A newly released report by the U.N. human rights office has highlighted the growing prevalence of cybercrime scams in Asia, particularly in Southeast Asia, where countless workers are falling victim to these exploitative schemes.
Criminal gangs have coerced hundreds of thousands of individuals into participating in various unlawful online scam operations, including fraudulent romantic tactics, deceptive investment pitches, and illegal gambling schemes. The report, published by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, points to “credible sources” indicating that approximately 120,000 people in Myanmar and around 100,000 in Cambodia are forced to engage in online scams against their will, shedding light on the grave extent of the issue.
The report emphasizes that the cybercrime scams have evolved into a major problem in the region, with many victims effectively trapped in virtual slavery and compelled to take part in these online scams that target unsuspecting individuals over the internet. The situation has also affected other countries, such as Laos, the Philippines, and Thailand, which serve as main destinations or transit points for victims. Criminal gangs are increasingly targeting migrant workers and using false recruitment tactics to lure victims under the pretense of legitimate job opportunities.
The report underscores the enormity of these scam operations, though estimating their exact impact is challenging due to the secrecy surrounding them and gaps in governmental responses. However, it is believed that these scams generate billions of U.S. dollars annually. Shockingly, some victims have suffered severe abuse, including torture, sexual violence, cruel punishments, and arbitrary detention.
In response, there have been instances of law enforcement intervention, such as a Philippine police raid rescuing over 2,700 workers allegedly coerced into fraudulent online gaming sites. Additionally, Southeast Asian leaders have taken steps to combat the issue by strengthening border controls, law enforcement efforts, and public education to counter criminal syndicates involved in trafficking workers for online fraud schemes.