Vietnam has a relatively low crime rate and Vietnamese are generally a very law-abiding people. Violent crime is uncommon but petty crime occurs. There is some theft in the big cities. There is also some banditry, illegal drug activity and insurgent activity in some areas in the countryside. Foreigners are generally not victimized by violent crime. If they are and the criminals are caught they are dealt with harshly. Police and other authorities generally do not hassle foreigners to much or shake them down for bribes.

The crime rate in Vietnam is among the lowest in Southeast Asia which itself is known for having a low crime rate. Prostitution and drug abuse are common in Vietnam. Thieves are active in Ho Chi Minh City. Tourists and foreigners are generally not affected by crime in Vietnam. The punishments for criminals that involve or target foreigners can be quite severe.

According to the U.S. State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security: "Although most travelers in Vietnam feel relatively safe, pick-pocketing and petty crimes occur. Violent crimes such as armed robbery, kidnappings, and murder against westerners or tourists remain rare. Drug use, which contributes significantly to the crime rate, is an increasing problem in Vietnam, particularly the increasing use of methamphetamine and intravenous drugs. Petty theft, purse snatching, and pick pocketing are most common in the areas frequented by foreigners such as major hotels, tourist sites, airports, and public parks. One common method of purse snatching used throughout Vietnam employs two people on a motorcycle with the passenger snatching the victim’s bag, camera, cellular phone, etc., often while traveling at the same speed or faster than street traffic. This method can be especially dangerous to victims if the straps of the bag are over the shoulder or around the neck, as the victim can be pulled down or dragged by the strap until it breaks. This is an ongoing and often dangerous trend. In some cases, a knife or other sharp cutting instrument is used by the perpetrators to cut the strap or to make a hole to reach in and steal valuables. [Source: OSAC //]

Pick-pocketing, snatch and grabs, and petty thefts are the most frequent types of crime reported in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). HCMC has seen an increase in violent crimes in recent months, which prompted the government to send additional police officers in order to ensure a safe Tet holiday season. // In 2012, there were many reports of U.S. government permanent and temporary duty employees losing their cellular phones, bags, and purses to thieves. //

In October 2013, Thanh Nien reported: The Minister of Public Security that crime in Vietnam is becoming a more serious and better organized problem due to rising unemployment and lax law enforcement. Tran Dai Quang said basic crimes like murders and robberies had reduced in number from last year, but they were more serious in nature. He said there were not as spontaneous as in the past but were now operations run by organized gangs. "Protection" rackets, loan-sharking, debt collection, extortion, and gambling were all controlled by criminal organizations now. The gambling problem was particularly bad online and in border areas, he said.[Source: Thanh Nien, October 29, 2013 :::]

"The minister said the poor economy that sent many people out on the street jobless had complicated the public security situation. He also pointed to a rise in pornographic and violent content on the internet.But he also blamed "limited" capacity of law enforcement forces in preventing crimes. He said they have not met the people's demands. Officials from the Justice Committee at the legislature (National Assembly) said the ministry machine is leaning more towards punishing crimes than preventing them. "Many crimes were happening in day light and could not be ended by the local authorities," the committee chairman Nguyen Van Hien said, without specifying." :::

Drugs and Drug Smuggling, See Drugs

Scams in Vietnam

Clare Arthurs of the BBC News wrote: “Vietnam's state-controlled media has run several articles suggesting an official campaign to stamp out the scams that are rife in the country, or at least make people more aware of them. Counterfeiting, piracy and smuggling are all common in Vietnam, and there are many people who are willing to take an easy chance to make money or to take home a bargain. The latest scam to get attention is the simple art of making fake bus tickets. Real tickets are photocopied and sold. [Source: Clare Arthurs, BBC News, July 25, 2003 ]

“The Hanoi Transport Company has put security guards on the city's buses. Many of them are martial arts experts or ex-commandos which seems to raise the stakes of trying to trick the ticket collector. Risky too is the metals business. A man who used cow fat and paint to pass off a lump of iron as bronze was himself tricked. The buyers paid him, but with counterfeit notes.

