Transitional Organized Crimes in Thailand

The Foreign Criminal Gangs in Thailand

By Dr. Nathee Chitsawang

The Foreign Criminal Gangs in Thailand
Due to the radical developments in the international trade, investment, tourism and transportation, the movement of population has been greatly facilitated. As a result, there is a growing trend in the volume of migration and travelling from one country to another. It is undeniable that the criminal gang is also another group of people enjoying the benefit from these developments as it has become easier for them to escape over the
borders between nations to perpetrate crimes.
Thailand is one of the countries favoring the policy aimed at promoting the tourism industries. There are various measures for eliminating the restriction on the border crossing in order to facilitate the travelling of the tourists and the foreigners to come to
visit and do business in Thailand. Because of this, the foreign criminal gangs are likely to consistently take advantage from this gap and escape into the Kingdom of Thailand to carry out crimes.
Nevertheless, the patterns of crimes committed by the foreigners are quite new and infrequent in Thailand. Although in reality, there are occurrences in other countries before. The reason is that their techniques have been changed and adapted to Thai society. In fact, the pattern and technique of crime tend to be changing and developing all the time. Thus, the law enforcement agencies in Thailand must enhance their knowledge in order to effectively deal with these new types of crimes done by the foreign criminal gangs. However, the key point is that most of the police officers responsible for initiating the prosecution against the criminal gangs are likely to be rotated and assigned to work in the new divisions. As such, the agencies are unable to collect and manage the shared knowledge regarding the identity and crime techniques as well as the strategies of the non-citizen criminals to win their cases in courts.  Therefore, the objectives of this study were to examine the identities of the foreign criminal gangs entering the Kingdom of Thailand to carry out crimes, and also to analyze the problems and significant obstacles to prevent and suppress this type of offence. Furthermore, this study intend to discover the best practices in managing and dealing with the foreign criminal gangs.
The data were collected from the crime news clipping during 2008 -2014 and form in-depth interview from group of 20 police officers who were very experienced and successful in preventing and suppressing the non-citizen criminal gangs. In the final step, the
knowledge was managed and shared with the police staff in other police stations so that they would be aware and understand the appropriate methods for dealing with the non-native criminal groups in Thailand.
It is worth noting that the scope of this study was only a group of the foreigners who formalized their plan in advance while they are still reside in their countries, before entering Thailand and committing property crimes. Meanwhile, they may share some links with other criminal gangs. Thus, this study did not focus on the other types of
crimes, such as the transnational crime which was the offence that the perpetrator was living outside the country while the damages and impact of crime still happened in Thailand. Also, there were other groups excluded from this study: those who did not gather in gangs or groups to perpetrate crimes. In addition, it is important to emphasize that the major offence focused in the study was the property crime.
Identities and behaviors of the foreign criminal gangs
             According to the data from Thai Department of Corrections regarding the foreign inmates in 2013, among the total 10,569 foreigners coming from 101 countries in Thai prisons there are approximately 860 property offenders (1). However, according to the study it is found that there are approximately 22 gangs of foreigners committing property crimes which can be generally classified by their crime patterns as follows:
 1) The credit card and ATM frauds
The first group is usually recognized as the expert in the credit card and the ATM frauds by using the skimmer device. Overall, their crime pattern in Thailand is varied. For example, they might buy the personal information and data of the victims who are the non-native customers of the banks abroad to withdraw cash in Thailand. Besides, they are likely to skim or secretly obtain the information from the electronic device like an ATM of Thai victims. Due to the up-to-date technology, they can successfully skim the information within a short period of time. The stolen data can be installed and recorded on the electronic cards in order to withdraw money from the accounts. In fact, the total process may take only 30 seconds including the installation of the victims’ data on the computer which are always ready to be immediately destroyed in case that they are finally arrested. Surprisingly, an electronic card can keep many data of the victims at the same time. Therefore, this type of gang can obtain large amount of money after spending time at night withdrawing money from many ATM accounts. The reasons as to why they tend to commit crimes during night-time were that in the western countries, the night-time in Thailand is usually day-time there. Besides, they can be easily disguised when processing the ATM machines throughout the country at night.
