Robbed! Sticky Fingers at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport

I was robbed.

It didn’t happen at a grungy guest house, in a crowded local market, or down a dark alleyway at night. It happened in Bangkok’s shiny new Suvarnabhumi Airport at a gate security checkpoint. Worse yet, the thief was a security employee.

We’ve been on the road for almost 14 months. With the exception of a few dollars worth of local currency shorted from a stack of bills given to us by a bank in Uzbekistan, we’ve remained vigilant and fortunately unthieved…until now.

The Scene of the Crime: Bangkok Airport

We arrived at the Bangkok airport for our flight to Krabi, Thailand almost two hours early. After checking in, we approached our gate with well over an hour to spare. The waiting area was virtually empty and only a few bored security employees milled around the metal detectors.

Because of an exceptionally strict 15-kilogram checked luggage limit enforced by Air Asia, we lumbered towards the security checkpoint at our gate laden with some added carry-on cargo. I pulled off a small backpack and a small side bag and placed them on the conveyor belt. As Audrey was being scanned at the metal detector just ahead of me, I removed my money belt from around my waist and emptied my pockets into a tray headed for the x-ray machine.

I walked through the metal detector and was scanned with a wand. When I turned around, my bags had come out, but the tray was still apparently on the belt inside. This gave me pause. I turned back to see what was happening. As I did, the tray came through. I assembled my stuff. I tugged the money belt around my waist, buckled it, and took a seat.

The Discovery

We sat at the front of the gate with a sparse group waiting to board. Arriving so early for a flight is a rarity for us, so I took the opportunity to sift through my pockets and empty them of the garbage I had collected. I did the same with my money belt.

Money Offerings at Wat Arun - Bangkok, Thailand
Thai money as part of a Buddhist temple offering.

Three days prior, we made a large ATM withdrawal to cover some new equipment purchases. I remember counting and splitting the money with Audrey the night before the flight, to the tune of eight or nine-thousand Baht ($260-$300) each in 1000 bills. We were exceptionally and unusually laden with cash. I even remembered thinking “my, there’s a lot of [crap] in here” as I struggled twice to tuck the money belt into my pants, once after check-in and again after a ticket check before gate security.

Sitting at the gate, I unzipped the lower pocket of the belt with the intent of sorting through my local currency, confirming my boarding pass was still there, and tossing away some useless receipts which often collect there like navel lint.

I plunged my hand into my money belt and expected to grasp a stack of cash and papers, but I came up relatively empty-handed. My heart sank.

All that remained of a stack of 1000s, 100s, and small change: a few 20 Baht bills and a 50. Each of my large bills was gone, as if surgically removed. I was stunned. “Maybe the money evaporated?” I suggested to myself. No kidding. For a moment I thought of our German magician friend and some of the disappearing acts he’s able to negotiate. “Maybe I accidentally dumped the entire stash down the urinal in the men’s bathroom?”

The level of self-doubt I subjected myself to in those brief moments of empty-walleted shock was profound.

I looked at Audrey: “I can’t believe it. I’ve been robbed.” I stood there pitifully, as if some intermediary might hear my plea and suddenly make the money re-appear. He never did.

Fending off another bout of uncertainty, I forced myself back to the last lucid moment between me and the front compartment of my money belt.

“It must have happened at security!” There were only 40 minutes until boarding time to sort this out.

“Do you want me to come with you to security?” Audrey asked. “Of course,” I said, thinking that it would be a good idea in case I fainted. I was flushed and sinking in a sea of urgency and tortured thoughts and emotions. I felt utterly foolish and hung in disbelief.

The feeling of violation that comes after being robbed began to wash over me. I shook with anger, but gathered composure as I walked the few meters back towards security. “But what if I’m wrong?” I wondered again.

I reviewed everything in my head again in a split second and re-affirmed my belief that the money must have been lifted at the security checkpoint.

The Rewind

I explained to one of the security personnel that money was missing from my money belt, purposely trying to avoid making any accusations. Although I remember being alone in line before the x-ray machine, perhaps a rogue traveler had appeared behind me.

Although the security staff’s English was good, the woman I approached could barely understand what I was saying. I deliberately hushed my voice a few notches to compensate for the adrenaline that had poured into my bloodstream. Once the woman understood my circumstances, she insisted that we check all of our bags and pockets as she announced my claim to the rest of the crew.

The security personnel were confident that I had misplaced my money. At least that’s how they appeared. Many of them shook their heads in a way that implied “another idiot tourist.” I insisted that my money never left my money belt when I traveled, but I rifled through all of our bags and pockets just to please them.

“Can I see the films?” I asked, pointing to the video cameras monitoring the area. The woman confirmed that I could.

“How much?” she asked. “8000 Baht ($260),” I said. She shrieked, somewhat angrily and in disbelief that I could have been carrying such a wad of money, that it could have been stolen at security and – god forbid – that one of the security employees could have been a witness to the loss, let alone the thief.

We still had time until our flight was scheduled to depart. I was fairly certain that if there were no guilty parties and I had simply lost my money, the tapes would prove the security crew innocent. When the security team realized I was serious about watching the tapes, they took my passport and flight details and started making phone calls.

I began to sweat. I suspect the thief did, too.

The Investigation

I was asked to stand behind the metal detector and stare into two wide-angle video cameras tucked into the corners behind the conveyor belts and metal detectors. Officials sitting in some closed-circuit TV room confirmed my identity in order to locate me in sequence of passengers on the tape. The theft was minutes fresh, so it must have been easy to queue up.