“Another scam which has re-emerged this week involves swindlers who try to attract investors into buying chemicals to clean what they say are disguised United States dollars. The investors are told they will double their money, but in fact the dollars are fake. Two other recent cases involve fake people — a man who allegedly posed as a journalist for seven years to collect gifts and money, and another who posed as a former military commander who could help set up business deals. This week police arrested a trade official who had been selling rubber stamps containing official signatures and university degrees. He had reportedly been sacked from another job for incompetence. He had been a policeman.”

Scams in Vietnam

Gregory Rogers wrote in “Always confirm before getting inside any taxi that the driver will use the meter. If getting a ride from one of Vietnam's famous "cyclos" or bicycle-taxis, agree on a clear price before getting inside; you have lost all your bargaining power once the journey starts. Confirm whether the price is total or per person and assume that any price you are given is one-way. Prices for rides can usually be negotiated. Do not rely on information about a particular hotel or restaurant being "closed" — this is usually the driver's attempt to take you to a friend's restaurant instead. [Source: Gregory Rogers.]

“A more-dangerous scam in Hanoi consists of drivers pretending to be taxis, then driving their passengers outside of the city unless they agree to fork over money and valuables. Exercise caution by only using official taxis, easily identifiable in Vietnam. There have been reports of airport taxi drivers operating on the coupon system who demand more money once at your destination. The driver will hold your luggage hostage in the trunk until you pay the difference. Keep your bags on the seat with you!

Be wary of anyone that approaches you around the entrance of bus and train stations — most are there to target tourists. Con-artists will tell you that the train or bus is delayed or offer to book a ticket for you. Train tickets in Vietnam do not have the class printed on them. Travel agents may charge you for a soft-sleeper class berth then give you a ticket that is only good for a less-comfortable class to pocket the difference.

Acid Attacks and 'Thugs'-for-Hire on the Web in Vietnam

Nga Pham of BBC News reported: A group of youngsters who allegedly used a website to offer services including violence and intimidation has been arrested in Vietnam, reports say. Police in the city of Buon Ma Thuot suspect the gang of several attacks, the Lao Dong newspaper reported. The gang apparently offered to "threaten with violence, beat up or even maim people for a negotiable price", the paper claimed. The police closed the website down and reportedly arrested four people. The paper said the ringleader and three gang members were caught with knives and machetes. Police discovered and promptly shut the gang's website, where "potential customers" were invited to place their orders online. [Source: Nga Pham, BBC News, November 7, 2007]

Lao Dong's reporter, Dang Ba Tien, told the BBC from Buon Ma Thuot that there were 30 youngsters in the gang. He said: "The internet is becoming more and more popular in Vietnam, but this is the first time it's being used by criminals like a marketing tool. "Luckily their website was closed down just days after it was launched." He added that he believed the gang had been active for only a few months.

In 2001, Reuters reported: "Doctors in Vietnam are alarmed by a surge in horrifically disfiguring acid attacks on women and have called for the crime to be treated like murder, a state-run newspaper reported. The weekend edition of the Phu Nu (Women) newspaper said there were 12 reported attacks involving sulphuric acid in Ho Chi Minh City in the first two months of this year, mainly provoked by sexual jealousy. It quoted Tran Doan Dao, a doctor at Ho Chi Minh City's Cho Ray Hospital, as saying most of the victims were women. In such attacks the highly corrosive acid is usually thrown in the face of the victim leaving them horribly disfigured. The paper said the city had 33 reported acid attacks last year and that as well as the high cost of treatment, the victims often need psychological help. It said the price for 0.8 litre of acid was only about 2,200 Vietnamese dong (15 U.S. cents). The chief judge of the Ho Chi Minh City People's Court, Bui Hoang Danh, told the paper that under prevailing law, acid attacks carry a maximum sentence of 20 years for intentional wounding. Murder carries a maximum penalty of death by firing squad. [Source: Reuters, March 26, 2001]

