Bangkok airport scam and fake police

bangkok airport shop

We good citizens are trained from an early age to respect authority. It’s not easy to ask a uniformed policeman for identification, or even a plainclothes officer who flashes a badge. And if we were to request ID, how closely would we scrutinize it? Would we detect a fake? What about identification in a foreign language, Thai for example, or Russian?

What’s the difference, anyway, between a pseudo cop—an impostor—and a legitimate but corrupt official? Both rely on their perceived authority, both act fast (before they’re found out, by the victim or others), both do the shake-down dance in one form or another. We, the good citizens, never see it coming. “It all happened so fast,” one victim told me, “I knew something wasn’t right, but I didn’t have time to think.” We’re more than victims of crime here. We’re victims of our upbringing, we who are taught to follow rules and obey laws.

Bob and I were accosted by pseudo-cops in Russia. I can tell you, it’s frightening, especially when the scene expands to include additional players. Sydney’s had them, and so has Barcelona. Stockholm’s in the news now with pseudo cops stationed at ATMs frequented by seniors, collecting PIN codes under the guise of “regulation.”

BBC News reports a horrific scam that takes place in the Bangkok airport. A number of travelers browsing the duty-free shops have been accused of shoplifting, put in jail holding cells, and forced into negotiations that amount to police extortion in exchange for their release. They’re being tricked into relying on the advice of a man who seems to be a police accomplice.

One of the victims in this report, Stephen Ingram, was taken by airport security to a police office, put in a cell overnight, then given an interpreter. The interpreter took him (and his travel companion) to a police commander who attempted extortion of over US$12,000 and threatened a prison stay of two months before they’d even get their case heard. After paying a portion of the “bail,” Mr. Ingram and his travel partner were put into a hotel and told not to leave, not to contact a lawyer or their embassy, and cautioned that they were being watched. They eventually escaped and got the their embassy, where they learned they’d been victims of a classic Thai scam called the “zig-zag.”

An Irish woman was subjected to the same scam when she made a small purchase at the duty-free shop. She bought an item of makeup, which the shop clerk put in a bag; a customary practice, right? On leaving the shop she was surrounded by security guards shouting ‘You! You! You go jail six months.” The shopping bag contained an item not paid for. Did she steal it? Did the shop clerk plant it? Did the guards? The woman was held overnight “in filthy conditions,” and eventually had to pay up to free herself and her passport.

In her case, the Irish woman thought she had purchased two items. She paid by credit card but didn’t pay attention to how many hundreds of baht she was charged. Did the shop clerk intentionally charge for only one item, as a set up? Why, otherwise, did security immediately pounce on this customer?

Both of these examples begin with the company called King Power, which runs the airport duty-free shops, and both include collusion by government officials and others. King Power has tried to substantiate some of its accusations with surveillance video, and has three cases “explained” on its website.

In an article in the Irish Daily Mail, Andrew Drummond wrote that in Thailand (where he is based), this is called the “Monopoly scam, ”

not so much because of the high amounts of money involved but the fact that victims…could buy …˜Get out of jail’ cards to escape airport shoplifting charges. These …˜cards’ were letters issued by the local prosecutor and police.

Fake police with false ID at Bangkok airport. How is one to know what's real?

Fake police with false ID at Bangkok airport. How is one to know what's real?

Bangkok airport, it seems, is infested with scammers, corrupt officials, and according to the pictured article, pseudo-cops. There are more horror stories:

Paul Grant and Lynn Ward, both from the UK, separately reported another Bangkok airport scam. In this one, incoming passengers are instructed by a customs officer to put their duty-free items into their checked luggage when they retrieve it from the carousel, and that they should not declare the items, “or they will be prosecuted for smuggling.” When exiting the customs area, other customs agents “discover” the undeclared items, and levy hefty fines or threaten jail. ATMs are conveniently located beside the customs office, or travelers are escorted to machines in order to withdraw the large sums charged.

If you haven’t read this or another warning specifically about the shake-downs in Bangkok’s airport, you haven’t got a chance should you be chosen to be a victim.
© Copyright 2008-2009 Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.


  • YELM says:

    This story is enough to discourage anyone from traveling to these cities. What a world!

  • Tiger Mann says:

    I just canceled my vacation to Thailand that I was going to take next month and am going to Bali instead. I saw some of the replies from Kingpower and the Thai authorities. It sounds like they are in on the scam or don’t prosecute their police if found to be crooks. Let them see their tourism dollars evaporate.

  • Esteban says:

    It is imperative that Thailand gets hit the only way that it understands, and that is in the pocketbook. Do not travel to Thailand!

