Cambodian authorities crack down on cyber slavery amid international pressure

Lured by fake jobs, victims are isolated abroad and forced to carry out crypto and romance scams, and more

Authorities in Sihanoukville, Cambodia announced on Sunday that a raid last week uncovered evidence of forced labor cybercrime syndicates that participated in human trafficking and torture.

The five-day operation led to the discovery of 130 Chinese immigrants and 11 from Vietnam, mostly all male, who had entered the country illegally, with 262 more foreigners working without permits.

More alarming were the other items found in the raid: four guns, 804 desktops, 16 laptops, 36 passports, 12 data storage devices, four pairs of handcuffs, eight electric batons, two "electric shock torches," and 8,776 phones. Twenty-seven foreigners were sent in for questioning and 262 foreigners working without work permits were fined.

The authorities vowed to "take strict legal action" against foreigners that remain in illegal employment after being warned as well as the enterprises who use their labor.

The raid was one of several across the Southeast Asian country last week on buildings known, as an open secret, to be online forced labor companies. According to advocacy group Global Anti-scam Org, the companies are largely owned by businesses based in China.

The raids come after mounting international pressure to tackle the cybercrime rackets. For years, traffickers in Cambodia have lured skilled workers across neighbouring Southeast Asian countries via social media and other tactics with promises of lucrative roles abroad.

Once they arrive in Cambodia, a typical victim would have their passport confiscated and be forced to work long hours perpetrating online scams – involving cryptocurrencies, fake dating profiles, and more – across the world against their will in slave-like conditions. Those who did not perform could be tortured, disfigured or receive threats, according to numerous reports.

According to a former victim who spoke to the media, 10 to 20 "workers" could bring in more than $900,000 profit using online fake personas. Some of the scam operators set goals of contacting 500 targets per day and provided software that enabled 20 to 30 simultaneous Whatsapp logins and auto translation so that the "workers" could meet goals.

In one case, traffickers were reportedly offered $17,000 for each person they recruited, with the going market rate reportedly at $8,000. Some are sold back to their family. Those with no one to pay often flee.

In August, a video surfaced on Twitter of 40 Vietnamese men and women fleeing captivity and attempting to swim to freedom.

The manager of the casino was reportedly arrested.

Last week, 70 more Vietnamese victims reportedly fled another location.

Earlier this month, Taiwanese prosecutors reportedly indicted nine people for luring 88 individuals into the cyber slavery.

On Wednesday, Malaysia's foreign ministry said it had rescued 15 victims.

Governments in various countries, including China and Malaysia, have issued advisories warning their nationals to be wary of oversea job offers. ®

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