Online sex fraud entrapping many Cambodian males | #whatsapp | #lovescams | #phonescams

Thousands of Cambodian men have fallen victims and lost money to “online sex scams”, a relatively new cyberspace racket in Cambodia targeting those wanting to satisfy their sexual desires, a Khmer Times investigation found.

In the meantime, cracking down on these offences is almost seen as a mission impossible, as most of the victims simply refused to file complaints for the fear of their reputation being ruined.

The modus operandi for such swindles is simple but quite effective in taking advantage of, social media and smartphone technology, which has opened the door even wider for prostitution. This illegal but highly prevalent online business in Cambodia is difficult to crack down on or be raided by the police as it is in ‘Cyberspace.’

The scammers produce social media accounts on a wide range of platforms, particularly Facebook, Telegram, and WhatsApp, using fake, usually girl names. The profile pictures usually feature an undressed or scantily dressed woman with her face covered or hidden. They advertise their services in public on the aforementioned social media platforms or in social media groups or channels for those who are interested.

On Telegram, the most popular messaging app in Cambodia, alone, there are thousands of such “adult” groups and channels, which use pornographic material to attract followers. While real freelance sex workers are using these platforms to advertise their services, the people behind these fake accounts are only interested in your money.

The fraud starts like this: the scammer posts an advert for sexual services, particularly involving offering sex at a pre-arranged venue or satisfying the clients with “an erotic act” on a video call.

“I will make you happy for just 30 dollars an hour,” read an advertising message.

“$15 for a 30-minute of video call! Come on, book me now!” said another.

The money-making part comes when a person takes the bait and responds to an advertisement, usually, the scammers ask the victims to transfer money through a digital transfer, before making an appointment. To gain the victim’s trust, the scammers send a female voice message. Whether the actual speaker in the voice message is a real woman or not is doubtful, as technology today allows people to change their voice easily.

Once the bank transfer is completed, the scammers just block the victim, who are unable to identify tricksters due to the end-to-end encryption that comes with most of today’s messaging software.

“Through this scam, I lost $50,” said Dara (a fake moniker), a private company employee in Phnom Penh.

“I was looking for an online sexual service because I thought it was risky for me to go to a brothel, which can be raided by the police. But instead, I was scammed.”

Cheang Sey, a carpenter, and another Telegram user, “I was tricked, after I contacted an advert selling self-produced sexual material but instead he was sent a 10-minute clip downloaded from a pornographic website,” he said.

To make it worse, the scammers are even using blackmail to extort even more money from their victims. This usually happens after the victims refused to transfer money for the “service”.

“When I refused to pay, the person demanded me to send her or him even more money, or they will screenshot our chat and my profile and post it online,” said another victim, who works as a government official and asked to remain anonymous.

“I could not allow that to happen. I could not risk humiliating myself by letting my boss and my colleagues know I was looking for sexual services. So I had no choice but to comply with the fraudster and send $200.”

Khmer Times’ journalist went undercover and discovered several Telegram accounts involved in such activities. Some examples include Sok Sreypich, Oun Tey, Miin Make Love, Mari Ka, Oun Li Nat and Oun Mean, all of which are active on Telegram Groups.

Real sex workers are also worried about these fraudsters, as it will affect their business. For instance, Kolab, a freelance sex worker who has been relying on digital marketing to find her clients, has seen a dip in her clients due to the general belief that she is also a scammer.

“People may hate our profession but we are also working women who do honest jobs,” she said. “We are selling our blood and flesh for the sake of living and I cannot believe how evil some people are to produce such scams which can cost us our living.”

While the frauds, according to Cambodian law, are illegal, all the victims who Khmer Times talked to said they preferred losing their money instead of reporting it to the police, which they see as a humiliation.

“I simply saw it as bad karma for me, as I wanted extra-marital sex,” Dara said.

Deputy National Police Chief Lieutenant General Chea Pov, who is in charge of Anti-Cyber Crime, recognised sex fraud occurrence in Cambodia, is due to the improvement of internet technology in the country but claimed the swindlers came from other countries.

“This was not originated in Cambodia,” he said. “The scammers copy the style from other countries where this fraudulent activity has been in operation for several years.”

Reports have shown people in other countries have fallen victim to these sex frauds. As in China, the country with the strictest internet protocol and where prostitution is illegal. Scammers are targeting men by using “Nude Chat” and exploiting many men who have resorted to online hookups to satisfy their sexual desires. A man reportedly lost nearly US$1 million in a few minutes due to this scam.

Lieutenant General Pov confirmed, his department does not have statistics on these fraudulent activities and therefore, is having difficulties tracking down the scammers due to the victims’ “choice” to remain silent.

“Online sex scamming is a very difficult case and it is also hard to determine the identity of scammers,” he added.  “The police cannot curb online sex scamming without the contribution from people. People must talk and share knowledge about this online sex scam with their friends and relatives until it spreads across the country to curb this illegal activity.”

Chou Bun Eng, Vice Chairwoman of the National Committee for Anti-Human Trafficking, “Dealing with the online sex scammers is the same as dealing with invisible enemies.” she said.

“Scammers are scattered across the country, they are also tech-savvy and come up with well-planned schemes to trap victims,” she said.

“The exchange of sex for money online is not illegal as long as both sides give consent, but when scams are involved, that is a different story.”

Bunn Rachana, Co-founder and Executive Director of Klahaan, a non-profit organisation working on issues that affect women in Cambodia, “Our organisation has been cooperating with the government to fight this online fraud.”

“We educate people in our seminars and target people between 15 to 30 years of age in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Preah Sihanouk, and Battambang province where online scamming is still prevalent,” she said.

“Still, we cannot keep track of the progress since most of the victims do not report the cases. What we must do now is suppress and curb the scammers and educate people, especially the youth, to clearly know about these illegal operations and the monetary and shameful consequences which will occur after falling into the scammer’s trap.”

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