For the next 45 minutes, a sea of uniformed security people entered the gate, huddled in the corner, made phone calls and barely acknowledged us. At one point it appeared as though they were scanning the gate for one of the passengers. Our boarding time approached.

“Why don’t they make a move?!” I anxiously wondered aloud.

Finally, as passengers began boarding the plane, one of the women approached us and explained that she was the duty officer responsible for the security team. She asked me to explain what happened again. As I filled out the claim form, she admitted that they had found a member of the security staff doing something suspicious on the tape. “We have to talk to her,” she said, indicating it was fairly clear who sticky-fingered Sally was.

“This has never happened before,” she offered apologetically.

She cautioned me that they had procedures to follow. “We must make an investigation and get the insurance company involved,” she said, slightly shaken. By the time we completed the claim form, the gate was empty. The entire team of security personnel (likely including the thief) gathered in front of us and watched us as we thanked the duty manager and turned around to board our flight. An odd departure by any measure.

We were the last ones to board the plane. I was exhausted and my thoughts were consumed with the incident. I wondered if I would ever see my money. Even worse, I knew well that this lingering feeling of mistrust would remain with me for some time to come.

Bold, Stupid, or Just a Scam?
Considering that there are security cameras absolutely everywhere these days, stealing at a security checkpoint isn’t just bold, it’s stupid.

But maybe not. The duty officer claimed that she has never had to deal with this before. “What did she mean by this?” I wondered. She was referring to never having had to face a passenger who discovered a theft at the gate. I wondered how many other travelers have had a few bills stolen from their wallets or money belts, only to later discover the theft and dismiss it as mistaken or insignificant – if they happen to catch it all. I find it almost impossible to believe that I was the very first passenger to walk away from a Bangkok airport security checkpoint a few bills lighter.

It’s probable that audacity was supported by something else: coordination. After all, how could one employee manage a theft like this without a fellow security employee not being aware of it? An accomplice eases the process of dividing, conquering and diverting unsuspecting passengers’ attention while negotiating a blind spot in the security cameras.

To believe that this was an uncoordinated, one-time incident involving one security employee is not only hard to believe, it’s naive. I would bet all my travel money that this is a scam.

I mean, who expects to be robbed at security? I do now. You probably should, too.

Although I usually tuck my money belt and phone deep inside my backpack before entering a security checkpoint, most other people place their wallets and valuables right in the security trays, just as I had done this time. There is an intrinsic trust – however misplaced – that one’s valuables are safe in the hands of security personnel. More critically, we hope and trust that their eyes are on the lookout for sharp metal objects and bomb-making elements. If security employees are scamming my belongings, how can they be paying attention to the security of the airplane we’re about to board?

Answer that for yourself. This incident doesn’t make me feel any better about airplane security, something about which I had serious doubts already.

So, next time you go through security at an airport, remember to watch your sharp objects and liquids…and keep your valuables hidden from security employees. Though most are thankfully just doing their jobs to keep us safe, some are obviously on the take.

The Waiting Game

Yesterday we were contacted with confirmation that the investigation concluded, indicating that at least one of the security employees was involved; the insurance company would be engaged. Today, I’m told that although the insurance company was now involved, investigations continued. I have no idea what this means, but I intend to recover my money.

Stay tuned.

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Comments

  1. says

    Steven: I still can’t believe it myself. It was awful.

    I’d really like to see the tape. The duty officer suggested that I could probably see it, but only when the investigation was over. I asked her if she could mail me a copy of the tape. I knew that would go nowhere, but figured I’d ask. She said “no” and that we’d have to return to Bangkok to see it.

    At the moment, though, we are in southern Thailand and don’t intend to return to Bangkok…since it’s not quite on our way to Malaysia.

    We’ll write another post or two, depending on how it all sorts out.

  2. Brian says

    Hey Dan, that was quite bold to go back there and complain about the theft! Good for you for challenging them like that. Quite bold of the thief too. While on one hand I was starting to feel sympathy for you, I came to the following conclusion; It is better to be robbed in bangkok while traveling, than to be sitting at work in Bratislava. :-) I am sure Audrey has already said this to you, but if this is the worst thing that happens to you on your travels, you are very lucky indeed! Enjoy the rest of your travels, and good luck getting the money back! We are looking forward to seeing you at some point!

  3. MarcO & Nargiza says

    What a story! I’ll be more vigilant too, especially when carrying tons of sums in plastic bags for our archaeological projects this Spring… By the way, fortunately, this did not happen in Central Asia. I bet it would have been much more difficult to explain the situation and eventually find a recourse. I’d be even surprised to hear that there is something you can do to get your money back at the Termez or Nukus airports.
    Nargiza is in France with me for still two weeks. Everything is fine for us.
    Good luck for your travels and best wishes for the forthcoming new chinese year.

  4. says

    I’m really glad that you went back and confronted them. It took a lot of guts and maybe, just naybe, they might think twice the next time.

    I remember when my dad was robbed on the Metro in Prague and Chip and I made a split-second decision to go after the thugs who had done it. Luckily, I came to my senses just as we were about to get all Fight Club on them. I’m thinking that would not have ended with talk of insurance companies.

  5. says

    Brian: Quite a few people say it was courageous to go back and confront them. Maybe. The only thing stopping me was doubt. Once I got over that, full steam ahead. We’re both aware of our good fortune (thus far). I suppose I had a positive balance in my bad luck travel bank account – held at gunpoint, robbed and suffered through dengue in India.

    Marc & Nargiza: Excellent to hear from you. Keep those sums of money in a blast-proof box. Interesting you mention Central Asia…we were on our guard the entire time there. Just proves that the moment you should be concerned is when you feel comfortable enough to let your guard down. Enjoy your time together in France.

