Card theft gang that targeted tourists busted

Card theft gang that targeted tourists busted

Pickpockets around Wat Phra Kaew swiped credit cards that gang members later scanned

An officer questions the accused card-theft ringleader identified only as Warongrit, 46, after a raid on a hotel room in Bangkok on Friday. (Photo supplied/Wassayos Ngamkham)
An officer questions the accused card-theft ringleader identified only as Warongrit, 46, after a raid on a hotel room in Bangkok on Friday. (Photo supplied/Wassayos Ngamkham)

An man accused of heading a credit card theft gang preying on tourists has been arrested along with two female accomplices in Chatuchak district of Bangkok

Officers from the Police Cyber Taskforce (PCT) and investigators from the Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB) apprehended the trio during a raid on a hotel room on Friday, said Pol Gen Theeradej Thamsuthee, commander of the MPB investigation division.

The suspects were identified only as Warongrit, 46, Jirapha, 39, and Manassnan, 44. He declined to give their surnames.

Seized from the room were four electronic data capture devices, 30 credit card slips, three mobile phones, two memo books with details of others involved in card thefts, and a roll of slips. Also seized were three sachets containing 4.6 grammes of crystal methamphetamine.

The suspects were charged initially with possessing illicit drugs.

The arrests followed an extended investigation into a pickpocketing gang preying on foreign tourists visiting the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, or Wat Phra Kaew.

The investigation found that the pickpockets were in fact part of a larger and highly organised operation, said Pol Maj Gen Theeradej.

Police subsequently learned on Jan 6 that Mr Warongrit was the leader of the gang. He was wanted on a warrant issued last October for possession of drugs with intent to sell and trying to smuggle drugs to South Korea.

The pickpockets who stole cards from tourists were Vietnamese and Chinese nationals. There were also Thais involved, said police.

Gen Theeradej Thamsuthee, commander of the Investigation Division at the Metropolitan Police Bureau, questions the alleged theft gang leader (Photo supplied/Wassayos Ngamkham)

Mr Warongrit was responsible for recruiting people to join the gang, according to investigators. He set up a “safe house” with electronic devices for use with stolen credit cards. He also had links with a Chinese call-centre scam boss named “Arwei”, said police.

The Thai gang leader changed his hideouts frequently to avoid arrest over the past four years, said investigators. He stayed at hotels in Bangkok and other areas.

During the raid on the hotel room in Soi Sueyai in Chatuchak district on Friday, the suspect locked himself in the bathroom where he reportedly deleted data from his mobile phones. The police team stormed the room to take him out.

During questioning, Mr Warongrit told police that he had run a hostel in Ratchathewi district of Bangkok, and had also worked as a land broker and a used car agent before his businesses were closed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In November last year, he came to know Mr Arwei, who assigned to acquire credit card readers. Mr Arwei told him the devices were intended to provide convenience for Chinese tourists who needed to get cash from their credit cards while in Thailand. Mr Arwei reportedly paid him 25-30% of the sums withdrawn against the credit card accounts.

The suspect told police that he contacted operators of hotels and shops to provide him with card reading devices and offered them service fees.

He claimed he later learned that those who brought credit cards to him to withdraw cash were in fact members of a theft gang.

Pol Maj Theeradej said he was not convinced by the suspect’s story. Authorities had firm evidence that he was a key member of the theft network, he added.

According to police, the suspect and his accomplices were responsible for stealing as much as 8 million baht a month.

Mr Warongrit and the two female suspects were handed over to Phahon Yothin police for further legal action.

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