Additionally, there are some gangs from the European countries involved in the skimming of credit and ATM cards and are also recognized as the experts since they have used this technique to commit crime throughout Thailand. Normally, the skimmer device will be imported from Spain by post. After that, the fake credit card will be made by using the data of ATM and credit cards from the southern part of Thailand. The target of using the fake credit card is to purchase products at the shopping malls, jewelry shops, or even to withdraw cash. On top of that, they might attach the skimmer device at the ATM machines near the famous tourist attractions. After acquiring the data, they will instantly withdraw cash of the victims from the ATM. For instance, in Sukhumvit area, the perpetrators usually spend the stolen money on buying the gold ornament or the computer and then bring them back to their countries of origin. Some of them might not prefer buying things but choosing to transfer the money back.
2) The financial identity theft
This type of gang is usually the theft of data of the banks and financial institutions via the internet by spreading the computer virus ‘Trojan’ to hack the victims’ data. By doing this, they can easily discover the password and login of the accounts’ owners while they
are doing financial transactions online. As for the pattern, this gang will transfer the money to the bank accounts of their nominees or other accounts. According to the police investigation, it is found that the theft gangs stealing money from the bank accounts tend to have their leaders or big bosses living abroad. In addition, there is also another type of gang making the fake credit cards by installing the data of customers in France and Scandinavia countries and then use them to withdraw money from ATM situated in the tourist attractions. Moreover, they are likely to attach the hidden skimmers at the ATM machines in Bangkok and other well-known provinces in order to steal the data of the banks’ customers and withdraw the money by inserting the fake credit or debit cards in many provinces, particularly in the province of Phuket. Currently, it is worth mentioning that there is a small skimmer device having the same size of the cigarette lighter used by the gangs to obtain the information from the customers by convincing and persuading them to show their cards. After that, the gangs will secretly obtain the data and use them to get money from many different places. Among these gangs, some of them might use the skimmer device to hack data from abroad and use it to withdraw money in Thailand. Moreover, they might use the small camera placed at the ATM machine in order to steal the card data and then use it in other countries.
3) The house burglary
 This type of crime is mostly carried out by the South American gangs coming to do illegal acts in Thailand. Generally, there are 4 major gangs, such as, firstly, the house burglary. The house burglars like to drive the cars, escape from the security guards and then enter through the house estates to ring the bells in front of the houses. If there is no one living in the property, they will go inside and steal the house owners’ belongings, especially the safe because this gang is the expert in cracking the safe and taking the small luxurious items. In some cases, they might use numerous types of electronic tools and devices, such as the mobile signal jammer, fake license plates. Having said that, it should be noted that this gang tends to dress very well and imitate the parking and entrance stickers to be able to enter through the house estates. Secondly, some of the gangs are able to steal the safe deposit boxes at the banks. However, it is found that they might cooperate with the Thai women to rent the apartment and keep the stolen items for them. Nevertheless, they will not communicate with each other directly but rather use the phone call programme from the internet.
The third gang tends to commit a normal and basic theft, i.e. breaking the car’s window to steal some precious items. On the contrary, some gangs have become the experts in committing the more advanced and complicated crimes by stealing the diamonds in Asian countries. This gang will consistently go to the diamond and jewelry shows. Because of the meticulous planning, the gang members will be able to hide from the CCTV and many monitors to steal the diamonds. In some cases, they might have followed and observed the victims several days in a row before committing crimes, particularly when the victims are careless or absent-minded. Typically, the criminals will steal the diamonds from the vehicles or from the jewelry shops and even at the place holding the diamond show or exhibition. Finally, there is also a gang that can commit crime by destroying the ATM machines or utilising the large metal cutting tool to steal the money out of the machines.
4) The black money scam
 This scam has been usually employed by the gangs from African nations which have the similar pattern and behavior. To give some examples, the black money or the ‘black dollar’ scam or ‘wash wash’ scam, is the attempt to fraudulently obtain money from a victim by persuading him or her that piles of banknote-sized paper in a trunk or a safe is really money which has been dyed black or another color. The victim is persuaded to pay for chemicals to wash the ‘money’ with a promise that he will share in the proceeds. At first, they might use the real black banknotes but when the victims believe, they will use the fake papers and then escape. Some gangs have the similar behaviors in doing a ‘romance’ scam on the internet which aims at the romantic intentions towards a victim, gaining their affection, and then using that goodwill to commit fraud by claiming that they need the money for their wedding reception. Fraudulent acts may involve access to the victims’ money. After obtaining the money, they will close the website and escape.