    Nicole: I’m hoping that this makes them (however many people “them” might include) think twice. On another bulletin board, someone quipped that the Bangkok security thing is a racket…so bad that you could bribe a gun on board. Now that’s dark. Perhaps that’s an extreme description, but obviously someone’s paying a bit more attention to our dough than our safety.

    The Prague racket that your father fell victim to is much, much worse – at least based on what I’ve heard. I still think that the police could begin to control it, but they’re too busy stopping random cars on the street for insurance and registration violations (you know, the real threats to everyone’s safety and well-being).

  6. Nick Starcevic says

    Wow. This is unbelievable! As a resident of Thailand I felt I trusted them way too much. Every single time I past those security check points. I always either trying to put my laptop back into its bag without looking at my wallet that’s coming thru. Thank sfor letting us know anyway.

    On the other hand, I heard that the exact same thing is happening frequently at Chicago O’Hare Airport. And the TSA says they are not responsible for any loss.

    The next time I’m there I’ll keep both my eyes on my stuff. And I’ll try to put everything in one single container.

  7. says

    Nick: You are welcome. Thanks for your note.

    Although this particular experience at the Bangkok airport was a disappointment and an eye-opener, we’ve enjoyed our visits to Thailand and we will continue to recommend it to prospective travelers.

    We’ve learned again that remaining vigilant is always a good idea, regardless of which airport you happen to be traveling through.

    When our situation is resolved, I’ll write about it in a follow-up post. I will also recommend a few seemingly obvious steps that I will take on future visits to any airport.

  8. Michel XIMA says

    Yesterday 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 !
    Comments welcome…

  9. says

    Michel: I’ve responded on the other post where you provided more details (Part 2) as well.

    We’re sorry to hear about this. It’s surprising how little time it takes to have something stolen. 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.

  10. Jack M says

    Daniel,

    I’m sorry to hear about your experience. The good part is that you have recovered the money and that should be a happy ending for you and a face-saving ending for their corrupt security squad.

    I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a copy of that police report. It simply doesn’t exist – same as that fictitious insurance broker!

    I wouldn’t be surprised if a large chunk of the daily take is being passed upwards to be distributed among the highest echelons in that steel and concrete eysore.

    With various tourist scams as well an officially sanctioned dual-pricing policy, travelers used to jokingly ask why Thai authorities didn’t just relieve them of all their cash on arrival at the airport. Well that’s certainly happening now; and would you believe it, it’s happening on the way out as well!

    Jack

  11. Michel XIMA says

    [comment edited to remove duplicate content]

    ENQUIRY / CHECK OF VIDEO CAMERAS REQUESTED
    WAITING PROMPT RESPONSE FROM SECURITY CHIEF AIRPORT AND FULL REFUND FROM AOT, RESPONSIBLE OF STAFF INVOLVED IN ROBBERY.

    INVOICES OF JEWELRY ROBBED CAN BE SCANNED AND EMAILED TO AOT.

    BEST REGARDS
    Michel XIMA, FROM France
    01 MARCH 2008

  12. says

    Jack: I’m afraid that you are probably correct on all counts.

    The face-saving nature of the resolution is an angle I hadn’t considered, though.

    “… concrete and steel eyesore,” indeed – and it still appears unfinished in a number of stretches.

  13. John Kinsella says

    Having been in Thailand several times this does not surprise me at all. The airport is notorius for the many scams in operation both in the construction and its operation.

  14. John D. says

    Dan,

    Considering what savvy travelers you and Audrey are, I’m sure is a pretty well rehearsed scheme. I admire your resolve to confront security and work through the system to get your money back. I would prefer beating the thief within an inch of dying and selling their organs on eBay.

    Remember, you and Audrey always have a warm bed waiting at the Noe Castle.

    John

  15. says

    John: Most everyone has come to the conclusion that it’s a scam. Interesting that you characterize the way in which I recovered my money as a system. It is a system, or machine of sorts, which takes money in at a clip and occasionally spits money back out to those, like me, who happen to notice and relentlessly pursue them. A system indeed.

    Regarding the beating and organ vending on Ebay: remind me to take you with us on our next go-round at the Bangkok airport.

    Looking forward to taking you up on your offer of accommodation at the Noe Castle one of these days.

  16. so_stupid says

    “most other people place their wallets and valuables right in the security trays, just as I had done this time.”

    wallets & valuables! I only put those metal things, loose coins, etc on the tray. Definitely not the money belt if its cloth and buckle is plastic.

    If the metal detector buzz, step aside and empty more pockets. Otherwise, move on.

  17. brenda says

    I was robbed by security staff searching my handbag at toronto airport in january this year she took $285 dollars out of my purse which i discovered when i went to duty free. when i went back to tackle the person who searched me her reply was if you want to take it further you will miss your plane!! i said i had to catch my flight but i wanted it reporting the police came and said i was mistaken there was cameras and she couldnt have taken it but she emptied my holdall and put the items on the side then started rummaging in my handbag not removing items like she did with my holdall, then she said to me you can be putting the items back in my holdall which stupid me did instaed of watching what she was doing so it wouldnt have shown up on camera she could have slipped the notes up her sleeve or just heldthem in her hand coz i do remember here bending down as if to put something on a shelf. needless to say i lost my money and have heard nothing since!!! i am so mad at myself because we had been warned about it in the dominican republic however i didn’t expect it to happen in canada.i will keep my wits about me in future thats for sure

  18. says

    @brenda: Sorry to hear about your experience. Thank you for sharing it. The more we share our stories, the more we build awareness about being careful while going through airport security…particularly in those places where we might otherwise feel safest. Safe travels.