    The Royal Thai Police are in dire need of reform. They are paid very poorly, and they resort to bribery and extortion to compensate very early in their careers. Official police corruption is endemic, pervasive, and profound. It is, in short, synonymous with the institution, which is universally recognized within Thailand as nothing less than a national mafia.

    If you want a real story, investigate why the Chief of Police in Pattaya had to pay a million dollars US to get his job. Track where that money went. He paid it to his superiors, in cash. He paid it because he could recoup it through a vast variety of scams and rackets in that cesspool of a city. Doubtful? Look at his home. Look at his Mercedes. Look at the Rolex on his wrist. Investigate his accounts, and his real estate holdings. Ask yourself how a policeman, even a Chief of Police, can possibly be such a competent “businessman” that he makes so much money. It is clearly impossible to explain his lifestyle based on his official salary. Everyone in Pattaya knows the real deal. This is not rocket science.

    The only way to incite official reform and to begin to reverse the culture of corruption in Thailand is to humiliate the perpetrators, and to deprive them of their prey. When no one goes to Thailand on vacation, and when its reputation as the Land of Scams becomes more widely known, there will be an incentive to clean things up.

    Can it possibly work? Doubtful. Corruption is part of the national DNA. Officials at all levels are corrupt.

    But a start has to be made, somewhere, anywhere.


  • David says:

    Tiger Mann…
    We wish we could cancel our trip. We are going to Bangkok in November. We can’t get our money back so we’re going.
    Some of the stories are frightening…….
    Hope you have a scam free trip to Bali..

  • roger says:

    i am afraid. I was suposed to go to Bangkok in september with my family for seven days. Now we have talk to the travel agency and we are going to Singapore instead. We where very afraid of what has happen in Bangkok and we are honest people that don`t want to get involved in these things.

  • donald says:

    Yes, we are afraid what has happen at the Suvarnabhumi airport. Me and my family are going to other places instead. Thailand is geting more and more scary now days. they have big problem and we from Europe should of course go to other countries instead. Asia is big and beautiful.

  • Bambi says:

    Esteban, thanks for your insightful comment!

    Regarding corrupt cops in Bangkok, “Andy” wrote: “You are a temporary visitor and are seen more as an ATM than a respected guest.”

  • Exsapper says:

    What you should be asking yourself is how did they get these Fake ID’s to operate – that’s easy the Police run these gangs and everyone knows it that is how they operate. It is the same as the hundreds of illegal nationals here in Thailand working out at the airport the Police are running these people as well. The country is rotten to the core with corruption and the big problem is it is all covered up and the Foreign Embassies are as bigger problem as the Thais. This country is absolutely packed to the rafters with scum bags. We are working here so we put up with them but we ZERO trust, I do not blame you not wanting to come here I sure as hell would not visit Thailand for a Holiday, the days of this being a nice lovely holiday destination are long gone. Value for money go to Vietnam.

  • Exsapper says:

    An update this morning doing the rounds and this says it all – even the Prime Minister of Thailand now accepts even he can not do anything about the scams and all the goings on at the new airport as they are being run by very well connected Dark Forces (Politicians) so people this is not just low life scum bags running these scams, these are educated people with high connections and if you do get arrested here forget about the British Embassy here in Bangkok as it is packed with complete morons who spend more time drunk than anything else. Test there 24 hour hot line it never works, also beware a passport here if you loose the British embassy has a lovely little habit of charging hundreds of pounds to get a new one and they DO NOT give any free advise you pay for everything. More Brits died here in Thailand in 2008 than died in Iraq and AFGHANISTAN combined. Twice as many died in Thailand than in America where 20 times as many Brits visited. All information freely available from the websites.

  • mthompson says:

    beware… people were arrested after going through customs at bangkok. customs took people in the main hall and outside in the smoking areas by checking duty free bags. i was one. i had gone through customs and was buying a bottle of water in the main hall. they took me to one side and charged me £1,300 for having too many cigarettes i had got from doha. if you cannot get all the cash immediately (no cards !!) they put you in jail until your court case! you end up signing everything in thai script and haven’t got a clue what you are signing. beware. corruption. m uk does anyone know if this is illegal – ie After going through customs !!

  • Valerie in Australia says:

    Thanks everyone! I’m going to holiday in the Maldives.

  • Chris says:

    The official customs officers in Bankok airport stole our duty free after shave and perfume in front of us under the guise of some rule….corrupt. I am never going back to Thailand.

  • Chris, tell me more. Were these items that you purchased in the airport? Were the customs officers in the same airport? I’d like to hear how this worked.

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