Southeast Asia’s traffickers are targeting young and tech-savvy people to lure them into their devastating scams. The traffickers make adverts promising easy work and cushy benefits, drawing in thousands of young, educated victims.
When the victims arrive at their destinations they are held captive and forced to work in online scam centres known as “fraud factories.” These include love scams, crypto fraud, money laundering, and illegal gambling.
Cambodia in particular has become a hub for these scams, along with Thailand and Myanmar. Governments in Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Taiwan have also raised concerns about this trend.
One survivor, a 35 year old Taiwanese man named Yang Weibin, said he had seen an ad posted for a job offering a big salary, and accommodation in a luxury hotel in Phnom Penh. But when he arrived in Phnom Penh, several men drove him to a plain building on a deserted road, with a small room for him. Once there, he was told he could never leave his compound.
Another trafficking survivor, a Vietnamese man named Chi Tin, said he was forced to pose as a woman on social media. He was then forced to make several friends and convince them to join online gambling and lottery sites.
Another Vietnamese victim, a 15 year old girl, said she was beaten, electrocuted, and repeatedly sold to scam centres. Her face was disfigured, and she had dropped out of school after returning home, ashamed to face her friends.
Victims are told that they must pay for their freedom. Chi Tin’s family had to pay US$2,600 to free him. Those who don’t have the money to pay must attempt dangerous escapes.
One United Nations specialist in migrant protection in Asia-Pacific, Peppi Kiviniemi-Siddiq, said that many of the young victims graduated from universities with a lack of job opportunities.
Apart from them being tech savvy, another possible reason why traffickers target young people is that they can often speak more than one regional language.
In July, the US promoted Thailand from the “Tier 2 Watch List” up to “Tier 2” in their annual Trafficking In Persons Report. However, Thailand still has a long way to go, according to the report. Meanwhile, the ranking for Cambodia’s anti-trafficking efforts has dropped this year to Tier 3.
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