  19. Liz says

    Same happened to me. As if to add insult to injury, it happened to be the only money I had since my wallet had been stolen the day before, and this it was all the money I had access to until I got home 2 days later, when I was going to be wired money (all cards etc. went with the wallet). Couldn’t believe it but I know better now.

  20. says

    @Liz: Sorry to hear about your experience. The more our stories and experiences at Bangkok airport security are shared, the more aware and better prepared travelers will be when making their way through there.

    At any rate, hopefully you have some better fortune ahead of you.

  21. Agne says

    Thanks for sharing this story, Dan. I will be in Bangkok airport pretty soon, so this story is very important for me. I hope you got the money back.

  22. Woojin says

    I’m sorry to say this scam is alive and kicking but with an added touch of sophistication and collusion.

    This incident happened to me this weekend. Will post and explain more after gathering my thoughts.

  23. says

    @Woojin: I’m very sorry to hear that something similar happened to you. I’m really curious to hear that it’s even more sophisticated these days. Please share the details here so others can benefit from your experience.

  24. Woojin says

    Context & Background

    - Native Australian but born in Korea. Circa 40 years old.
    - Worked and lived in Europe and Asia since 2002 and post 9-11 with heightened security, travelled extensively in that time.
    - Working in Thailand 2.5 years including numerous monthly visa runs out of Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi airport when out of work permit.
    - Upon discovery, believe it was the actions of a rogue AOT employee / contractor and performed in isolation. Later discover this was a misguided assumption.
    - Carry bag is bad design, soft single zip sling pack. Easy to open. Good for travel but bad for security.
    - Local wallet is type that clips the bank notes with a metal spring clasp. Most wallets need two hands to take notes, this one is possible with one hand. Bad security design but ideal for the heavy cash and honest Thai economy.
    - Love Thailand and it’s people and appreciate their cultural and religious values of honesty, kindness, politeness, respect for elders and hospitality.
    - Can understand enough Thai, have Thai friends and connections.

    The Incident

    - Booked a overnight visa run flight for one person from Bangkok to Penang return.
    - Didn’t buy travel insurance due to nature and duration of trip and mistaken belief it would be covered as flights were purchased using a local Thai bank Platinum card.
    - Wear hiking / fisherman shorts, tee shirt and travelled light with only small, soft sling pack to carry clothes & toiletries.
    - Arrive at Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi airport with plenty of time and breeze thru internet check in desk D which is unusual for a budget airline.
    - Queue for 10-15 mins and clear Foreign / Immigration on right hand side of Domestic departures.
    - Go to the x-ray scanning station on the far side beside the special clearance tunnel for VIPs near air conditioning unit as few passengers waiting in line. It’s a very quiet period with few passengers passing thru security.
    - Place my bag on the table before enter x-ray machine and empty my pockets of passport, wallets (1 x foreign, 1 x local / Thai), phone and load into my carry bag.
    - Meander along the queue and when about to pass bag into x-ray machine, I notice a slim build, curly hair, Indonesian looking ‘security’ guy standing between the scanning employee and air conditioner unit. I ask him in Thai and point if I should remove my belt. Says ‘Yes’.
    - I take off my belt, open my bag and put inside. Bag is waiting to pass thru machine.
    - I then focus my attention on passengers in front of me, security guy on other side of x-ray is slow and holding people back to move thru the body x-ray.
    - I pass thru body x-ray. Does not trigger any alarms. During this time not looking or notice the status of my bag.
    - My bag is waiting for me on the exit table in an upright position. Initially didn’t think much of this but upon reflection strikes me as odd, as I laid the bag down as security always ask for it laid down.

    Discovery

    - After exit, put belt back on and put all the valuable back into my short pockets.
    - Board the flight. Back pack is small and light enough to tuck under the seat in front of me.
    - Take the time to re-check how much Baht I have to convert at destination. I withdrew THB 10,000 a few days prior to the flight.
    - Discover nothing as all the notes are gone!
    - Think! Know it cannot fall out as notes are held tight by clip and folded into wallet. Working back reach the conclusion the Indo looking security guy stole my money because that is only time wallet wasn’t on me.
    - I’m on the flight so nothing I can do about it until I return to Bangkok the next day.

    AOT Reaction & Investigation

    - Next day get back to Bangkok.
    - Exit the arrival gate and head straight to the AOT Information desk.
    - Explain what happened to the help desk girl. She calls her boss and airport security. I speak to a girl over the phone at X-ray security.
    - Need to mention, initially helpdesk girl had this ‘stupid Jap tourist’ irritated look on her face but after I explained my plight in more detail both she and her boss agreed and were empathetic to my situation. They agreed with my assessment, this must happen many times but foreigners cannot do, don’t know or bother due to small or unused money, lack of evidence and insurance to follow up.

    However this is where the story gets bizarre but if you understand Thailand realise it’s typical and the way it’s done around here.

