Robbed Redux: Sticky Fingers at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Part 2

Perhaps you’d like to know what happened after I was robbed at Bangkok Airport security last month. Well, the saga continued with more “investigations” and a mysterious wire transfer. Transparency is not the first word that comes to mind.

Inconclusive Investigation = Refund?

Two days after the incident, I had a conversation with the security manager – let’s call him Mr. X – from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. Mr. X confirmed that the investigation into the theft continued and the results thereof remained unclear.

Burning Fake Money - Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Burning money for luck during Chinese New Year.

However, he also indicated that the security company would forward my claim to their insurance company.

“How would you like us to reimburse you?” he asked. Returning to Bangkok was not in our plans, so I suggested a wire transfer to my bank account in the U.S.

While I was pleased by the swiftness of the planned reimbursement, I found this whole scenario curious. If there were any doubts as to the validity of my claim, why would the security company hastily forward it to their insurance broker for payment?

Sketchy Bank Transfer

I calculated an amount that would restore the lost cash to my money belt, taking into account inbound wire transfer fees and ATM withdrawal fees. After a series of SMSs, emails and telephone exchanges regarding these details, I waited. At that point, my goal was to recover the money first and ask questions later. All the while, I was continually told that the ongoing investigations remained “inconclusive.”

Eventually, my bank account reflected an incoming wire transfer in the agreed amount. However, the bank records indicated that the transfer was from Mr. X himself, not from a named corporate account (e.g., the security company or the insurance broker).

Consider this: the investigation was inconclusive, but I had just received a wire transfer from the security manager’s personal account. This struck me as odd.

Looking for Closure

Don’t get me wrong. I’m very happy that my money was returned and I realize that only a tiny percentage of thefts are ever resolved so quickly and so favorably. But there’s the pesky little issue of the fact that I was the victim of a crime. Not only did I want my money back, but I also wanted to know the results of the investigation; I had hoped, perhaps naively, to press charges against the thief.

Think about it. If someone breaks into your home and is subsequently caught, you not only have the right to recover your stolen goods (which in my experience rarely ever happens), but you also have the right to press charges against the person who committed the crime.

In that vein, I emailed Mr. X:

“I would also like to know the findings and outcome of the investigation. Could you please send me a scanned copy of the police report?”

I felt this was a fair request, particularly given that both the duty officer and Mr. X indicated repeatedly that this case would go to the police and that I would be allowed to see the results of the investigation once it concluded.

Mr. X responded:

“With appreciated that you have received the transfer money and then the further process will be with my Insurance Broker Which they said will not interfere you anymore then if any change will update.”

I roughly translated this to mean: “please get off my back so we can sweep this under the rug without drawing any additional attention to the nice little rip-off scam you have uncovered.”

Can you tell that I don’t buy the “one bad apple” theory in this case?

I followed-up by email and SMS:

“I understand that the insurance broker no longer needs my input or information. However, I was the victim of a crime. My request to see a copy of the police report seems a fair and reasonable one.”

After allowing these messages to simmer in Mr. X’s email and SMS inboxes, I followed-up with the duty manager whom I originally dealt with at the airport. In remarkably circular fashion, she suggested I contact Mr. X.

Mr. X never responded. After my follow-ups last week, there’s been nothing but silence.

Leave Well-Enough Alone?

So I have my money. Most people would suggest that I should be satisfied and, in turn, leave well-enough alone. As I indicated in Part 1, however, I’m willing to bet my time and my energy that I’m not the only victim of this scam.

Something also tells me that this story doesn’t end here. Stay tuned.

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Comments

  1. Stevie Mills says

    Audrey and Dan,
    I’d be a bit worried about Mr. X having your bank information. Transfers might end up going the other way . . . .

  2. says

    Stevie: Thanks for the concern. Fortunately, Mr. X and company only have enough information to make transfers to my account (which I’m happy for them to do to their hearts’ content).

    Given the prevalence of credit card fraud and other scams, we try to keep a pretty close watch on our accounts. We’ve recently heard about devices that thieves attach to bank machines in order to clone the information on your ATM card. Stories like this remind us to remain vigilant.

