How easy is it to obtain fake ID document in Thailand? Our author ventured underground to find out.

My excursion into Thailand’s world of passport thieves begins in Bangkok’s backpacker district around the Khao-San-Road. What you can buy here is usually cheap and not legal – fake Ray Ban sunglasses, pirated DVDs, fake Viagra pills.

Is there a new identity in this place? Thailand is considered one of the world’s largest transhipment centres for stolen passports. At the Khao-San-Road I stand in front of an advertising board praising fake IDs and documents. The sign stands in a dim shopping arcade and seems at first glance to belong to nobody. After half a minute, a woman in a flower dress approaches me. “What are you looking for?” she asks me in English. I answer: “German ID.” That’s enough for her: “Follow me!”

According to the findings of international criminal investigators, tourists lose thousands of travel documents here every year, more or less by chance. A large part finds its way into dark channels. In 2010, Thailand’s authorities smashed a criminal ring that allegedly supplied the terrorists behind the Madrid bomb attack ten years ago with false passports.

Two passengers of the lost flight MH370 were on board with passports that had previously been stolen from the Thai island of Phuket. It is considered the typical division of labor in the industry: passports are stolen in Phuket and sold in Bangkok.

Dirk Naumann confirms this. For twelve years he has been working as German Honorary Consul in Phuket and is closely following the flourishing business with passports: “We have a major problem with organized crime here. “In the case of the MH-370 passengers, I wasn’t the least bit surprised that the passports came from here.”

German identity cards are not exactly the focus of the thieves. In the high season, however, at least one German whose passport is gone visits him every week. About one in ten mentions theft, Naumann says. The others report their passports as lost. “But even these won’t all end up in the trash.”

Need a driver’s license or BahnCard?

But where do they end up instead? In Bangkok, the flower dress woman leads me through the shopping arcade to a stand with watercolor pictures of beaches and sunsets. But the core business is a different one. The shopkeeper, a 40-year-old Thai, introduces himself as Sonchai. He wears a mustache and a Hawaiian shirt and asks me to sit down on a small wooden stool.

Sonchai digs out two blue plastic folders. The samples of hundreds of ID cards can be found there: a Danish press card, a Lufthansa employee card, a New York driver’s license or a BahnCard, and Sonchai holds a sealed German ID card in front of my face. “1800 Baht,” he says – the equivalent of 40 euros.

The document looks real, but it’s not what I’m looking for. To keep in touch with Sonchai, I order a BahnCard from him for 1300 Baht, just under 30 Euro. Sonchai’s prices have nothing to do with how valuable an ID card is or what you could do with it.

A BahnCard 100 costs the same as a BahnCard 50 or a driving license. The identity card is only slightly more expensive because it is more expensive to produce. I give Sonchai a photo and my signature on a blank sheet of paper. I want it scanned and printed on the back of my fake BahnCard.