    - I tell X-ray girl in detail what happened. I ask if she can look at the CCTV footage. Says yes and asks what time, which x-ray station, what I look like, what I’m wearing, colour and type of bag. She says she will call back in about 10 mins after reviewing the footage.
    - X-ray girl calls back and tells me she is only a trainee and they only keep footage for current day from 8:00am – 8:00pm. Says if I want to review yesterday’s footage I need to contact AOT HQ.
    - (WTF) I tell her then pass me to the person in charge of security. She responds, she is in charge. I say, just now you tell you’re a trainee and now you’re the boss! Also you say, you will look at the footage and get my details and then claim not to have it! She asks to speak to Helpdesk girl.
    - They chat, ends call. Helpdesk girl says, I need to take it up with AOT HQ next day as today is Sunday or Tourist Police outside (in typical Thai fashion, X-ray girl just tried to passed off responsibility).
    - I tell Helpdesk girl, Yes, next step I will take it up with Tourist and Immigration Police as I have connections there but first I need a report or documentation from AOT about this incident.
    - Told her I don’t care if AOT do or do nothing about this incident but I need something with AOT letterhead, my detail, proof of id, story and AOT employee and signature to support my claims when I file a report for the police.
    - Helpdesk calls security again. Security says they don’t have such form or procedure.
    - (OMG, I’m really getting angry by this stage) I say “what the hell you do when there is a bomb scare!”. You must be joking. Security don’t file report or log as an incident?
    - She says I need to file a report with Tourist Police.
    - I say what! This incident occurred inside the airport, after Immigration. What does Tourist Police have to do with it. I ask her who hires or is responsible for security at AOT Suvarnabhumi.
    - She confirms it’s AOT responsibility. That means you must take responsibility and potential liability and formally acknowledge my situation. Also tell her for an international airport this is a joke.
    - She calls and puts me onto her boss. At the same time all of a sudden, three patrol security staff swarm in on those nifty two wheel mobilators (dunno why they wear those super tight uniforms, makes them look gay).
    - Helpdesk boss empathises and agrees with my situation and AOT nonsense but says nothing she can do about (true) and need to file a Tourist Police report.
    - Boss Patrol boy talks to Helpdesk girl, not looking or talking to me. Strange part is, the fear in his eyes was palpable. It was very obvious he knew what was going on and was fearful of exposure and recriminations.
    - I explain to Helpdesk & Patrol that I want to log this incident so I can take it up with Tourist & Immigration Police.
    - Next Tourist Police dude arrives on his mobilator.
    - She explains AOT won’t file a report but I need to go with Tourist Police office outside to file a report. I asked her, are you sure this is correct? She confirms yes. I trust her and go out with Tourist Police. During this time I have yet to clear Immigration and enter Thailand.

    Thai Tourist Police

    - Pass Immigration and enter Thailand.
    - Explain my story to officers in charge (three of them) and desk girls at Tourist Police station and fill out a form with my story.
    - Mother officer asks if I have insurance. Said I don’t know because have to check if and what it covers.
    - After filling the form, Chief officer (can see from the wall chart) says he and I will check the footage ourselves. I said sounds like a good idea and what I asked to do in the first place.
    - We pass thru the VIP x-ray tunnel reserved for Embassy and government staff and I confront the X-ray security.

    Video Footage

    - There are number of X-ray bosses lined up a the desk and I talk to the X-ray girl I previously spoke to on the phone.
    - All the on duty X-ray staff are looking at me, again with a look of absolute trepidation.
    - I’m surrounded by X-ray bosses and helpers at video station and they all have the same look of fear and discovery on their faces.
    - They ask what time, repeat around 12 noon, Chief goes to Immigration to check exact time, turns out 12:24.

    - I see the footage.
    - See it from three angles, directly behind or entry, directly in front or exit and from a third angle to show the air con blind spot.
    - Everything I did, in terms of emptying my pockets, undoing my belt, passing thru and picking up is correct and bag passes thru machine.

    BUT

    - Officers in the footage are missing or out of place!
    - Indo guy is not there. I tell them he was standing between the X-ray operator and the air-conditioning unit. Now I’m talking to a respectable looking Chinese Thai AOT official, he say’s it’s impossible as no one should be working or standing in that position.
    - I said rewind and let me see the shot where I undo my belt. I tell Chinese AOT guy, only reason I take off my belt is I asked Indo guy and said to do. He was standing right there.
    - I look again and Indo is not in the vision! AOT people in the footage are all wrong. There footage shows security in front and only one on X-ray operator side pushing bags out. That was not the case. When I passed thru there was no one in front and the floater on the operator side was not there.

    - I can see what’s going on. I look Chinese AOT guy in the eye and say ‘are you 100% sure the footage has not been tampered’. He doesn’t give me a straight answer.
    - I also ask do you know the Indo X-ray employee, I describe? Chinese AOT says they have 1000s of employees, doesn’t know everyone.
    - I say, you don’t have a roster or know who should be working what stations at what time (thinking their operations are very similar to casino)? No answer.
    - I tell AOT and Chief clearly without evidence there is no case. We all agree to conclude it.
    - We go back to Police station and I get a copy of my report and leave.

    Outcome & Conclusion

    - Video footage looks like another time period and security staff is superimposed over my footage and parts cut out. I’m sure the video was ‘fixed’ long beforehand but there was also a black spot between speaking to X-ray girl and seeing the footage myself. Normally the people doing these actions know the system better than the people running it. They know all the loopholes or ways and means to cover their tracks. This is no more prevalent than in Thailand.

    - This type of criminal activity cannot be done without the perfect setup, means, opportunity and co-ordination i.e. time, bag, wallet, stealing skills, inside accomplices or teamwork.

    - Strange part in this debacle was at no time did AOT or Police attack, intimidate or challenge my story. It was very clear they were all fearful of being discovered and hoped or prayed it was covered.

    - I discover, unlike Australian Gold credit cards, Thai Platinum cards only cover incidents on the flight or translates to debt forgiveness if you die which is a given and standard with most personal debt however locally it’s marketed as insurance. That means I will not get my money back.