Multiple Murders and Serial Killers in Vietnam

In 2004, Reuters reported: "Vietnam is set to try a 48-year-old woman who confessed to poisoning 13 people in what might be the country's first prosecution of a serial killer. Le Thanh Van told police she used cyanide to murder her victims — who included her mother-in-law and brother-in-law as well as her foster mother — in order to steal their possessions, state media reported on Monday. The other victims included Van's acquaintances as well as lovers. The killings took place between 1998 and 2001, said the state-run Phap Luat (Law) newspaper. Police are also investigating whether Van, a mother of two who did not work outside the home, murdered her businessman husband. Serial killers are practically unheard of in Vietnam, where newspapers have eagerly published accounts of Van's alleged crimes. [Source: Reuters, August 23, 2004 /~/]

"The newspaper report said Van took all the victims to hospital after administering the poison in an attempt to cover up her involvement. After the victims died, she faked their wills and other documents to steal their possessions, estimated at a total of 300 million dong ($19,073), the report said. Van will appear in a court in southern province Binh Duong along with her boyfriend, who is 20 years younger and who is accused of aiding her crime spree. They are charged with murder and robbery, both punishable by death by firing squad." /~/

In 2002, Associated Press reported: "Police are searching for a mentally ill man who stabbed seven people to death and wounded five in a rampage in northern Vietnam. Police identified the assailant as Nguyen Tai Kiem, 44. They said he had been diagnosed with mental illness a decade ago. He escaped after fatally attacking a man, two women and four children in Bac Me District in Ha Giang province, 370 kilometers (230 miles) northwest of Hanoi, said a provincial policeman. He wounded another three women and their two children, aged 2 months and 7 years. The five were hospitalized in stable condition, he said. The victims were all Dao ethnic minority. Police in Ha Giang and the neighboring province of Tuyen Quang are still hunting for Kiem, the police official said. [Source: Associated Press, December 24, 2002]

Internet Love Triangle Leads to Murder Plot in Vietnam

In 2002, Deutsche Presse Agentur, "A Vietnamese man rejected by a woman he met in an Internet chat room hired two hitmen to kill his rival, whom the woman also met in cyberspace, state media reported. Tran Hong Giang, 27, was arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder, according to the daily Cong An Nhan dan (People's Police) newspaper. The arrest came after two men attacked Nguyen Hai Dang, 23, with knives as he was talking to his fiancee in Hanoi. Dang was hospitalized with deep slashes to his face, arms and torso. Both men had developed a relationship on the Internet with a young woman from the south central province of Binh Thuan, the newspaper said, adding Giang occasionally travelled to Hanoi, and would meet with both. [Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur, August 19, 2002]

"The woman is very beautiful, and both men fell in love with her," the newspaper said. Earlier in August, the woman accepted a job in Hanoi and both men proposed to her. She chose Dang. An enraged Giang asked a friend to help him get revenge, and the two hired hitmen who carried out the botched attack on Dang. 12. Giang, who works for the Asian Institute of Technology, was arrested three days later. The hitmen are still at large.

Pirate Attacks in Vietnam

The International Maritime Bureau reports the territorial and offshore waters in the South China Sea as high risk for piracy and armed robbery against ships; numerous commercial vessels have been attacked and hijacked both at anchor and while underway; hijacked vessels are often disguised and cargo diverted to ports in East Asia; crews have been murdered or cast ad rift. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

There is a lot of piracy off the southern coast Vietnam, especially where there are conflicting territorial claims between Vietnam and Cambodia. Tran Dinh Thanh Lam of Inter Press Service wrote: "As the number of incidents of armed pirates attacking fishing boats in the sea southwest of Vietnam near the border with Cambodia have increased, the country's coast guard have been scrambling to keep the sea safe for fishermen. Nguyen Thanh Kiet was hijacked in July by armed pirates off the Vietnamese coast. "We were operating offshore in Song Doc Sea when 15 gunmen on a motorboat approached us and ordered us not to resist," said Kiet, a fishing-boat owner in Vietnam's Ca Mau province. Unarmed, Kiet and his crew could do nothing more than surrender. The bandits towed Kiet's fishing boat to Hon Thom island near Cambodia, where they demanded ransom totaling US$4,500. They never got the money and the episode ended with the pirates sailing off with a 100-amp battery and 120 liters of gasoline from the fishing boat. [Source: Tran Dinh Thanh Lam, Inter Press Service, November 12, 2002 **]

