Yangon sees surge in scam call centres amid economic depression

Photo by Anjani Kumar on Unsplash.

Scam call centres, previously primarily associated with Myanmar’s lawless border regions, are making their way into Yangon, the country’s commercial hub, as reported by Radio Free Asia (RFA). The operators are exploiting the economic depression, using the surplus of inexpensive office spaces and the considerable pool of educated, unemployed locals in Yangon.

RFA’s investigation reveals that, unlike the call centres in regions such as Shwe Kokko, which is under the control of Chinese criminals and borders Mae Sot in Thailand, those in Yangon are said to operate in a conventional business environment free from worker exploitation.

RFA spoke to young individuals in Yangon who were quickly recruited for online sales positions after a brief interview over a messaging app. They were directed to MMB Tower, a contemporary office building located in Yangon’s centre, where they joined others from Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, China, and Thailand.

MMB Tower, previously the headquarters of Myanmar Mayflower Bank owned by tycoon Kyaw Win, was closed by the government in 2005 after receiving US sanctions for money laundering. It was in April 2022 that Win Win International E-Commerce registered its business on the fifth floor of the MMB Tower, which previously housed Yangon Airways. Following extensive renovations, job postings for the location began to appear on Facebook, Telegram, and Viber in October 2022.

Employees told RFA that they were assigned to manage multiple fake social media accounts to contact potential victims for romance and financial scams.

The monthly salary was reported to be 450,000 kyats (7,730 baht), an appealing sum considering Myanmar’s minimum daily wage of 4,800 kyats (85 baht). RFA also interviewed a man who claimed he worked for two months as a cyber scam recruiter at Junction City, a mixed-use complex in Yangon, reported Bangkok Post.

A recent report from the United Nations estimated that at least 120,000 people are forced into the cyber scam industry in Myanmar alone.

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Mitch Connor

Mitch is a Bangkok resident, having relocated from Southern California, via Florida in 2022. He studied journalism before dropping out of college to teach English in South America. After returning to the US, he spent 4 years working for various online publishers before moving to Thailand.

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