    - The incident highlighted the flaws in my equipment and process for travelling (no need to carry large amounts of cash but got stung not doing this previously) but as mentioned, we make an implicit assumption and let our guard down, the people tasked with security are verified and there to maintain and not violate it. Not so in Thailand or any country.

    Lesson learned.

  25. says

    @Woojin: I’m really glad you wrote all this down in detail. This is truly bizarre. If a simliar well-orchestrated theft at BKK airport security hadn’t happened to me, I would think you were making this up. But you are not. I tried contacting the Bangkok Post with my story when it happened. Total silence. I think it’s time to find other ways to get this issue the attention it deserves. I’m working on it.

    By the way, I assume you read Part 2 of my story:
    http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/2008/02/robbed-redux-sticky-fingers-suvarnabhumi-airport/

    And finally, what I do now when going through security. I literally lock all my bags and tuck anything interesting deep inside:
    http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/2009/03/avoiding-theft-at-airport-security/

  26. Michel Xima says

    As reported before, I was also robbed in BKK at X-Ray check-up. Now when I have to fly, I prepare my hand luggage first, keep nothing in my pockets, and lock the bag (code numbered). I know BKK Airport Security Staff is a bunch of sharks, taking opportunity of their job to steal travelers.
    Reported to AOT, Bangkok Post (published), Tourist Police : no feedback. This is Thailand…

  27. says

    @Michel: Did you manage to get something about your experience published in the Bangkok Post? If so, do you have a URL/address for the article online — can you post it here?

    If you did, that’s one better than I was able to do. Regardless, nothing seems to have changed. This is a real shame.

  28. Woojin says

    @Dan & @Michel

    Below is my response to friends with similar sentiments on a social networking site.

    Whilst I applaud and support your action to raise it with the relevant authorities, will again re-iterate you really need to understand Thailand and it political and business complexities because the reason your initiative falls on deaf ears it this has acknowledgement right to the top.

    “Yeah it’s not good but I don’t harbour ill feeling as you have to understand Thailand and how business or ‘things’ are done around here. AOT probably hire the contracting company in charge of airport security as a related party and for peanuts (to report good profits) with the knowledge and tacit approval they will make it up in other ‘ways’ that don’t harm other Thais.

    Keep in mind they are targeting soft targets or foreigners and the travelling types. I’m pretty sure if I was in suit and other business gear they would not touch me. This is not the only scam at the airport. Lesson is I need to take more precautions but that should not be necessary now as they all know me.”

  29. Michel Xima says

    However, I think neither AOT, Tourist Police, or even media care about this problem ! Steal foreigners is OK for mainstream thai people…

  30. says

    @Woojin: Fair point, theft is unfortunately a part of traveling and doing business in Thailand. The thing that makes this so irritating is that it takes place in airport *security*…the very place and people whose focus is supposed to be safety. Sometimes that’s the way the world just works, but that’s all the more reason I’m interested in shining a light on it.

    @Michel: I understood that it was reported in the Bangkok Post newspaper. That would be my goal. If it was mentioned there, people would pay a bit more attention. Not to mention, other news outlets would pick it up.

  31. Michel Xima says

    Problem is as follows :
    You deposit your belongings for checking at X-Ray. And you go then to your personal checking, and some “officer” touch you, etc… If your belongings are not ALL secured inside a locked bag, the short time they check your body, the “sticky fingers” do theft very quickly, if they can access, same pickpockets, they are trained to that. Better prepare yourself before go checking. After being robbed, I used this way, locked cabin luggage, and no more theft afterwards. I often use BKK Airport, and I know security staff is a bunch of sharks.

  32. Michel Xima says

    I speak about this with a thai lawyer : he said me “som nam na” which means “it’s your fault”. Thai people think if you give opportunity for being robbed, it is normal to be. This is Thailand ! Probably the most dishonest people I ever see, travelling 87 countries… For thai people, foreigner is always guilty. Never guilty are the thais…

  33. Woojin says

    I have another visa run due this weekend.

    I already have the luggage lock but as backup but if permitted will photograph the x-ray attendants before and have both phones either side of my wallet recording video inside the bag as it passes x-ray security.

    I’m not a good candidate as they already know me but for someone with the balls this an excellent ‘sting’ tactic.

  34. Woojin says

    Culture

    - To understand the Thai behaviour have to realise the history of Thailand. Before King Rama IV slavery was legal. Means the master could do anything to the slave.
    - This culture or ‘master servant’ mentality still prevails today in the workforce. Servant will not do anything without the masters instruction, consent or knowledge.

    Departure

    - Used a luggage lock and AOT x-ray and VAT people were their usual anal self but no issues.
    - But an interesting experience coming back.

    Immigration on Arrival

    - Go to Immigrant counter and get a hostile reception from check in boy.
    - Demands I need to write my Visa No on the Arrival card. I frown at him and say the work permit is cancelled (if it wasn’t already obvious from the stamp and text beside the permit staring him in the face).
    - He belligerently says ‘No you must write your Visa No!’ and buzzes his boss for assistance.
    - I said ‘Do you know what is Tourist 30 day stamp?’ ‘I cannot use the work permit because it’s cancelled’.
    - After a tense stand off, I say to him ‘Are you going to stamp my passport if I write the Visa No even though I already told you it doesn’t apply?’
    - No response.
    - I say ‘Ok, Are you sure?’.
    - Then suddenly he the changes his attitude. Says in Thai ‘Oh Oh yes I see you cannot use work permit’ (now he’s my best friend!). I reply in Thai ‘Yes, cannot use Visa because cancelled already’
    - He stamps my passport and I pass thru Immigration.

