MALAYSIA: In a harrowing incident that unfolded on the bustling streets of Bangkok, five tourists hailing from Malaysia recounted their narrow escape from a potentially perilous situation, suspecting foul play from an e-haling driver during their return journey.
The incident came to light when Andrew Tong, one of the travellers, took to Facebook on Tuesday (5 Sept), to share the hair-raising ordeal that he and his companions endured while exploring the vibrant city of Bangkok.
During their recent trip to Thailand’s capital, the group, comprising two men and three women, opted to utilize a ride-hailing service to secure a private-hire car for their voyage back to the airport.
From the moment they entered the vehicle, an Isuzu D-Max, Mr Tong sensed that something was awry.
The heavily tinted windows and the driver’s suspicious behaviour, which included making phone calls and probing about their origins, set off alarm bells.
Andrew Tong, who possessed proficiency in Thai, overheard the driver’s phone conversation.
To their astonishment, the driver was allegedly providing a detailed description of their group composition and reporting their every move to an undisclosed individual on the other end of the line.
“Right now, in the car, there are three people (females) and two of their friends from Malaysia, both male and female,” Mr Tong recollected, quoting the driver’s conversation.
“A typical driver wouldn’t offer such comprehensive explanations. Typically, drivers engage in phone conversations, often via video calls, with their spouses or family members,” Mr Tong remarked.
Tong translated the conversation between the driver and the other person for my friends sentence by sentence.
“That’s when I heard him tell the other person that there was someone here who understands Thai and translates very clearly,” Mr Tong claimed that the e-hailing driver was reporting their every move to the person on the other end of the phone.
In a bid to assess the situation, the passengers consulted the Waze app, which indicated a 30-minute travel time to the airport.
However, the driver’s Google Maps displayed a longer 50-minute route. Sensing danger, the group decided to request a restroom stop.
The driver’s demeanor immediately soured as he vehemently refused to stop at the suggested location, citing potential police interference.
According to Tong, the driver allegedly told the other person that the group requested to get out of the car to use the restroom, and he suspected that the group were planning to escape.
“We felt that something was definitely wrong. Without thinking too much, we immediately opened the car door on the main road and hurriedly retrieved our luggage. ”
Tong asserted that the driver appeared taken aback when they exited onto the busy thoroughfare.
Additionally, he made no effort to inquire or demand payment from them, deepening the passengers’ suspicion of his initial alleged malevolent intent.
“It’s truly fortuitous that we recognized the precarious situation early on and managed to disembark from the vehicle. Otherwise, the consequences could have been unimaginable!” Mr. Tong recollected.
He expressed gratitude that their timely exit coincided with heavy traffic and praised their courageous friend for having the resolve to open the car door and leave.
“It felt like a scene from a movie turned into reality, ” Tong added.
Mr Tong pointed out that the ride-hailing driver had previously served over 600 passengers, underscoring the importance of exercising caution in a world fraught with risks.
He urged people to approach each situation with vigilance, as it could represent the last line of hope for preserving one’s life.
Furthermore, Tong clarified that sharing their story was not an attempt to incite panic or dissuade individuals from visiting Thailand.
Instead, it was intended to remind people to opt for local taxi drivers, utilize map applications, and keenly observe the behaviour of their drivers.
However, Mr Tong in his post did not specify whether they had reported the incident to Thai authorities, leaving the door open for suggestions from netizens on the appropriate course of action.
UN report exposes Thailand’s rising role as a hub for illicit operations
Earlier, the United Nations (UN) released an alarming report a concerning report that highlights the ASEAN region has become a hotbed for online scammers, victimizing hundreds of thousands of individuals globally through human trafficking schemes specifically designed for online fraud.
The report specifically pointed out Thailand’s growing role as a transit country for these illicit operations.
Traffickers transport people into Thailand before moving them across the border to neighbouring states.
Additionally, trafficked individuals often transit through Thailand as they are shuffled between different fraudulent operations.
As an example, the UN report mentioned that citizens of Vietnam were initially trafficked into Myanmar and subsequently re-trafficked to Cambodia via Thailand.
Indeed, the concerning pattern of human trafficking has received further validation through insights shared by Géraldine Ansart, Chief of Mission for the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
During a recent interview with Thai media PBS World, she revealed that some victims of human trafficking were initially recruited online.
These individuals underwent interviews where they were shown what they believed to be images of the compounds where they were informed they would be employed.
However, upon their arrival, a startling turn of events unfolded. They were swiftly relocated to different, often remote, locations, such as those in Northern Thailand.
Then, surreptitiously, they were made to cross international borders without their knowledge.
“They ended up in these compounds guarded by armed guards and were unable to leave unless they would pay a large amount of money or escape, ” she added.
Reports suggest that a variety of scams, including romance scams, cryptocurrency fraud, and online phishing schemes, have been orchestrated from locations in Myanmar, situated in close proximity to the Thai border.
UN Report estimates over 220 thousands victims in Myanmar and Cambodia coerced into becoming online scammers
The UN report estimates that at least 120,000 people in Myanmar and 100,000 in Cambodia have been coerced into becoming online scammers.
The report also alerted that individuals are lured in by social media ads promising easy jobs and luxurious amenities, only to be deceived into travelling to countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar, and Thailand.
“In some instances, people have attempted to escape, including by jumping from compounds or swimming across rivers (such as from Myanmar to Thailand or Cambodia to Vietnam), but these efforts often end unsuccessfully, either in death or severe punishment upon recapture,” the OHCHR stated.
In June 2023, Thailand was ranked in Tier 2 for two consecutive years in the US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report 2023.