Filipino police free hundreds of slaves toiling in romance scam operation • The Register | #philippines | #philippinesscams | #lovescams

Filipino police rescued 875 “workers” – including 504 foreigners – in a raid late last week on a firm that posed as an online gaming company but in reality operated a forced labor camp that housed romance scam operators.

A video of the raid on the Tarlac Pogo firm posted last Thursday shows the nation’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) entering what appears to be an office housing rows of workers in front of computers.

The rescued “workers” hailed from Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Rwanda, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Kyrgyzstan. The victims were allegedly lured into slavery on the promise of a job offer. Instead, they allegedly had their passports confiscated and were forced to adopt fake identities and pretend to be suitors of their victims to extract money.

The schemes that lured the workers involved promises of cryptocurrency wins, investments in businesses, and more.

Those who failed to meet quotas were physically harmed, deprived of sleep or locked in their rooms, executive director of Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC), Gilberto Cruz, told local media.

Officials were reportedly tipped off by a Vietnamese worker who arrived at the center in January. He arrived after being promised a job as a chef. Police said he bore signs of torture in the form of electrocution marks.

During the raid, the authorities seized live ammunition and guns from the ten-hectare compound, located approximately 60 miles north of Manila. Also found were mobile phones, sim cards and scripts. Thirty-four vehicles within the compound had mismatched serial numbers and license plates, according to Cruz.

Since the raid, nine people have been charged in connection with the scam center. Only one of the individuals was Filipino, according to local media. Five were Chinese, two Vietnamese and one Malaysian. The individuals face anti-trafficking violations, among others, following an inquest.

The “gaming company” that ran the operation – which went by Zun Yuan Technology Incorporated – maintains a meager website that may not initially set off alarm bells and appears more targeted toward recruiting staff than clients. The faux company details that it was established in 2023 as an upcoming “prominent player/game provider in the online gaming industry” providing “a comprehensive range of services tailored to meet the unique needs of online casino operators worldwide.”

Zun Yuan Technologies Inc website – Click to enlarge

It then goes on to identify the company’s purported facilities: a large cafeteria, multiple large generators for uninterrupted business operations, an onsite convenience store and a professional-grade billiards room.

Those interested in getting in touch can do so only through Telegram or an email address.

Scam compounds staffed with trafficked and enslaved manpower have become common in Southeast Asia. Last October, authorities in the Philippines raided what claimed to be an internet gaming license hub, called Smart Web Technology Corporation, in Pasay City – one of the cities that make up Metro Manila. Smart Web was allegedly dealing in sex trafficking, as well as crypto investment and love scams.

Forced labor cyber crime syndicates have also been found in Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar.

According to a report [PDF] from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), “the development of scalable and digitized solutions has supercharged the criminal business environment across Southeast Asia.”

The report noted that the proliferation of similar forced-labor operations has intensified calls to ban online offshore gambling operators in the Philippines, resulting in new regulations of such entities.

Unfortunately, such measures to address cyber fraud operations have only pushed them from Cambodia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam into places like Lao PDR and parts of Myanmar. ®

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