Emerging Form of Trafficking Turns People Into Scammers

Rights group says 700 Malaysians are trapped in Laos right now
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 16, 2022 5:15 PM CDT
Emerging Form of Trafficking Turns People Into Scammers
   (Getty Images / Lincoln Beddoe)

It's a form of human-trafficking with a high-tech twist: Young men and women who respond to a job offer and end up forced into running online love and investment scams. Voice of America zeroes in on one alleged instance of this involving Malaysia and Laos. The Malaysian International Humanitarian Organization alleges some 700 nationals are thought to be held by these online scam centers in Laos—and subjected to mental and physical torture. The allegations are based on the accounts of people who reportedly managed to escape and others who remain stuck but who have been able to communicate via phone and text. They say they went to Laos with the expectation of getting an IT or casino job and ended up being held in a fenced and guarded compound.

As the AP explains, "The workers are then subject to isolation and the threat of violence unless they succeed in cheating victims reached by phone into transferring payments into overseas bank accounts." More specifically, "If they don’t want to work, they will be beaten. ... Some of them [have] been electrocuted … by electric shock," said a rep for the Malaysian International Humanitarian Organization. He says in some cases, in addition to forcing the victims to run the scams, the captors demand hefty ransoms from their families. He believes at least half of them are being held inside Malaysia's Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone, "an alleged hotbed of transnational organized crime for years" that borders Myanmar and Thailand.

Indeed, VOA notes this "highlights what the United Nations and others describe as a rising tide of young men and women being lured into—and trapped in—brutal online scam operations across the Mekong region of Southeast Asia." The AP shares one such story of a 30-year-old Malaysian man who was offered a $1,300-a-month job by a Malaysian he befriended on WeChat. He flew to Thailand to start it, only to be taken across the border into a Myanmar complex where he was forced to work 15-hour days recruiting others to the operation. He managed to leave after his family paid a 40,000 ringgit ($8,760) ransom, and he says roughly 200 other Malaysians were held in the same complex. The Malaysian government has in recent months stepped up efforts to rescue those trapped abroad. (More Malaysia stories.)

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