A rogue agent preyed on my naivety and conned me clean

Pauline Thuo

Pauline Thuo who was conned by a rogue agent with promise of a lucrative job placement in Asia, and who today warns and advises many wishing to travel abroad to avoid treading a similar path.

Photo credit: Pool

Pauline Thuo, 29, was deceived by a rogue agent who took her to Thailand. She shares her story:

“In 2016, having graduated as a school teacher, I began job hunting. During that period, I met an agent who offered to help me find a teaching job in Thailand. The job on offer promised better remunerations than what the government pays teachers locally, and I quickly jumped on the idea without first weighing the cons and pros.

It was not to be handed to me on a silver platter, though. I first had to pay the agent a fee of Sh50,000 for visa processing, and purchase my air ticket which cost Sh70,000. With no coin to my name, my parent came through and sold a piece of land to raise both the air fare and the visa processing fee. Little did I know that the Sh50,000 visa fee was outrageous since tourist visas to Thailand cost only Sh4,000.

Shock awaited me upon landing in Bangkok. An employer usually gives the documents necessary to process a working visa before one can start working. I was on a tourist visa, and the agent had not disclosed this information beforehand. I also did not have a return ticket. The person I was connected to by the Kenyan agent led me to another agent in Thailand who was to connect me to an employer as a high school teacher. I signed a contract with the latter with the salary pegged at Sh56,000, yet the agent had said I would be paid between Sh100,000 and Sh120,000.

For the first two months, I never got paid. I thought I’d get the salary as a lump sum by the end of the third month. This too passed and it is only after I requested for my salary that I realised that the agent was receiving my dues behind my back.

To make matters worse, my tourist visa was about to expire, so I could not even take legal action against the agency that had contracted me. In fact, I could get in trouble for working on a visit visa.

Fortunately, I got help from Luap Lyasi, the former head of the Kenyans in Thailand Welfare Association, who gave me temporary accommodation. I later found a job at a school where I was required to work two days a week. After the first two days, the school issued my Non-B visa processing papers. The challenge was that I first had to exit Thailand to process the working visa.

Here came the riddle, time was running out and I was supposed to go back home for visa processing, and I had no money. I had the option of exiting to Malaysia, which was closer than Kenya, and then returning to Thailand. A friend I had met in Thailand gave me a loan of Sh30,000. With this money, I travelled to Malaysia, paid for two nights’ accommodations, processed my Non-B visa and returned to Thailand. I taught there for four years.

What I experienced throughout my stay in Thailand encouraged me to help others. I resolved to put information out there to sensitise people back home. Many fall prey to misinformation and are conned by rogue agencies. This may lead to depression, especially for those who spend large sums of money on agents, with no guarantee of jobs. There are so many cases of people who are taken to Asia by dishonest agents only to find themselves stranded and lacking a work permit. I am confident that with the correct information, people will stop over relying on agents.

I started a TikTok account and YouTube channel under the name Travel with Thuo where I share information on how to look for jobs abroad independently, and how to write CVs as per the standards required by different countries. I also inform and orient people about challenges such as culture shock and give them tips on how to adapt to the realities of working abroad, how to travel on a low budget, and how to survive and thrive as a foreigner.

Essentially, I provide a platform where people can consult and get help with making decisions before exploring opportunities abroad. Seeking first-hand information is key when making such a critical decision. Traveling to a new country uninformed, especially for someone who has never been out of the country, can be devastating. Furthermore, a state of desperation, I believe, can make one make irrational decisions. My greatest tip is, always respect and foster good relationships with people anywhere you go.

Generally, while planning to move abroad, young girls going to work as house helps or any other jobs should be proactive and source for the correct information before filling any paperwork. Applying for a job abroad should be a DIY affair as all the information is freely accessible on the internet. You can save yourself from manipulative agents. Do not let desperation push you to fall prey to conmen. You can also look for people who have gone before you and consult them. Don’t just dish out your money to anyone. Remember that we have good agents and deceptive ones. All you need is to enquire and question if an agency is legitimate.