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1 Sep 2022

Chad de Guzman, Time

Southeast Asia: Human trafficking syndicates target college graduates to work for phone scam operations

"Asia's Human Traffickers Target New Victims", 1 September 2022

[...] Since January, city authorities have received appeals for help from at least 43 Hongkongers kidnapped and forced to do illegal work in Southeast Asia. Of those, 23 have returned safely, while 12 others are still being held in Cambodia and three more in Myanmar.

[...] Human traffickers are adapting to the times, experts say, taking advantage of white-collar joblessness resulting from the pandemic.


Jan Santiago, deputy director for the U.S.-based Global Anti-Scam Organization, says syndicates in Southeast Asia are targeting more college graduates. They seek tech-literate workers who are fluent in multiple languages and have a working knowledge of cryptocurrency.

In Hong Kong, the non-governmental organization Stop Trafficking of Persons (STOP) released Aug. 22 recordings from two 30-year-old Hongkongers detailing their ordeal as human trafficking victims. One, under the alias Dee, said he flew to the city of Mae Sot, in western Thailand, after responding to an ad on Facebook that offered a $6,400 monthly salary for advertising work. Dee said that upon his arrival people carrying stun guns and knives forced him into a car. He was then smuggled into Myanmar—where he was made to choose between paying a $10,000 ransom or working 12 hours per day in phone scams.


[...] some trafficking victims forced to defraud their fellow citizens may hesitate to ask for assistance, fearing their own legal liability. STOP program manager Michelle Wong says what’s needed in a place like Hong Kong is “bespoke legislation to ensure that victims of trafficking are granted some level of criminal immunity.”

In the meantime, human trafficking is an insidious big business, with an estimated $150 billion in earnings, much of it funneled in cryptocurrency. It’s easy for traffickers to evade the law and operate sophisticated, large-scale scams.