5) The hotel theft
 The gangs from the Middle East countries tend to commit this type of crime which is the hotel theft. To put it simply, the offenders steal the precious items in the hotel rooms or the accommodation of the tourists by making the fake passports and using it to check in the hotel as the guests. They might copy the keys, keycards of the hotels and come back later to open the safe and steal other customers’ belongings. This type of gang tends to choose the big and famous cities in Thailand, including Bangkok as their crime scenes. Some of them might use the methods of replacing the money with the fake banknotes and deceive the victim to steal that amount of money. In fact, they have many types of techniques to deceive people to believe and become the victims of crimes. Considering the hotel room theft, after opening the safety – deposit box, they will sell all the items and divide the total amount of money gained among the gang members. In case of the credit card, they usually use it at the shopping mall to buy expensive goods.
6) The basic crimes: pickpocketing, motorcycle or vehicle theft
 Southeast Asian countries have become the place dealing with the basic crimes. Apart from Singapore and Brunei, the property criminals come from almost all ASEAN nations because they are neighboring countries and the travelling between nations is easy and not expensive. According to the study, the crimes committed by ASEAN criminals tend to be drug and property offences which do not need high technology but have to possess important skills to commit basic crimes. For instance, some gangs like to do pickpocketing by stealing the money or famous Apple IPhone and other smartphones without their noticing the theft at the time. This type of criminal likes to hide themselves in the big and very crowded concerts in which that they are able to fly over to commit crimes and fly back in the same day after knowing the schedule of the events. The pickpocketing can be also done at the large shopping malls and in some places, the tourists in Thailand can be robbed, and their personal items might be stolen. Furthermore, the foreign criminal gangs in ASEAN tend to be involved with the motorcycle and vehicle theft near the borders.
Some gangs have been disguised as the labor force entering Thailand to work. This leaves the gap in that the gang members can work and also commit crimes towards the Thai people and also those from their nations. In ASEAN countries, some gangs also use the skimming of the ATM by obtaining information from the customers of the banks and use the data to withdraw the cash from the ATM in other provinces. They get large amount of money and then transfer it to the gang leaders living abroad.
Generally, it could be said that the foreign criminal gangs committing crimes in Thailand
especially the property crimes tend to use high technology and specific expertise in the
robbery and also the basic crimes such as the thieves, fraud. It is noted that the crimes
committed by the western and some ASEAN countries tend to be more advanced and
complicated while those from Africa, South Asia and Middle East are likely to be
involved with less advanced crimes. As for the criminal gangs from ASEAN countries,
they usually commit the basic crimes, such as theft, fraud and robbery because it is
easier for them to cross the Thai’s border. Additionally, their identities are quite similar
to Thai people. As such, most people do not notice them but instead give them an
opportunity to disguise into the crowd or even spend time in a bank and financial
company without any notice from other people. When they finish committing the
crimes, they can then go back home easily as the transportation expense is not
expensive. Because of this, they tend to commit minor crimes or low-volume crimes in
order to get some profits from the crimes. Most of them do not have any skills to commit
the advanced crimes. Conversely, the western people are likely to commit crime which
brings about high-volume of money in order to be certainly worth to the travelling
expense. In addition, there are new technologies which have never been used before in
Thailand. Hence, the Thai people are foreign to the new techniques, therefore they can
easily become the crime victims. The crimes which need the personal contacts, for
example, appearance in front of the victims will help the victim to see the differences in
terms of the identity and outside look. Therefore, the western criminals will not commit
that type of crime (see figure 1 for brief details)
It is discovered that the factors leading to the increase in the foreign criminal gangs
committing property crimes in Thailand are: the policy supporting the tourism
industries and the need to generate some flows among the foreigners arriving in
Thailand. Because of these, the members of foreign criminal gangs have increasingly
come to commit offences in Thailand. According to the research, there are at least 22
countries having members of the criminal gangs coming to perpetrate property crimes
in Thailand and the nationalities of these groups do not need the visa to enter the
Kingdom of Thailand. Hence, they can enter Thailand easily. In some cases that they are
on the black list, being banned from crossing the Thai border, they tend to change their
names and make fake passports. As for those countries needed the visa to enter
Thailand, it is found that the gangs like to make fake passports and different types of
visas to escape into Thailand. Also, there are many techniques to escape at the borders
in the far areas, ex. in the southern and northern parts of Thailand because in the past,
the monitor and surveillance system is not as strict and effective as the normal
procedures in Bangkok.
