Are Bad Actors Working for Thrills?

December 27, 2022

Nope, some bad actors may be forced to participate in online criminal behavior. Threats, intimidation, a beating or two, or worse can focus some people to do what is required.

The person trying to swindle you online might be doing so under duress. “Cyber Criminals Hold Asian Tech Workers Captive in Scam Factories,” reports Context. The article begins with the story of Stephen Wesley, an Indian engineer who thought he was taking a graphic design job in Thailand. Instead he found himself carted off to Myanmar, relieved of his passport and phone, and forced to work up to 18 hours a day perpetuating crypto currency scams. This went on for 45 days, until he and about 130 others were rescued from such operations by Indian authorities. Reporters Anuradha Nagaraj and Nanchanok Wongsamuth reveal:

“Thousands of people, many with tech skills, have been lured by social media advertisements promising well-paid jobs in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, only to find themselves forced to defraud strangers worldwide via the internet. … The cybercrime rings first emerged in Cambodia, but have since moved into other countries in the region and are targeting more tech-savvy workers, including from India and Malaysia. Authorities in these countries and United Nations officials have said they are run by Chinese gangsters who control gambling across southeast Asia and are making up for losses during the pandemic lockdowns. The experts say the trafficked captives are held in large compounds in converted casinos in Cambodia, and in special economic zones in Myanmar and Laos. ‘The gangs targeted skilled, tech-savvy workers who had lost jobs during the pandemic and were desperate, and fell for these bogus recruitment ads,’ said Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch. ‘Authorities have been slow to respond, and in many cases these people are not being treated as victims of trafficking, but as criminals because they were caught up in these scams.'”

A long-game tactic typically used by these outfits is eloquently named “pig butchering,” wherein the operator builds trust with each victim through fake profiles on social media, messaging apps, and dating apps. Once the mark is hooked, the involuntary con artist pressures them to invest in phony crypto or trading schemes. Beware virtual suitors bearing unique investment opportunities.

Sadly, recent tech layoffs are bound to accelerate this trend. Bad actors are not going to pass up a chance to get talent cheaply. Myanmar’s current government, which seized power in February 2021, declined to comment. After months of denying the problem existed, we are told, Cambodian officials are finally cracking down on these operations. The article states thousands of workers are still trapped.

Business is business as the saying goes.

Cynthia Murrell, December 27, 2022


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