Readers' Submissions

AOT X-Ray Security Scam

  • Written by Anonymous
  • June 16th, 2011
  • 11 min read



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 its 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 an 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 minutes 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 entering 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 spoke to 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. Their 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.


Stickman's thoughts:

The scenario you outline could have happened and there are cases all over the world of thefts at airport staff, including at some airports in Western countries. So the scenario you paint is plausible. With that said, I absolutely do not believe that the footage would have been tampered with in the way that you suggest. That would require a very sophisticated operation and while possible, nah, I just don't believe it. That just does not seem likely to me. I'm going to stick my neck out here and suggest that perhaps you lost the money somewhere else…