Hundreds of thousands of people are being forced into online criminality in south-east Asia by a network of brutal gangs, a new report by the United Nations has warned.
The investigation by the UN Human Rights Office turns a fresh spotlight on the shocking scale of a sophisticated cyber racket sweeping the globe, defrauding victims in schemes worth billions of dollars.
The scammers are often young professionals who are lured by the gangs with the promise of fake jobs before being imprisoned in compounds and coerced into cheating people all over the world through romance-investment scams, crypto fraud and illegal gambling.
If they refuse to comply, they face serious threats to their safety, including torture, cruel and degrading treatment, arbitrary detention and sexual violence, says the report.
“People who are coerced into working in these scamming operations endure inhumane treatment while being forced to carry out crimes. They are victims. They are not criminals,” said Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“In continuing to call for justice for those who have been defrauded through online criminality, we must not forget that this complex phenomenon has two sets of victims.”
‘We were slaves’
A Telegraph investigation earlier this year into the so-called “scamdemic,” revealed the case of Indian graphic designer Stephan Wesley, 29, who was trapped inside a large, fenced compound in Myanmar guarded by armed henchmen after applying for an attractive $1,100 a month job in Thailand.
He described how after an elaborate recruitment process in Dubai and Thailand, he had been trafficked across the border to a camp run by the Chinese mafia.
Along with other captives, he was tasked with pretending to be a young, attractive Thai woman on social media to try to persuade people to invest in a fraudulent cryptocurrency app.
“We were so scared. There was no option to escape..We did what they told us to do, we were slaves,” he said, describing how the gang leaders would torture people with electric shocks and beatings to keep them in line.
Thousands of crypto investors across the world, including the UK, have been conned out of billions of dollars by the increasingly elaborate scams emerging from industrial-size compounds operating in south-east Asia, particularly in Myanmar and Cambodia.