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Bangkok's counterfeit card and ID emporium
From FBI cards to university degrees, fraudulent documents are just a two-hour wait away for any wannabe great pretender
If you want to fraudulently convince people you are an American FBI agent empowered with a "weapons permit," an Interpol "anti-terrorism" officer, a Qatar Airways "cabin attendant," or simply a French citizen, then Khao San Road's sleazy fake ID touts are waiting for you and your money.
Despite the easy, public availability of fake identification cards and other contrived documents, it is illegal under Thai law to make, sell, buy, possess or use them. Punishment can be severe.
New worldwide security laws enable authorities to immediately detain people who have a fake ID, even if you bought it as a mischievous souvenir.
On Bangkok's backpacker-friendly Khao San Road, however, hundreds of different fake ID cards are on display up and down the crowded street -- and lots of people are buying them. The cards are slick and professionally manufactured, based on genuine originals.
Customers can fill in any name, address, date of birth, and other information required on the card -- and add any person's photograph. No one cares if you use your real name and photo, or make up a name and offer someone else's picture. An hour or two later, the new card appears, smoothly laminated on hard plastic, and difficult to distinguish from the legal original.
Cheap opera tickets, Deutschland identities
Many delighted travelers eagerly pay 250 to 300 baht for a mint condition, turquoise-colored International Student Identity Card.
"I am buying three student cards for my friends," said an adult German man writing their names on a tout's notebook and choosing random universities. The German then handed over his cash, and three different mug shot photos.
"A girl I know said the cards work in Europe," he said, grinning. "She went to the opera, and got a student discount. Of course I am not student, but I want to try this card too."
The friendly English-speaking tout also offered an impressive-looking example of a German citizenship I.D., which read: "Bundesrepublik Deutschland Personalausweis" with a photo of "Jens Neumann" number "205821988."
"This card looks just like the real one I have," the stunned German said, reaching into his wallet and displaying the same card, issued to himself by the German government.
Even under close inspection, it was difficult to determine which document was fake. The only discernable difference was that the real one had hard-to-forge "security features" such as a hologram and colorful intaglio printing, visible if you tilt the card.
"I guess it is too expensive for them to make the hologram," the German said, marveling at the attempt to deceive.
More sinister uses
Large display boards, plastered with a dazzling selection of fake cards, have been erected above small tables all along Khao San Road, next to stalls selling Thai food, cheap clothes and souvenirs. Each table also has a thick album, showing about 300 different card choices.
Some appeared ideal for thieves and terrorists, such as photo identification cards to impersonate international airline and airport staff. For 600 baht anyone could buy, for example, a Qatar Airways "Cabin Attendant, Cabin Crew" staff card. The Qatar Airways sample in the tout's book showed the photo of "Ann Yeeshen Goh" number "05488.”
If discovered in your possession, police would probably suspect you of plotting to sneak through security cordons to attack an international airport or commercial flight. All of the cards on sale already show someone's name, photograph and other personal details, which the customer can change -- or keep as is.
Foreign drivers licenses are common, for 600 baht, including ones from various American states, plus Canada, Europe and Asia. Israeli drivers licenses show the buyer's name in English and Hebrew.
"It takes a little longer to make an Israeli drivers license, because we have to look up your name on Internet to change it to Hebrew," one tout explained.
Student cards are the cheapest, at about 250 to 300 baht, because a person's photograph is simply pasted onto a freshly printed plastic card, and covered with a clear sheet speckled with an official logo. Most of the other ID cards cost about 600 baht because the photo has to be laminated into the card, so it is completely smooth and flat, similar to the logo or other picture on a credit card.
I am buying three student cards for my friend. A girl I know says they work in Europe.
— German tourist
A larger, passport-sized "Republique Francaise Carte Nationale d'Identite" card was available, showing a photo of "James Harris" number "031125101743.” It costs 1,500 baht, because it is more difficult to produce. Similar to the 1,500 baht German citizen ID, it resembled the name page on a typical passport, but also lacked forgery-resistant security features.
Among the 600-baht cards, one purported to be of the powerful U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, issued to "George Papioannoy," a "Special Agent in Charge" -- complete with photo and right thumb print. It claimed to be from the "United States Department of Justice" and issued by the "Attorney General of the United States."
A 600-baht Federal Bureau of Investigation card included the confirmation "Weapons Permit: Yes" and also bore a photo and thumb print. A U.S. Department of Defense "Contractor" photo ID said "Darrell Boyd" was involved in the "United States Uniformed Services."
An "Interpol International Police, Department of Investigations" card for a "Special Agent, Anti-Terrorism Division,” showed "Dmytro Podvalnykov" from "Ukraine." A U.S. Social Security card was also on sale, but it did not need a photo -- just a name and number. An official-looking PADI "Open Water Diver" card, required for scuba rental, was also available.
Aren't fake IDs illegal?
Many of the touts said they were from Nepal or Burma, perhaps chosen by their employers because foreigners might be considered expendable in a crackdown. The touts said all the stalls were tiny franchises, owned by the same hidden people. It remained unclear why the fraudulent documents were allowed to be openly sold.
Khao San Road's fake card market has existed in public for decades. But blatantly offering thick albums with more choices to leaf through is a relatively new, expanded operation.
Gun-toting police wander past the stalls, totally unconcerned. Bangkok's Special Operations police said in an interview that people would be arrested if they used the fake cards within Thailand.
Police would also bust anyone producing fake Thai documents, they said, which is why the cards and other papers -- including a slew of 2,000-baht fraudulent university degrees and Teaching English as a Foreign Language certificates -- focused on foreign countries.
There were no displays offering passports, because that would flaunt a Thai law mandating up to 20 years imprisonment.
"Fabricating a false document or part of a document [or] adding, taking from, or otherwise altering a genuine document [or] putting a false seal or signature to a document," is considered counterfeiting
or forgery, says Thailand's Criminal Code.
"Thus changing the name or photo on an otherwise valid ID card would be considered forgery, and such forgeries could not legally be sold in Thailand," said Thailand-based lawyers James Finch of Chavalit, Finch & Partners, and Nilobon Tangprasit of Siam City Law Offices.
"Under Sections 264 and 268, anyone producing, selling or buying a false document such as a passport or ID card of another country, is exposed to imprisonment not exceeding three years, and receiving a fine not exceeding 6,000 baht, or both," the affiliated lawyers said when asked about Khao San Road's fake documents.
"Those producing bad, or low-quality forgeries, are also exposed to the criminal penalties mentioned above," Mr. Finch and Ms. Nilobon said in a joint statement.
"They would be described as forgeries because they are done, as set forth in Section 264, 'in order to make any person believe that such document is a genuine document ... ' Just because the quality is bad does not vitiate this intent."