How your Tinder match might be enslaved in a Cambodian scam syndicate

It’s like being in prison, except in a prison you have human rights. – Lu Xiangri, a former victim

Hangings, beatings with electric batons, and other torture practices are daily fare for thousands of people that were promised new well-paying jobs in Cambodia. Upon arrival, they soon realised that they have been deceived and lured into a criminal circuit. Forced to work in scam compounds, they fear for their lives.

It is commonly believed that scammers are the criminals themselves, however, we never think about the idea that this is a modern form of slavery. Are you just as shocked as I am? Read on to find out more about these practices.

Come work for us

Thousands of Chinese, Thais, Indians, Burmese, Indonesians, Vietnamese, and people from Myanmar are daily lured into criminal circuits. A simple job, for good pay. That is the kind of sales pitch that persuades people into committing the biggest mistake of their lives. During the Covid-19 pandemic, these practices proliferated because people experienced great financial difficulties. Such a job offer was not something you could turn down.

When people arrive at their so-called ‘’new starting points,’’ they are confined in big compounds with thousands of others. Their ‘’employers’’ don’t beat about the bush. People are robbed of their passports, are clearly told what they are supposed to do, and are forced to sign contracts. These contracts definitely do not include the promised position of a quality manager or a telemarketer. No, their job is to work in scam syndicates. They are supposed to target people from all over the world and commit fraud.

They sold their souls through these contracts and the only way out is by paying off their debts. The bails are worth thousands of dollars, which no one can pay off. The trap gets even worse when a person is sold off to another operation. This will only increase the debt of a person even more. If this is not terror enough, the people work under great target pressure. When a target is not met, a person receives a punishment while being filmed. These videos are sent to family members and are used to receive a ransom.

Beatings, rapes, organ harvesting threats, and more are the unspeakable punishments that these people have to endure.

Pig butchering

What is a scam? A scam is a dishonest or deceptive scheme intended to defraud people of their money or other valuables. With the advancement of technology, scams become more and more credible but also versatile. This is also the case in these scam syndicates.

The main characteristic of this form of scam is that con artists never actually request money directly from their victims. Instead, they persuade their target to make an investment on a different platform.

Most of the people who work in these operations have experience with several different scam methods. With the advanced technology in use, a single person can target up to 500 people a day. While the form of scamming is essentially the same, there are several different scams.

Here is a list of the most common scams:

  • Lottery scams
    This scam method is done by luring people into thinking that they can win the lottery. The person is told by the scammer that they can influence the outcome of a lottery. The victim must download two apps. One is a legitimate lottery app and the other one is a fake programme of the company. People are being told that the company can let people win with the two applications installed. However, the winners are never able to collect their winnings nor get the money back that they invested.
  • Romance scams
    With a fake persona and a scripted life, women are scammed into thinking that they found the love of their lives. The sadder the story the better. By targeting women on dating apps, millions of dollars are stolen from their bank accounts.
  • Crypto scams
    By trying to trick people into investing in cryptocurrency, the scam syndicates make millions. People believe that they have invested for the long term. What they do not know, is that they will never be able to cash out on the cryptos that they ‘’own’’.
  • Sex scams
    These scams entail online clubs, where men want to meet women online. However, what they do not know, is that these profiles are stolen from the internet at large. The men are asked to pay for a membership before they can meet the girls. You can already guess the outcome. No one will ever meet a girl, but bank accounts are drained instead.
  • Law firm scams
    This way of fraud is done by making previous victims of fraud believe that they will receive legal assistance in getting their money back. What they do not know, is that this is another scam practice and that their remaining money is also being taken from them.

All scam practices follow the same method, which is called: ‘’fattening the pig.’’ It means that a relationship with a victim is built and when it reached a strong sense of trust, money can be taken from them. This is where the term ‘butchering the pig’ comes from.

With these scams, criminal organisations earn up to $900.000 profit per 10-20 ‘’employees’’ a week. Keep in mind that there are 3000 or more people working in these compounds. With this knowledge, it is not necessary to do the maths. You can easily imagine how much the criminal organisation make and why it is considered a ‘’booming business’’ for them.

Why in Cambodia?

Cambodia is considered one of the most corrupt countries in Asia. The poison of corruption is deeply rooted in the government. Therefore, it became a ‘’ground zero’’ for human trafficking. One of the main reasons is that Cambodia has been under the rule of one single Prime minister for almost 40 years. Minister Hun Sen has been multiple times accused of brutality, repression, and corruption.

The country has growing ties with China. Chinese investors have a great interest in the country. Whilst gambling in China is illicit, Chinese investors are encouraged to build grand casinos and luxury resorts in the country of Cambodia. However, these resorts turn out to be scam compounds.

The Prime Minister welcomes these Chinese investors with open arms, unsurprisingly former convicted ones. The close relationships that these investors build with senior government leaders, ensure that they are offered protection on a local and international scale. It is the ‘’perfect’’ manner to flee one’s own country without any repercussions. Moreover, to continue with your illegal business.

Governmental officials have been in denial of the practices in their country. Whether it is willingly or by order of a higher rank remains the question. The current motto they work with is: ‘’when there is no official complaint, there is no case.’’
Even when other governments express their concerns, the Cambodian government turns a blind eye. Officials have claimed that the reports of trafficking were simply disputes about labour and that such practices are everything but the truth.

In this photo taken on Feb. 14, 2020, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen delivers a speech to passengers after they disembarked from the MS Westerdam, owned by Holland America Line, at the port of Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

Rescues from the scam syndicates and the aftermath

Luckily there is hope. People are being rescued from the compounds after receiving police reports from family members or friends. People find freedom after raids or escapes on their own initiative. Many police forces from China, Vietnam, India, Taiwan and Hong Kong are conducting large investigations to come to the rescue of their citizens. The goal is to shut down these syndicates together with the Cambodian police force.

However, you might think that the nightmare is finally over after returning to one’s homeland. Those who succeed in getting back home may experience stigma and legal repercussions. The bulk of those who have returned from such facilities in Thailand—roughly 70%—have faced legal action. Imagine how traumatic this must be for a person after experiencing such horror.

By now you have a better understanding of the inhumane practices that take place in Cambodia. Thousands of humans are exploited and tortured for the financial gain of others. Fortunately, more and more governments are taking action to free individuals from these ‘’living hells.’’ Whether this turns out to be successful remains to be the question. How do you fight a problem while the highest authority in Cambodia benefits greatly from the practices?

I know that this might still sound very unreal. Do you want to see these syndicates with your own eyes? Take a look at the documentary of Al Jazeera or visit the website of the global organisation against these scam practices.

Written by Emma Koning

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