SARAWAK, MALAYSIA: Another eight Malaysians have fallen victim to a job scam, coercing them into working as scammers in Myanmar.
According to Datuk Mohd Azman Ahmad Sapri, the Police Commissioner of Sarawak, the police have received three reports involving eight Sarawakians who have been ensnared in a job scam.
When examining the pattern of this scam, it becomes evident that these victims were initially enticed by job offers on Facebook to work in Thailand, only to be later transported to Myanmar and coerced into working as scammers.
This scam pattern mirrors the harrowing experience of a 23-year-old Malaysian who was recently rescued from Myawaddy, Myanmar, after enduring a month-long job scam ordeal.
During a press conference on Monday (2 Sep), Datuk Azman revealed that the reports have been forwarded to the Bukit Aman Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (ATIPSOM) D3 unit, Interpol, and ASEANAPOL (ASEAN Chiefs of National Police) to facilitate the location and rescue of the victims.
“We have also informed the consulate and foreign ministry to assist in expediting the rescue efforts and the return of the victims,” he said.
Azman provided details on the reports: the first report was filed in Tanjung Manis on September 21st, involving two men; the second report in Julau on September 22nd, involving a man; and the third report in Sibu, involving five men. The victims’ ages range from 25 to 35.
Azman disclosed that the victims were compelled to work in call centers engaged in online scams in Myanmar, despite their initial job offers in Thailand.
“They received offers through Facebook to work in Thailand with salaries of between RM3,000 and RM6,000 per person. However, the victims did not know anything about the jobs they were offered.”
“Upon arrival in Thailand, they were all taken to Myanmar and forced to work as scammers.”
“If they did not meet the target set by their ‘employers’, they were abused and threatened with being sold to other agents,” he said.
Azman also mentioned that the victims were prohibited from contacting their family members, but they managed to communicate with their families in secret.
“The police have also informed the Consulate and Ministry of Foreign Affairs to expedite the rescue efforts and the return of the victims,” Mohd Azman said.
In the meantime, he cautioned the public to exercise caution and not readily accept job offers that promise substantial salaries, whether within or outside the country.
23-year-old Malaysian escapes month-long job scam ordeal at Thai-Myanmar border
In a harrowing ordeal, a 23-year-old Malaysian named Mr Lai earlier managed to escape the clutches of a human trafficking syndicate after falling victim to a deceptive job offer near the Thai-Myanmar border.
The rescue operation was carried out by the Malaysian Humanitarian Organization (MHO).
Mr. Lai’s nightmare began when he responded to a job advertisement on Facebook in early August, promising daily earnings of RM200 in Thailand for sound system work.
Little did he know, this was a trap. Upon his arrival in Bangkok, he was picked up by a driver, along with another person from Penang. To his shock, they were transported to Myanmar.
Upon reaching the compound in Myanmar, Mr. Lai underwent “training” under the guise of a legitimate job, only to be gradually coerced into participating in fraudulent activities.
His responsibilities included creating counterfeit Facebook accounts to initiate conversations with potential victims and exploit them financially. He was also involved in luring individuals into becoming “Piglets,” a term used in this illicit trade.
When the syndicate discovered that Mr Lai had reached out to a Malaysian NGO for help, they subjected him to brutal torture, leaving visible bruises on his face and back.
Following his abduction, the victim contacted his family on three occasions, pleading for a ransom of RM50,000 (approximately US$10,660) to secure his release from the syndicate’s clutches.
In response, his parents promptly filed a police report and sought assistance from MHO representatives.
Desperate families struggle with hefty ransoms
According to Datuk Hishamuddin Hashim, the Secretary-General of MHO, approximately 30 cases in Myanmar were reported by victims’ families.
Many of these cases have persisted for over a year without resolution.
He went on to describe the modus operandi of the syndicate, which typically contacts victims’ families to demand exorbitant ransoms.
Failure to comply results in victims being subjected to abuse, deprivation of food, and physical assaults with blunt objects.
The ransom amounts demanded by the syndicate have ranged from RM30,000 to RM150,000, creating a heavy burden for the victims’ families.
In one instance, a family had already paid RM150,000, only to find that the syndicate had not released the victim as promised.
In the most recent case, a family was coerced into paying a staggering RM1.2 million (US$ 255,781), having already disbursed RM90,000 to the syndicate to secure the victim’s release.
This financial strain forced the family to sell their land to obtain the necessary funds.
UN report exposes Thailand’s rising role as a hub for illicit operations
Earlier, the United Nations (UN) released an alarming report a concerning report that highlights the ASEAN region has become a hotbed for online scammers, victimizing hundreds of thousands of individuals globally through human trafficking schemes specifically designed for online fraud.
The report specifically pointed out Thailand’s growing role as a transit country for these illicit operations.
Traffickers transport people into Thailand before moving them across the border to neighbouring states.
Additionally, trafficked individuals often transit through Thailand as they are shuffled between different fraudulent operations.
As an example, the UN report mentioned that citizens of Vietnam were initially trafficked into Myanmar and subsequently re-trafficked to Cambodia via Thailand.
UN Report estimates over 220 thousands victims in Myanmar and Cambodia coerced into becoming online scammers
The UN report estimates that at least 120,000 people in Myanmar and 100,000 in Cambodia have been coerced into becoming online scammers.
The report also alerted that individuals are lured in by social media ads promising easy jobs and luxurious amenities, only to be deceived into travelling to countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar, and Thailand.
“In some instances, people have attempted to escape, including by jumping from compounds or swimming across rivers (such as from Myanmar to Thailand or Cambodia to Vietnam), but these efforts often end unsuccessfully, either in death or severe punishment upon recapture,” the OHCHR stated.
In June 2023, Thailand was ranked in Tier 2 for two consecutive years in the US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report 2023.
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