PHUKET: A Phuket expat of 36 years has stepped forward to explain an in-depth scam involving a man wearing a police uniform claiming to be from Phuket Town Police Station extorting tens of thousands of baht by threatening the expat with 10 years in jail for receiving illicit funds.
The scam began last Wednesday (Feb 3), when the expat, Swiss national Alain Gogniat, 58, received a phone call telling him a FedEx parcel could not be delivered.
“It was an automated message, asking me to ‘Push #1’ to talk to someone about it,”
“At first I just ignored it, but I kept getting the same phone call, about 10 times,” Alain told The Phuket News.
By coincidence, Alain was genuinely expecting documents from Switzerland to be delivered by FedEx, so he finally agreed to ‘Push #1’ during the phone call.
He was put through to a woman who explained, not that a parcel could not be delivered to him, but that a parcel sent in his name was being held by police in Bangkok.
The woman said that the parcel had been intercepted by Customs.
“She said it was being held because it contained 20 passports and 10 credit cards hidden among some clothes,” Alain explained.
“The woman said the parcel was addressed to be delivered to an address in South Korea. She said it was sent under my name.
“It was strange. They knew my mobile number, address and that I am Swiss. The woman said that the DSI [Department of Special Investigations] in Bangkok was involved and that I must speak with police in Phuket Town,” he added.
“I thought it must have been a misunderstanding,” Alain noted.
The woman asked Alain to hold while she connected him to a person who introduced himself as an officer at Phuket Town Police Station. The “policeman” gave details of the case, and asked to move the conversation to a LINE group so a video conference call could be held
Alain joined the conference call, which was made through a LINE group called “Mueang Phuket Provincial Police Station” (the same as the official name used in full in Thai) ‒ complete with a photo background of the actual Phuket Town Police Station and the Royal Thai Police emblem. The contact info presented in the LINE group account was the correct details for contacting the actual Phuket Town Police Station.
The man addressing Alain was wearing a police uniform, but wearing a face mask common now since the beginning of the pandemic, obscuring his face.
The “officer” repeated the details of the “case” and asked Alain to confirm details of his address, passport number, driver’s license and one of his bank accounts.
“He asked for the last four digits of my account, which I gave, because there is nothing anyone can do with that,” Alain said.
The officer asked Alain if could speak Thai ‒ he can speak conversational Thai, but is not fluent enough to hold a conversation involving legal matters ‒ but his 14-year-old son Nong Ananda (or “Nong Nano”) was sitting right beside him and started translating for Alain.
The policeman sent images of documents explaining the sections of law Alain was facing investigation for, and kept repeating that Alain was facing 10 years jail or a B200,000 fine for receiving funds procured through illegal activities.
The policeman had Nong Ananda read out the sections of the Criminal Code over and over again, saying that he needed to start again every time there was some background noise.
“Then he asked if I had received two payments in the past few days, one of B800,000 and another of B900,000,” Alain said.
The “officer” then sent photos of two men arrested in Bangkok, one Nigerian and one Thai man.
Both were genuine caught criminals already reported in the media.
The “officer” said that one of the men had told police that he had transferred B800,000 to Alain, and that the other had told police that he had transferred B900,000 to Alain.
Both said the payments were “commission” for his role in their illegal activities,” the “officer” explained.
“The policeman played a nice game. He started by saying he thought I was a victim, that the men might have used my bank account without me knowing; that I had been scammed,” Alain said.
“The officer said that he now had to pass the information he had to the DSI, but he also said that I now had to prove that I did not receive the 800k and 900k payments,” Alain continued.
“He asked me to open my accounts online and show him the balances and recent transactions to prove this. That was when I started to get suspicious. This went on for a long time. By this stage the call had already been going on for 90 minutes,” Alain noted.
“So I also asked the man [the ‘officer’] to widen the angle of the camera so I could see better, and then I could clearly see that the man was wearing a Thai police uniform,” he said.
Now the “officer” changed his tune. He said that although Alain might be a victim of the criminals’ activities, right now under aThai law Alain was guilty of the sections of the Criminal Code previously, repeatedly, read out.
“He kept repeating this. Saying I was now guilty and that I would go to jail and/or be fined,” Alain said.
“I couldn’t believe it. I had always laughed at other stories of people being scammed, saying ‘No, this couldn’t happen to me’ ‒ but now I was thinking that I was in serious trouble,” he added.
“I have lived in Phuket for 36 years, and been an expat in Thailand for 38 years, and I have never been scammed. But this was scary. All it takes is the wrong police officer to be involved in something, and well, if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time… life is very cheap here,” he said.
“So I showed him my three accounts online. One had a B57,000, a second had B23,000, and the third had just a few thousand baht.
“The officer said I had to transfer the B57,000 so it could be investigated. The source of the funds will have to be verified and will be returned within 30 to 45 minutes. He also asked if there were any other accounts. such as overseas accounts, which I do not,” he added.
“At this stage I started to record the conversation,” Alain noted.
“This went on and on, and I refused. The officer said this was standard procedure and that the money would be returned after it had been investigated,” he said.
“All this time my son was becoming very scared that I was in real trouble and that I would go to jail. He kept pleading with me to just transfer the money to fix the problem for now, and that we could get the money back later.
“In the end, I gave in, and transferred the money,” Alain admitted.
The money was transferred to a Kasikornbank account in the name of Pongdanai Chaiya.
“This ended the call, but then the officer kept calling back asking for me to transfer money from the other accounts. I refused. He kept calling and calling, more than 20 times, and kept asking for me to transfer more money. I refused,” Alain said.
In all, the entire shakedown lasted more than four hours, Alain noted.
Past the point of believing the call was genuine, despite the man wearing a police uniform and the LINE group call being made from what appeared to be the genuine Mueang Phuket Police Station LINE account, Alain went to Phuket Town Police Station to report the incident.
“By that time it was too late to stop the transaction. We kept calling the officer who called me back, but this time there was no answer,” Alain said.
Alain filed a short initial complaint, and was told to come back the next day to sign the full formal complaint, which was some five pages long.
In filing his complaint, Alain submitted screenshots, recordings and call logs, all substantiating his report of the scam being committed.
The officer who recorded the complaint, Pol Lt Col Sakchai Chunyong, Inspector (Investigation) of Phuket Town Police Station, said that he was now under pressure from “the boss” to make sure the complaint was filed fully, and quickly.
“I was told they were scammers for sure, and that they looked like a very well practiced international group of scammers,” Alain noted.
“When I went back to the police station to file the full complaint, they said they had already identified the man who had received the money, and said that he was in Chiang Mai,” Alain said.
Police have since told Alain that they are waiting for the bank to confirm the account registration details, so they can then serve Mr Pongdanai a summons to present himself at a police station in Chiang Mai, or at Phuket Town Police Station, for questioning.
“I can laugh about it now, but at that time I was really scared. I just want other foreigners to know that this happened, and not to be deceived by such thieves. Do not send anyone money, even if they appear to be police officers,” Alain said.
“I don’t want to see anyone lose money to these thieves, and I would like to ask the police to arrest these people and prosecute them according to the law,” he added.
Police are continuing their investigation into the case.