Between January and October 2002 "there were 14 cases of piracy on the Song Doc Sea separating Ca Mau province and Cambodia," said Major Luu Hoang Ha, chief of the coast guard post at Song Doc. According to locals, several organized pirate groups dominate the local waters — some are from Cambodia but others come from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. However, all claim to be the sole "power" governing the seas. **

"Indonesian pirates are the worst because they never ask for ransom. They simply kill the crew and take their fishing facilities," said Tran Thuan, a 35-year-old fisherman who in late August escaped one of the worst pirate attacks on record here. "Fifteen masked gunmen on two motorboats landed on our boat, killed Nguyen Van Be [the captain of the boat] and ordered us to jump off board," Tran said. The bandits then tried to make their way to Cambodia on their boat but were forced to abandon the ship when the engine broke down. **

"Pirates are adopting more and more violent tactics against fishing boats operating along Vietnam's coast, especially on waters between Vietnam and Cambodia," said Nguyen Van Chau, head of the Protection of Marine Resources Department under the Ministry of Fisheries (MoF). "The situation has become especially critical in the last seven years with at least 74 cases of piracy, eight people killed and 12 injured," he said, speaking at a seminar organized on October 28 in Hanoi to review the protection of marine resources and the fishing industry in Vietnam. **

"However, observers believe Chau's figures to be overly conservative. According to figures compiled from newspaper reports, during 2001 and the first two months of 2002, there were 150 cases of fishing boats being attacked by pirates in offshore Ca Mau province. Forty-five fishing boats were attacked by pirates operating between Kien Giang province in Vietnam and Kep in Kampot province in Cambodia during the first half of 2002, newspaper reports suggested. But only three arrests for sea piracy were recorded during the same period according to police and coast guard records. **

Reasons for Pirate Attacks in Vietnam and Defenses Against Them

"We are under pressure from the fishing industry to reduce the risk to fishermen as pirates become more and more active and dangerous," said Major-General Tang Hue, deputy commander of Vietnam's coast guard. Tang said that forces involved in the fight against piracy were poorly trained and badly equipped to adequately control Vietnam's vast domestic waters. "Criminals usually operate at night and leave no trace," he said, explaining why coast guard police capture so few pirates. [Source: Tran Dinh Thanh Lam, Inter Press Service, November 12, 2002]

"Piracies could not be wiped out unless a clear demarcation between Cambodia and Vietnam is set up," Colonel Nguyen Ha, commander of Kien Giang province coast guard said. More coordinated diplomatic efforts between Vietnam and Cambodia could help reduce the harm caused by pirates who flee Vietnam waters and take refuge on Cambodia's islands, he said. In 2001 Cambodia and Vietnam signed a memorandum of understanding on sea and land security committing the neighbors to greater intelligence sharing and patrolling efforts, but so far cooperation between the security agencies remains occasional. **

Officials from Kien Giang province, where most of the pirate strikes take place in Vietnam, say their many requests to seek assistance from Cambodia to fight piracy at sea has fallen on deaf ears. "We should repeat our request constantly — weekly, monthly and quarterly if necessary," Colonel Nguyen Ha said. "In the meantime we should be better equipped with higher-speed motorboats and heavier machine-guns with which to patrol the sea day and night." **

"On Sunday, two high-speed motorboats armed with powerful machine-guns patrolling the Phu Quoc Island Sea caught three pirates red-handed attacking a local fishing boat. "The triumph has brought more confidence to local fishermen," Nguyen said. But despite the success, more needs to be done to equip the coast guards with the surveillance capability and firepower they need to prevent pirates from taking control of the seas, he said. "In the meantime the most effective way," he said, "is to tell local fishermen not to fish near the areas infected with pirates."**

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

Last updated May 2014

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