The limitations of the restriction of the entrance and exit of the country makes it easier
for the members of criminal gangs to commit crimes in Thailand. Some of them might
enter the country in the morning, commit crime(s) and then go back to their country in
the same day. Another factor is the development of the technology which helps the
perpetrators to commit crimes easier, such as the skimmer which is the electronic
device able to steal the data of the credit and debit cards and make fake cards to
withdraw the money. This type of crime does not need any weapons or physical abuses
or even the directly confrontation between the victims in person but the victims’
properties are still able to be stolen via the computer network without any notices by
the victim.
Further, the important factor is the implementation of the law in different countries
which do not enforce the same punishment. Therefore, the criminal gangs may decide to
carry out crimes in the countries where the punishment is not severe and there is high
possibility that they will not be arrested easily. The gangs breaking the window of the
car and steal precious belongings in the cars revealed that they had examined and
compared the laws in ASEAN member countries and agreed that the laws in Thailand
were less harsh. Because of this, they came to Thailand to commit crimes. Moreover, the
skimmer gangs also claimed that they decided to commit crime in Thailand because
they believed that it was a new technology and people would not be aware of this type
of crime, especially the victims and the financial institutions. In other words, they could
commit this crime easily, the victims were not aware, the chance of being arrested was
low and they could escape outside the country immediately after committing crimes.
Problems in preventing and suppressing the foreign criminal gangs
The problems in suppressing and preventing the foreign criminal gangs in Thailand are
that the police officers responsible for dealing with these crimes tend to be rotated and
moved to another position. Accordingly, these experienced police officers who are the
experts in dealing with the criminal gangs might move to work in another area where
this type of crime is not frequently occurred. Also, the non-experienced officers come to
replace the positions in the areas that the criminal gangs from overseas commit crimes.
Consequently, the prevention and suppression measures are not constantly
implemented because the officers do not have expertise and knowledge or specific
skills, i.e. the techniques indicating the origins of these foreign criminal gangs, the
language is also another problem. English is not the only language in which the officers
have to be familiar with, but there are also other languages which are less common.
Therefore, resulting in difficulties to find interpreters to make communication more
effective. As such, the process of investigation is very slow and becomes troublesome.
These tend to happen in the cases of the alleged perpetrators, the victims and the
witness are foreigners. It seems that there are many times the police officers have to
exclude the witness.
In addition, because of the fact that the foreign criminal gangs are likely to choose the
foreigners to be the victims, especially the tourists, the process should be taken very
fast because the victims have to go back to their own countries. Therefore, the criminal
process could not be done fully and many cases that the offenders could be freed finally.
The factor regarding the movement of the offenders is also another problem because
the offenders tend to commit crime and then escape from the country. Accordingly, the
police officers could not arrest them immediately. The visa and immigration processes
for those entering the Kingdom of Thailand can be the factor helping to prevent the
crimes. By doing this, they must have hi-tech and effective equipment.
Finally, the most crucial factor is the knowledge about the foreign criminal gangs in
terms of the behaviors and the techniques used in committing crimes which is very
important and needed to be shared to the responsible officers because the criminal
gangs are developing and changing the offending pattern all the time. Hence, there must
be the sharing of knowledge and developing skills from those who are experienced and
skillful in dealing with the cases of foreign criminal gangs (Tacit Knowledge) to the
officers coming to replace their jobs. Because of this, the knowledge will be shared and
learned all the time although some of them might be transferred to work in different
position. The staff coming to take the jobs can still have knowledge to do the cases.
This study aims to analyze the identities and behaviors of the foreign criminal gangs
perpetrating crimes in Thailand, and also to examine the problems of the police officers
in preventing and dealing with this type of crime. The data were collected from the
experienced and skillful officers who are able to share the best practice in order to make
it as the collection of knowledge and print it out as the handbook for other operating
officers in the future.
1. Prisoners statistic 2013, Retrieved 15 January 2014, from