  3. Michel XIMA says

    13Michel XIMA says:
    February 29th, 2008 at 4:57 am
    On 27 Feb 2008, during international transfer (from Phom Penh) at Bangkok Suvanabhumi Airport, going to door C3 to connect Paris Thai Airways departure 00.05, passing 11 PM at check point , I was requested by “security” staff to delete my belt, and put it in plastic box for X-Ray : I discovered while on board that a high value jewel “bracelet” in gold and sapphires has been stolen, it was necessary to open the belt (zipped) and the bag containing jewels (also zipped) inside the belt !!! Unbelievable ! Time left to perform such theft : ONE MINUTE ONLY !
    Please inform about way to contact security manager of Bangkok Airport. Thousands of people are controlled every day during international transfer. I must add this control is stupid, because departure airport 1st flight Phnom Penh to BKK has already X-Ray checked hand luggage, so additional checking is unecessary at transfer airport : I had from Phnom Penh departure airport boarding pass in hands for 2nd flight BKK to Paris. Mean I have right to board directly, without luggage being checked again. Or else Thailand is happy to get additional income using their X-Ray machines as theft machines. During transfer, traveller IS NOT IN THAILAND, but in INTERNATIONAL BOUNDARY where THAIS must pay particular attention to his safety. Robbery by thai airport security staff is much more criminal than other theft ! AIRPORTS OF THAILAND (AoT) is responsible 100% because the robbers are THEIR STAFF !!
    Comments / Contact welcome using Reply…

  4. says

    Michel: We’re sorry to hear about this. It’s surprising how little time it takes to have something stolen. I will contact you by email, but I think you’ll have to begin by communicating with Airports of Thailand (AOT), Suvarnabhumi Airport. Whatever transpired (whether security employees or other passengers were involved), it should be captured on closed-circuit video camera tape.

  5. Michel XIMA says

    Dan, I agree with above comments : the security staff is involved in a very lucrative SCAM, and many people are probably victims of them while controlled at X-RAY check-point. BIG MONEY involved! I lost jewelry value 140.000 BATH in one minute only ! I have the invoices from the jewelry shop in hands.
    I need E-mail of Airports of Thailand headquarters as soon as possible. Thanks.

  6. says

    Michel: I poked around on the AOT website and there are no email addresses posted anywhere other than the tourist police: tourist@police.go.th

    Unfortunately, I don’t have any email address for AOT Thailand headquarters, but the Bangkok Suvarnabhumi security contact information is listed at this website:
    http://www.airportthai.co.th/airportnew/sun/security_center.asp?lang=en

    I would recommend following up by:
    1 – Phoning the security center. Explain that you’ve had something stolen at BKK gate security. Consider telling them you’ve had something stolen (in other words, avoid making accusations that a security employee stole something).
    2 – If the BKK security center does not take you seriously, phone the tourist police office and explain your situation.
    3- if neither the BKK security center nor the tourist police take you seriously, I would contact your country’s embassy in Bangkok and ask for their assistance.

    Good luck.

  7. PLS says

    I was also robbed at the check-in counters of BKK, had my wallet stolen and my AMEX card abused before I could get them to cancel it. AMEX has film from the ATM where they tried to withdraw cash and overhead from the check-in areas. I was refunded the charge on my AMEX and have heard from the AMEX fraud squad that they are attempting to press charges against the individuals. It would seem that BKK airport is rife with pickpocket rings that are employed there!

  8. says

    PLS: Sorry to hear about your experience. I’m glad to hear that AMEX removed the charges from your account though. I hope AMEX is successful in their attempts to press charges on your behalf.

  9. Bruce says

    Hi guys. We were also robbed at BKK airport while in transit from Krabi to Chiang Mai. With us though the things were taken from our checked-in case. The attitude of Airports of Thailand was grossly unprofressional and a disgrace to Thailand.

    We followed it up to the max – a police report, a report to the airline, letters to the Bangkok Post and the Nation as well as to the office of the tourism ministry. The airline let is be known that they felt the items were lifted by an employee of a contractor company that moves luggage around the airport (company name provided). Only AOT could investigate however and they would not provide contact details for the company in question. I am sure this happens at BKK MANY MANY times.

    Trying to contact anyone in AOT is a sick joke, they make it as hard as they can for you to reach them and then ignore you when you find some contact details. Just to let them know the depth of my displeasure I emailed them once a week for about 3 months afterwards. They finally answered and said they had referred my details to the lost property department. Completely unacceptable! Shame!

