodia and have already been taken, contact this Facebook page”
Here is another place to ask for help.
This perp is a classic confidence or ‘con’ man. He has many ‘stories’, all of which seem plausible upon hearing. He has replaced his passport many times, using that as collateral for goods and money loans, so don’t fall for that one.
So Mr Michael has been a naughty boy down on the coast, and judging by the wealth of complaints on the closed Facebook group Cambodia Scammers! (well worth joining if you are a business owner), he stands accused of confidence trickery, fraud, drug smuggling and thievery of motos and generators in Phnom Penh/SHK.
He even merited a brief mention sans photo on the K440 forum and those who have been conned include connected Cambodians = and that is a rather dangerous game for Scallen the Scammer to play.
The Kampuchea Kops were notified up Battambang way, with complaints lodged by victims across the kingdom. However because it was a Friday no action could possibly be taken until the following Monday: both cops and robbers enjoy the weekend up in the provinces.
Sensing the net closing, and following a tip-off, Scallen the Scammer absconded sharpish on the Sunday, gathering his few belongings, ice addict wife (not his real wife as it turned out), ice addict mother-in-law (again not real, but what a looker) and a couple of counterfeit kids he’d somehow collected over his short Cambodian criminal career, along with his business partner’s rent money.
Left in his wake remain a trail of debts, again not only confined to well-intentioned expats, but also local Khmers who generously helped him ‘get back on his feet’.
With capital and coast baying for Scallen’s blood, and Battambang now fully aware of his antics, there are fewer and fewer places a fat boy can hide and, with $1500 and rising in overstay fines inside a confiscated passport, escape seems unlikely, but I’d love to see him try to sneak his fat arse across the Thai border being shot at by Siamese paramilitaries.
Of course a fool and his money are easily parted and people should know better, especially in a place like Cambodia, where corruption and ineptitude on the part of the powers-that-be create an environment where shysters and fraudsters can flourish, albeit for a short while. But this is a small country with limited scope for escape- and no Dundee or Penzanceto hide in. And this man has the talent to spin a yarn: the proof being the increasing number of people actively hunting him down.
So ex-pats beware, keep an eye out in Siem Reap, most likely his next port of call. The hard luck stories may change, but the fraudulent antics won’t. The end of the road will most likely be a 1 way trip to the nearest body of water the moment he is finally caught bang to rights. There’s no need to be a vigilante (but any beatings would create kudos and deserve a few beers, plus perhaps a cash reward). Most importantly, info will be appreciated by those who have lost out.
There are Mike Scallens everywhere and they don’t last. When the story of a white man found face down in the Tonle Sap breaks, or pictures hit the local tabloids of a sorry looking fat Barang handcuffed to a pair of skinny cops, remember the warning. The sooner these people disappear from the society, the better the life of ‘honest’ exiles becomes.
I’ll finish with a quote from the Cambodia Scammers! Facebook page- by one of the many disgruntled folk who have crossed path with our subject and which was posted the day after his Battambang disappearing act. Stay safe out there – and don’t have nightmares.