    Conclusion

    - Coincidence? First time, isolated incident, Immigration boy on his period?
    - Not likely. Nothing happens by chance in Thailand. I suspect there is a marker or ‘sticky note’ on the system that flags my passport, with the instructions from the masters to servants to make my life difficult coming in. Immigration boy changed his tune because I challenged him not the rule so he was putting his neck on the line and he wasn’t going to do that without cover from his bosses.
    - What’s also clear is without the passport stamp, I would have a major visa violation. They could spin it a number of ways, say I attempted to enter Thailand under false pretences or simply say I wrote the Visa No on the Arrival card so it’s my fault.
    - Either way will see what happens next time but extra care required now and something to think about it when applying for visa or passing thru Immigration.

  35. says

    @Michel: Good recommendation. Better to be safe (and perhaps, according to some, paranoid) than to be sorry.

    I keep everything locked in my bag these days when I go through airport security. And within that bag, I keep the especially valuable items either tucked away in zipped compartments or behind velcro. It’s going to take some work to get at it.

    As far as the “it’s your fault”, I’ve heard that in other countries as well, India included. If you leave a door open, it’s an invitation to come in — that’s the attitude.

    I can appreciate your frustration. We recently had our checked bags broken into while riding an overnight bus in Thailand. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem to end.

    @Woojin: I’d be surprised if you were allowed to photograph x-ray attendants (or anyone official). But if you were, good for you.

    Having your phone recording is an interesting idea, that is, unless it too gets stolen :(

    Unless it puts me in any danger or really weakens my position, I tend to make people in bureaucratic positions of power feel good by following their directions. Less friction, I suppose.

    I hear that Thai immigration is sticky depending on a number of factors, especially the office/border crossing.

    Extra care: always a good idea, especially when dealing with things like visas, bureaucracy and paperwork. You must watch the process like a hawk, unfortunately.

    Am glad things worked out, more or less, this time.

  36. jeannie says

    As an older woman, I tuck my folded Thai baht into my bra. Sometimes I put credit cards there also. Can’t use the neck wallets as “they” will see the cords and demand you put it into the plastic bins….Also I avoid BKK even if I have to pay more. There are well-known scams involving tourists shopping and being accused of stealing in the concourse shops. Logic is totally absent from Thailand; don’t expect it or you will be frustrated. I live in Thailand.

  37. Woojin says

    @ Daniel
    Good advice and agree with your approach for dealing with Thai uniform and it’s the cultural way to handle it in Asia but the Suvarnibhumi boys seem to deliberately provoke or seek an emotional response. Perhaps that’s the idea and pretext for sending victims to ‘Bangkok Hilton’. Already have my embassy or consulate phone number handy but I read from other travelers’ experience, mine is useless.
    @ Jeannie
    Had similar thoughts of concealing my banknotes but I don’t know what’s worst, depending where a guy puts them, risk of theft or being accused of doing lewd acts to pictures of The Majesty!
    Also thought about using another BKK airport or Don Muang but they don’t have international flights. You are lucky to reside in an area i.e Phuket that caters for international travelers.

    What I learnt is anything on the post-Immigration side of Suvarnibhumi and possibly including are above the law so requires extreme caution and vigilance.

  38. says

    @jeannie: Thank you for your comment, and your perspective of something living in Thailand and traveling in the region.

    I can appreciate taking such money-hiding measures. At BKK airport, hide or otherwise tuck your money wherever you can. I had no idea that Bangkok airport had such a bad reputation (at least bad enough to avoid, even if means flying out of another airport). However, after flying around the region recently, I’ve grown to favor airports like KL and Singapore.

    @Woojin: Always a good idea to have your embassy contact info with you in case you run into trouble. (I’m sorry to hear they are useless.) In any event, it’s really unfortunate that you feel the need to plan that way. But again, better safe than sorry.

    I’m laughing at your comments regarding tucking money and lewd acts with images of the king. You are probably right — not a great idea.

  39. jeannie says

    I did say Thai before and I don’t know why I said that because I always change money before I leave on a trip. I do fold Thai 20s though for tuktuk rides and I always carefully fold them so the image is on the outside. I am getting off this topic before I get in trouble LOL

  40. says

    @jeannie: Your stash of Bens — LOL!

    Good idea on the keeping your bills carefully folded on the outside, so you know which denomination you’re dealing with. Particularly useful depending on where those bills are tucked!!

  41. Woojin says

    This incident may also be viewed as borderline scam. Customer feedback I submitted to Jetstar.

    +++

    Hello,

    I was unable to check in for this flight.

    Impossible to verify my or the Jetstar check in boy or supervisor’s story but I arrived at the desk 37-35 mins before departure. Supervisor claims to have closed and left the desk at 38mins before departure.

    I lost time looking for the Jetstar service desk which was unmanned then distracted by louts or scam artists at the service counter who claim to be Jetstar staff.

    Despite that I went back to desk and check-in boy is still there. Not sure why he wasn’t helping at the gate but seems he was waiting for the passengers who were bumped from their seats. Note there was a group of four other passengers who were refused check in.

    I am familiar with Suwarnbhumi airport and know there is ample time to clear Immigration and security so I suggested he should quickly process check in so we can go thru.

    Check in boy (who appeared to be a contractor and not Jetstar staff) instead of checking in and calling the gate staff to inform of our intention to board was instead arguing and stalling in what appeared to be an attempt to ensure we missed the flight.

    After wasting enough time talking with him and his ‘supervisor’ I asked eventually asked about the ticketing options. Could not get a straight story to either buy a new ticket or pay extra to take the next flight.