    Here are some contact details for you all. I have a phone number for AOT Public relations dept but no-one ever answered it …. nuf said:
    aotpr@airportthai.co.th and AOT_media@yahoo.com
    The Office of Tourism Development, Ministry of Tourism and Sports, Fax 66 2216 6906

  10. says

    Bruce: Very sorry to hear about your experience. If our online conversations are indication, thefts at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport – from both checked luggage and from carry-on bags at security checkpoints – are rife.

    Prior to receiving your comment, I followed up with letters to the News and Travel section editors of the Bangkok Post. I have not received any reply at all. I’ve considered following up with the ASM security company management, but they don’t appear to have a website.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that any of the people who could do something about this situation don’t care. After all, why address it when you can ignore it?

    If we find out anything more, we’ll keep everyone updated on this site.

  11. Michel XIMA says

    I have already sent report about wrong-doing, thefts against foreigners, 5 times to AOT, also to Bangkok Post. My second message to Bangkok Post was not accepted by the moderator. I am waiting response from my Embassy in Thailand. Generally, when they have such problems, Thais prefer not to reply, because when they feel guilty and loose face, they prefer to run away. So the mess continue. This is additional money to Thai citizens, and mainstream of Thais are used to fleece foreigners. I am pretty sure there is a criminal organization at Suvarnabhumi Airport, and responsibles of AOT probably getting part of thefts. I don’t believe this can be done only by the AOT staff on the field, without high level accomplices. Millions of passengers can be stolen while passing controls every year, so the total amount of thefts here certainly reach hundreds millions USD per year…
    In my opinion, the only way to put an end to this racket is through western medias. What happens there must be reported to many medias worldwide. Damaging Thai image to foreigners (The Land of Smiles is really The Land of Thieves…) is the best way to obtain results, without response from dumb and blind AOT. AOT certainly refuse to look at this, because the staff would be fired, including the bosses…

  12. Bruce says

    After posting the note above I found an email address for the international public relation section of TAT and wrote to them calling on them to be much more proactive in addressing this ongoing problem of theft at the airport… They have just gotten back to me to say:

    “We have forwarded your e-mail to TOURIST ASSISTANCE CENTER, Ministry of Tourism and Sports which in charge this matter:

    TOURIST ASSISTANCE CENTER HOTLINE
    Please call 1155
    or (0) 2134 4079
    E-mail: thai_tac@hotmail.com
    Web site: http://www.touristassistancecenter.go.th

    Best Regards,
    International Public Relations Division
    Tourism Authority of Thailand
    1600 Phetchaburi Road, Makkasan, Ratchathewi
    Bangkok 10400
    Thailand
    Tel: 66 (0) 2250 5500 ext. 4545-48
    Fax: 66 (0) 2253 7419
    Website: http://www.tatnews.org

  13. says

    Michel: Certainly the Thai media (if Bangkok Post is any indication) has no interest in this story or bringing to light any sort of scam at Suvarnabhumi, the new concrete crown jewel in the Thai tourist empire. If you hear anything else, I’d be interested to know. I’ll keep this thread updated if anything new comes to light.

    Bruce: Wow, I suppose that’s about as proactive as TAT and the Thai Tourism Assistance Center can be…forward your query on to the next bureaucrat, who will forward it on to the next…

    What do you do with that?

  14. says

    I had an electric razor ripped off by TSA on the way back to Prague following Christmas, and, having researched remedies and found that TSA is being accused of much thievery and has instituted procedures for handling complaints, it occurs to me that there exists far less possibility of being made whole on my loss than you experienced in complaining about what you have correctly diagnosed as a well-organized and entrenched shake-down operation. In the USA you never would have seen your money back, in other words. Shortly after I was assigned to my bank’s office in Bangkok in 1981 I needed to get a driving license. Our bank driver handled this matter, by going to the motor vehicles department with my photo, paying a bribe, and getting me a license in a matter of minutes. If I’d have gone through all the required legal hoops, it could have taken me months and maybe years. Sometimes expediency is not such a bad thing.

  15. says

    Doug: Sorry to hear about your razor. Odd item to nick. Carry-on or checked luggage? I hear checked luggage thefts are even more prevalent than thefts at gate security.

    Your Thai driving license story reminds us of a story told by a foreigner who owns a guest house in Thailand. His first approach to starting and running his business was to keep things “clean” – until he realized that he accomplished nothing by trying to operate outside of the bribing norm. Much of the paperwork he started legally is still in limbo. But once he caught on with local ways – in cash and in kind (i.e., smokes and alcohol) – the wheels found their grease.

