Thousands of people, many with tech skills, have been lured by social media advertisements promising well-paid jobs in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, only to find themselves forced to defraud strangers worldwide via the internet.
Wesley spent 45 days held captive at a compound in Myanmar’s southeastern border town of Myawaddy, and given a list of about 3,500 names that he had to contact via Facebook, Instagram or dating apps.
“We were trained on how to flirt, chat about hobbies, everyday routine, likes and dislikes. In roughly 15 days, the trust would be built and the client would be willing to take our advice on investing in crypto,” he said.
People don’t realise it, but they do share a lot of information on social media platforms. If you follow someone’s social media for just 15 days, you will glean a lot of information about them.
Dhanya Menon, director, Avanzo Cyber Security Solutions
The cybercrime rings first emerged in Cambodia, but have since moved into other countries in the region and are targeting more tech-savvy workers, including from India and Malaysia.
Authorities in these countries and United Nations officials have said they are run by Chinese gangsters who control gambling across southeast Asia and are making up for losses during the pandemic lockdowns.
The experts say the trafficked captives are held in large compounds in converted casinos in Cambodia, and in special economic zones in Myanmar and Laos.
“The gangs targeted skilled, tech-savvy workers who had lost jobs during the pandemic and were desperate, and fell for these bogus recruitment ads,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch.
“Authorities have been slow to respond, and in many cases these people are not being treated as victims of trafficking, but as criminals because they were caught up in these scams.”