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Deceptive ‘free holiday’ in Chiang Mai promise leads to Malaysian’s abduction to Myanmar scam compound

Deceived by an online friend’s false promise of a “free vacation” in Chiang Mai, a Malaysian found themselves ensnared in Laukkaing, Myanmar.

Abducted at gunpoint, they were transported to a heavily guarded eight-story scam compound, far from their anticipated trip’s picturesque destination.

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MALAYSIA: A Malaysian individual fell victim to an online friend’s deceitful offer of a “free vacation” in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with the opportunity to work as an interpreter during the trip, only to end up trapped in a fraudulent compound in Laukkaing, Myanmar.

Instead of meeting his friend in the scenic and historic Chiang Mai, the victim and his companion were abducted at gunpoint and forcibly transported across the border via Chiang Rai, ultimately taken to a heavily guarded eight-story scam compound.

The victim also revealed how the scam syndicate compelled them to utilize Xiaohongshu, also known as the Little Red Book (小红书), a popular social media platform akin to TikTok and widely used among Chinese users.

Following this, they were coerced into deceiving users into investing in cryptocurrencies.

Recently, Malaysian state media outlet Bernama reported a harrowing experience of a Malaysian individual, known by the pseudonym David, who was deceived by an online acquaintance who proposed a job opportunity and a “free holiday trip” to him.

David, a small business owner selling phone accessories in Sarawak, was looking to augment his income when he received the offer in April.

David’s acquaintance, known as “Steven,” extended an invitation for a vacation in Chiang Mai, Thailand, stating the need for an interpreter within their tour group.

“Steven” even generously offered to cover the expenses for David and one companion, under the guise of enjoying the trip while serving as interpreters.

Despite only knowing “Steven” for a brief period, the 22-year-old man couldn’t shake off his suspicions about the unexpected generosity.

He was well aware of the reports about human trafficking incidents involving Malaysians, especially targeting native Mandarin speakers like himself and his friend.

Nevertheless, he eventually reasoned that he shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Regrettably, this decision would haunt David and his friend Laura (not her real name).

David and his friend coerced to surrender their passports and mobile phones

Upon arriving at the Chiang Mai International Airport, David’s initial suspicion arose when Steven failed to appear as agreed.

Instead, they were met by a taxi driver holding a sign with their names on it. Accompanying the driver was another individual, which struck David as peculiar, although he dismissed it, assuming they were both Myanmar nationals.

While in the car, the driver’s companion unexpectedly brandished a gun, coercing them to surrender their passports and mobile phones.

“(They threatened us) telling us to sit tight and be quiet. We didn’t dare do anything. If we did, where would they have taken and sold us?” he said.

Subsequently, their captors sold them to a scam compound in Laukkaing, situated in northern Myanmar near the Chinese border.

The journey to Laukkaing was arduous, spanning four days along remote mountainous routes.

Despite encountering several checkpoints, they were waved through with minimal scrutiny by the guards each time.

Trapped in an eight-story building surrounded by armed men, with a casino on the ground floor

After enduring the gruelling journey, they reached an eight-story building surrounded by armed men, with a casino occupying the ground floor.

The overwhelming presence of the armed guards shattered any lingering hope David harbored of a potential escape or finding assistance, despite the language barrier.

Among the captives, David observed others like himself, enticed with deceitful promises and coerced into forced labour.

“They were very kind. We were lucky,” David recounted, acknowledging the fear that had already gripped his friend Laura.

Fortunately, the staff within the building permitted them to remain together, sparing them from being separated.

Syndicate coerces victims to exploit Xiaohongshu for cryptocurrency scams

According to David, the syndicate granted them a mere three days to familiarize themselves with Xiaohongshu, commonly known as the Little Red Book, a social media platform akin to TikTok, widely popular among the Chinese.

The syndicate’s demand was for them to sign a contract and defraud users by manipulating cryptocurrency purchases—an offer they vehemently declined.

When David expressed his desire to leave, the captors demanded a ransom, further intensifying the dire situation in the remote region of Myanmar, close to the Chinese border.

Despite their relatively mild treatment so far, David couldn’t help but wonder how long it would last. Succumbing to their captors’ demands appeared inevitable, given the circumstances.

However, fate took an unexpected turn. Three days later, local soldiers inspected the premises and its occupants.

Upon realizing that neither David nor Laura had signed any contract, the soldiers instructed them to gather their belongings before escorting them to Pangkham, a location approximately nine hours away by road from the Myanmar-Thai border.

Once in Pangkham, David and Laura managed to borrow a phone to contact their families. However, their struggle was far from over as they now faced the challenge of finding their own way out of Myanmar.

Rescue efforts

Upon learning of their whereabouts, their families reached out to Victor Wong, a prominent Malaysian businessman based in Thailand, to seek assistance in their rescue.

Known as “Thai’s Dragon (泰国过江龙)” on social media, Mr Wong has previously collaborated with the Malaysian police and the Malaysian embassy in Thailand to facilitate the rescue of human trafficking victims.

“David’s mother wanted him to go to the (Myanmar) police but I wasn’t sure it would work. They might get into trouble because they had been smuggled in,” Wong told Bernama.

In his attempt to arrange transportation for David and Laura, Wong encountered an obstacle at a checkpoint in Myanmar, which demanded a special pass for entry into Thailand.

Consequently, he arranged for some Myanmar nationals to assist in transporting them through the forest to Tachileik, where the Thai Army awaited to facilitate their safe passage across the border.

Acknowledging that his actions bypassed standard protocols, Wong emphasized that it was the sole feasible means of securing their safe exit. The financial support required for the transportation was partially provided by the families of David and Laura.

For David, the manner of their escape from Myanmar was of secondary importance; the paramount focus was on their successful departure from the perilous situation.

As the eldest among four siblings, David consistently reiterated their stroke of fortune, considering the remote location of their captivity far from the Myanmar-Thai border, where rescue operations and escapes were comparably more feasible.

Due to their relatively brief disappearance of two weeks, their visas remained valid, permitting their departure without facing immigration detention.

Reflecting on his experience, David emphasized the critical lesson of vigilance, cautioning others that trust in friends should be exercised with prudence.

“You have to be alert. Take what your friends say with a grain of salt. Don’t believe so easily,” he advised, emphasizing his decision to sever ties with all individuals associated with the concerned WhatsApp group.

 

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