  16. Karen says

    I also had a pair of sunglasses go missing at the security check at TSA late last year. The basket did not come come through the scanner very quickly and as I started to check I had all my things, the security guy quickly grabbed all my valuables and said quite abruptly, “you have to go now to catch your next flight”. They were in an expensive designer label case, the said frames being cheap ones from the pharmacy, and had prescription bifocal lens put in. When I arrived at Vientiene I called the airline office and when I told them where they went missing they just laughed and said to report it when I got back to Bangkok. I did this and was told at the Lost Property office at TSA that it would take at least three to four days for them to check, and could I come back then. I told them I would gladly come back at anytime (big smile) they liked as I live in Bangkok and had plenty of time but in the meantime could they call the Manager and explain that they actually went missing at the security check point before departing to laos, and perhaps that was the correct person to see. After numerous calls placed from that desk and staff lunch breaks to be taken (2 hours later) a hand written register of dates/details appeared, and boxes of various (reading) glasses of all types and sizes in plastic bags arrived and I was allowed to go through them. Not one pair of sunglasses amoungst the whole lot. I asked where these glasses had come from and the staff member (only one could speak a little english) and my limited knowledge of Thai didnt help; she said they are usually left on the plane. I didnt follow up with anything as i thought, well they were only a cheap purchase but now after reading the above posts I will also be sending an email to the TAT.

  17. says

    Karen: Sorry to hear about your experience. More evidence of a scam and a trend. Please keep us posted if you hear anything further from TAT after you’ve contacted them.

  18. Anas says

    we were in a group of friends to Langkawi Island in Malaysia. On the way back via the ferry, in the station while waiting for the ferry gate to open, around 3 hours left for our departure. We went to have some drinks at Starbucks and wait there while our ferry departure. My friend when he was buying his drink at Starbucks he left his mobile phone on the counter and just for a second he turned the other side, they but no one else took his mobile phone, but he didn’t know or didn’t see them and forgot about leaving his phone on the counter. So just as he grabbed his drink and walking to the table where we were around 12 of us sitting there, even before he leaves his drink on the table he suddenly remembered that he forgotten his phone on the counter. But off course its not there anymore, so we talked to the Starbucks staff and explained everything about the situation, and my friend was 100% sure that the staff taken it. after talking to them for few minutes still no results, and luckily their English is perfect. So there were a camera just above the counter, and we asked them we want to see the tape, here the guy we talking to face really changed..! (like oh no there is a camera i forgot..!). So they gave us a stupid excuse and that the manager not here so we can’t show you the video. We straight away went to the police at the same place, a lady talked to us and we explained everything, she even didn’t went to speak to Starbucks..!! or atleast send someone else..!! the laziest police i ever saw, and we were really surprised. It’s like the whole thing there is planned somehow..!! and we asked her for the tapes she also gave us as a different stupid excuses. At that point my friend went mad, and he actually didn’t care about the phone as much as the contact details. So nothing happened with the police, everything happened and they are sitting on the chair at their office, even didn’t move to check Starbucks staff, and Starbucks was at the same building the police office are..!! so we don’t know why they don’t care and so lazy to walk and investigate..!! so we just went back home on an another ferry because we missed ours, and forgot about what happened..!!
    —————————————-

    your case is really weired and rare, and i would never expect it to happen to me..!! I always keep my phone and wallet on the tray and in the x-ray machine, but not anymore after reading your story..!! better keep them deep inside the bag or a pad locked bag also would be very safe..!!
    anyway take care all of you when traveling anywhere around the world.

    Peace,

    Anas

  19. says

    Anas: Sorry to hear about your friend’s mobile phone. Mobile phones are easy to misplace and even easier to steal, apparently. That the police were unwilling to pay any attention must have been frustrating.

    My circumstances were definitely strange – and disappointing – particularly because they involved the people who were supposedly responsible for the safety of the plane.

    Thanks for your comment and well-wishes.

  20. says

    All,

    that sounds very well “pro” organized, which makes me a bit afraid of the airport security system @BKK. Because I’m planning a trip to Southeast Asia, I now have to think about a clever Aiport strategy as well.

