Police arrested Pasit Ariyalapit, founder and chief executive of food supplement company WealthEver over a bogus three day trip to Japan during Songkran.
Pasit, 31, was picked up by police in Ranong province after five of his relatives were detained for questioning. Pasit, whose original name was Sahachom Nakharit, changed her first and family names 10 times between 2000 and last September, according to a police source familiar with the investigation.
Six criminal cases were filed against her including embezzlement and swindle over the past five years. She also faced three arrest warrants in 2012, 2015 and 2016. According to police, WealthEver’s office turned out to be a home address in Nakhon Sawan province, while its registered capital was only Bt2 million.
Reacting to the widespread fallout of the case, the Tourism and Sports Ministry said it would seek cooperation from Facebook and Line social media platforms to help prevent dishonest businesses from luring customers to join Ponzi and similar schemes.
Tourism Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul said most customers of WealthEver were attracted to its low-priced tour packages to Japan via social media where the company’s cheap holiday incentive was advertised.
Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific also filed charges with police against the Thai firm for falsely using the Hong Kong-based airline’s name as the provider of the chartered flights.
According to police, each of the customers were lured into buying food supplements worth Bt13,000-Bt15,000 from WealthEver in return for a free return trip to Japan.
Kobkarn said this type of fraud was new in Thailand but the damage was wide-ranging because hundreds of people were cheated via online media so authorities would have to gather more evidence to file criminal charges against the firm and its executives.
So far more than 30 people have filed complaints at the Crime Suppression Division while others said they would file complaints at local police stations after returning to their hometowns.
The tourism minister said officials are finding ways to enforce tourism and related laws against WealthEver, which said it did not provide tour services but only offered holiday packages to customers who bought its products as an incentive.
Pongpanu Sawetarun, permanent secretary at the Tourism Ministry, said rules and regulations would be amended to cover dishonest tour and related businesses that use online media to cheat unsuspecting customers. In addition, various government agencies will have to join forces to crack down on illegal Ponzi or pyramid schemes that lure customers to their networks.
At present, the tourism industry has faced more complaints on dishonest onlined tour operators and trave agents which may not have any physical offices, making it difficult for authorities to take legal actions against them.
Krisnut Meesamran, vice president of the Thai Travel Agents Association, said WealthEver had offered its tour packages to Japan free of charge to customers who bought its food supplements worth 13,000-15,000 per person.
About two months ago, the association issued a warning to its members to be cautious about providing travel services to the firm because the price was unusually low for Japan-bound packages, which start at Bt30,000-40,000 per person.
He said customers cannot get compensation if they use unlicensed travel service providers, such as in this case.
Meanwhile, Pornchai Thiraveja, director-general of the Fiscal Policy Office, said Finance Ministry officials had been jointly investigating with police whether executives of WealthEver had violated the law by offering the Ponzi scheme.
So once again the old adage applies,”If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is !”