    Either way his disposition changed dramatically and said there are three free seats on the 21:20pm flight and he can sell to me at the ‘penalty’ rate of THB2,400. Not sure where he got that price when it’s advertised for THB 5,700 to buy online.

    He also offered the other group THB 3,700 to share amongst themselves. To rub salt into injury he mentioned the 21:20pm flight was already going to be one hour late (that’s the headline delay).

    I entertained this and asked, if I wanted to proceed how to pay when the service desk is unmanned, he said we could pay him. I was astonished, I couldn’t believe this was airline or an Australian company best practice.

    I was a joke and what’s more unbelievable, after the shifty tactics of him and Jetstar he actually thought I/we could trust them on the next flight. Who’s to say, he or Jetstar don’t do it again or it’s scam and we don’t actually get a seat. Must have rocks in his head.

    Either way Jetstar contractors sticking to regulations or borderline scam, it was too dodgy for my liking so both the other group and I purchased tickets from Air Asia.

    Won’t say I will never fly with Jetstar again but will avoid at all costs as never had this problem with other budget airlines or Air Asia.

    Recommend Jetstar as an Australian company needs to get it’s act together and behave in customer oriented or decent manner and not sink to the depths of other dubious ‘practices’ at Suwarnbhumi airport.

    Regards

  42. says

    @Woojin: Sounds sketchy. Let’s hope when the opportunist who tried to sell you the ticket gets fired, he isn’t later hired by Bangkok airport security!

  43. Woojin says

    @Dan
    Haha I went back to the Jetstar check in desk next day after checking in for AA.

    A lady was sitting at the Jetstar Desk L wearing contractor uniform and id.

    She pretended to not notice me but I asked if she was a Jetstar representative. She said No (I already got confirmation from Info that’s where Jetstar sit).

    She was lying – I could tell from her voice she was the ‘supervisor’ I spoke to over the phone.

    I forgot to mention, when I told the boy at check it was a scam he literally jumped out of his seat and ran!

    Anyway it’s laughable, from now on I’m going to get their name and ids – start playing the man.

  44. Michel Xima says

    Daniel can you contact IATA about this bunch of snakes in this fucking so-called “International Airport, name their king ? Acting in Thailand is impossible, but IATA have power worldwide.

  45. Woojin says

    @Michel

    I don’t take it seriously now.

    Everyone knows Suwarnabhumi airport is one big zoo and a might scam and that pretty much everything is scamable.

    But it’s funny, I was telling my friends Suwarnabumi is no different to Datong Beach, Patpong, Pattaya, Koh Samui or Nana Plaza.

    In fact it’s more comical because it’s done under the auspices of authority. Classic was yesterday, X-ray bozo asked me to take out my wallet and valuables and put in the tray.

    I smiled at him and said my wallet does not have any metal. I said ‘as you wish’, put everything into my carry bag and locked it with THB60 lock and asked him if he was happy, then watched all my bags pass thru the complete scanning process.

    Essentially where their is nectar there are bees. Temptation is too greet. All those clueless GBP, USD, EUR, SGD and AUD floating thru the toll gate, can you blame them (being AOT) for figuring out ways to work the system and getting a piece of the pie.

    Another classic, I had the other Jetstar passengers from Singapore who missed their flight, ask if there was a departure tax. Made me think someone in Thai tights could easily demand THB 500 departure tax from each of them.

    EOD just need to keep cool, smile and slide your way thru. I was reading about Belgian boy who spent some time in the ‘Bangkok Hilton’. He observed the only farang ‘refugees’ who ended up there, were ones who lost their head and made the guys in uniform lose face.

    @Dan

    Even though they hassle me, I laugh as I know I’ve really pissed off or worried AOT. I have essentially put their best stealer (Indo boy) out of work!

  46. says

    @Michel: I think Woojin is right. It is the way it is and people have more or less accepted it. His advice of keeping cool and helping those in uniform not lose face…that’s the way, for better or worse.

    Having said that, I suspect the best route to try and expose this is through the media, by emailing the news editors of major newspapers throughout Southeast Asia and giving them this link. If you can find some email addresses, I’ll be happy to send the email. In the meantime, I’ll do some searches when I get a chance.

    @Woojin: You’ve offered the best pieces of advice: be aware, maintain a sense of humor, never lose your cool.

  47. Woojin says

    Today airport was busy with many farangs possibly due to a peaceful election but I’m pleased to say apart from the Jetstar check-in scam, I re-entered the Kingdom without any intimidation, shake down or hassles from Immigration.

    Woohoo, nice birthday present. In Thai tradition or Buddhist style perhaps my luck is changing!

  48. Sanndune says

    Daniel,
    Sorry to hear what happened to you. I am currently writing a book about airport security TSA in the US and Thailand. I will have to change it up a little now after reading your story.
    But, you are not sure that the money was stolen there, are you? Just because she was seen doing something suspicious doesn’t automaticaly prove she is guilty. Some of them are thieves yet many are honest. If she did it she will most likely lose her job.
    But, anyway, I would like to know the outcome of the investigation. I’ve lived in Thailand 14 years now and never had anything stolen from me.

    • says

      Sanndune, I’m sorry if my writing did not make this clear. I am 100% certain that the money was stolen there by Bangkok airport security employees. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind. And Bangkok airport security managers confirmed it there on the spot after I made the accusation. Not to mention, I received a wire transfer from a personal bank account in Thailand in the amount that I claimed was stolen.

      For the details, check out the second article in this series, if you haven’t already:
      http://uncorneredmarket.com/robbed-redux-sticky-fingers-suvarnabhumi-airport/

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