    Check-out this video “How to pull off the airport x-ray steal” and the read “How x-ray machines work”
    http://www.wonderhowto.com/how-to/video/how-to-pull-off-the-airport-x-ray-steal-77818/
    http://travel.howstuffworks.com/airport-security3.htm

    Because the x-ray machine are big, I also could imagine to have a child thief or midget thief placed in there, to check all boxes for nice objects of interest…
    That also gives PLENTY of time to choose, open & close objects…

    Here’s another interesting blog about Suvarnabhumi Airport…
    http://www.thaivisa.com/forum/lofiversion/index.php/t132130.html
    Best part:
    My carryon is a small bag but has a combination lock. I put any of my valuables inside it before the x-ray machine and be sure it’s locked going through, then unlock it and check to be sure my valuables are all there once it comes out. I never use those plastic trays. Way too easy for someone, perhaps not even an airport worker, to nick something while you’re preoccupied with the metal detector / wand screening.

    Good luck to all of us with travelling!
    Sascha

  21. says

    Thailand is apparently still a hot-bed for fraud. My bank recently instituted a low daily limit for Thai spend unless you contact them beforehand and are screening all charges originating there thoroughly.

    Seems Thailand is off the menu for a while!

  22. says

    Sounds like a very Thai situation. They just don’t care to get to the bottom of a situation. There are no concepts of right and wrong, true and false. A lot of them are nice people, though. They just don’t see the point of finding out the truth or punishing the bad guy/girl.

  23. says

    @Sascha: I’m responding to a comment just now. How was your experience in Thailand and Southeast Asia during your trip? And particularly at BKK security? We are headed back to Thailand in the middle of this month and I’ll be sure to keep my bags locked as they go through the X-ray machine.

    A very belated thanks for the information and the links.

    @Jack: I am back on this post to respond to a recent comment…didn’t realize I never responded to yours. Thailand is a conflicted place — friendly, but with its fair share of shady dealing and corruption. I didn’t know the banks did anything like that. We are headed back in two weeks — I’ll keep my eye out.

    @Tawa: They certainly didn’t care to get to the bottom of my situation. However, like I said, I think everyone worked together. There’s no other way.

  24. Elizabeth says

    Wow i am not the only victim!! i had all my jewellery stolen from xray machine at suvarnabhumi airport, in 1 minute by security staff. They had containers and bags stacked against the wall and were moving back and forth from there. All of them were females. I didnt know until i reached home 9 hours later of course!!

  25. says

    @Elizabeth: I’m so sorry to hear this.

    No, you are clearly not the only victim. And every time I see a comment come in, it’s clear that the corruption ring has not been broken.

    That it took one minute is surprising. I think it took them 20 seconds to clean me out.

    Again, very sorry to hear about your experience, but thank you for sharing it in the comments to let others know it’s still happening.

  26. Henry Byrne says

    Similar happened to me on my way through security at Bkk airport, on my way home to my country of birth for vacation. The money belt was around my waist, but to avoid any potential problem if i was physically searched, i stupidly put the belt containing 1,800euro, (approx 80,000Bt equivalent at the time) cash into my computer bag, thinking (wrongly) i could trust a security team scanning the items passing through the xray machine. I was asked to stand on the pad while i was scanned by wand, and then asked to repeat the process as if they were uncertain about something on my person. Later on of course i realized this was just a delaying tactic while my bag was being rifled. The amazing part was how they could surgically remove the cash from an envelope in the zipped money belt which was in the zipped front section of the computer bag. I couldn’t understand how they could know there was money in the bag, but inquiries soon told me that the metallic strip in the notes show up in the xray machine, which gives them reason to investigate further! The envelope wasn’t taken, just the contents, real professionals operate at these security points. Im 110% certain the money was in the bag as described before arrival at security, however unfortunately in my case i didnt check or discover the loss until i was on the plane and in the air! My holiday in my home country was somewhat ruined by the loss of such a large amount of spending funds.

  27. says

    @Henry: Wow, your story makes me sick to my stomach just thinking about it. Did you ever try to report it to the authorities (or the media), once you found out?

  28. Henry Byrne says

    Thanks for the reply Dan. No i didnt report it, mainly for the reason that i was out of Thailand on vacation for the guts of 1 month and also i was a relative newcomer to the scene in general in Thailand. I wouldn’t have known how to go about reporting it so long after the event. In actual fact,i thought it was a very isolated incident, maybe it was just a one-off, and who would have believed me anyway! Expensive lesson Dan, but i have learned..

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