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30 Aug 2023

The Paper,
Sixth Tone

Myanmar: Investigation unveils Chinese-run telecom fraud industry in Golden Triangle region

"The Dark Reality of Telecom Fraud in Northern Myanmar", 30 August 2023

Northern Myanmar, which commonly refers to Shan State and Kachin State on the border with China, is known as a hotbed of telecom fraud...The Paper embarked on an investigation in the Golden Triangle along the Thailand-Myanmar border to uncover the telecom fraud industry through interviews with long-term residents in the region. [...]

Predominantly, the masterminds behind these telecom fraud schemes are Chinese nationals from southeastern China who arrive with a lot of cash. To set up their operations, they acquire land and build facilities, or lease preexisting buildings and invest in equipment and labor. Local armed insurgent groups extend protection in exchange for a share of the profits, often in non-monetary forms.

Currently, faced with escalating enforcement endeavors from Chinese regulators, telecom fraud rings in northern Myanmar are moving their base to places like Cambodia, while some are diverting their fraud activities to find victims in Japan, South Korea, the U.S., and Europe.

The Golden Triangle

Northern Myanmar is home to a web of intricate and intertwined armed military factions that wield control. Two such groups are the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and the Karen National Liberation Army, who have established a strong foothold in the border town of Myawaddy in eastern Myanmar...

KK Park, a Chinese-run crime hub specialized in telecom fraud, lies under the protective wing of the local Border Guard Forces...The compound’s vicinity has been the arena of fierce gunfights. KK Park is just one of the nearly 20 telecom fraud operations in Myawaddy. [...]

“In Wa State, if you call the police, at least they will show up. In Kokang, such calls are met with silence,” a local resident told The Paper...even though social stability prevails in Wa State and its government does not overtly endorse the telecom fraud industry, it tacitly tolerates its existence [...]

Nowhere to run

In towns like Mong La or along the Thailand-Myanmar border, where firearms are readily accessible, one can buy a gun for 10,000 yuan. Within the telecom fraud den, security guards maintain watch on each level, and the heavily guarded entrance serves as an additional deterrent against workers wishing to escape.

“In the daytime, they leave you out in the scorching sun; by night, they confine you to the water jail according to my cousin,” Lin, whose cousin was a telecom fraud worker in Kokang, explained...

The plight faced by women traveling to northern Myanmar could be more tragic. Many heard stories of women deemed attractive facing sexual assault, while those not cut out for fraud being coerced into prostitution.

Meanwhile, workers are said to be constantly sold back and forth by fraud bosses [...]

Never returning home

...Throughout this year, The Paper has received numerous requests for help from readers who claimed they’re unable to rescue family members tricked into going to northern Myanmar and subsequently trapped there. These individuals, with the majority being teenagers, arrived in northern Myanmar in various ways...

An increasing number of media reports reveal that once a person steps foot in northern Myanmar, escaping safely becomes extremely difficult. Those who manage to escape often require their families to pay a hefty ransom... [...]