Stopping Cars to Save Cyberscam Slaves
Updated: Sep 8, 2022
In late August, GASO helped human trafficking victims on the road escape as they were being sold to Myanmar from Cambodia.
Operation to intercept a car
What is it like to be duped to Cambodia
Trapped Ukrainian women
Cyberscam companies in Cambodia are feeling the heat from the recent attention they are getting in Taiwan and so are moving their businesses to places like Myanmar. To many cyberscam slaves in Cambodia, Myanmar is the deepest hell they can sink to in the cybercrime industry where no one returns from.
Yew An (alias) is a 22-year old Malaysian who has been captive in Sihanoukville, Cambodia since December 2021. He said he has been terrified of making any move to report or escape, as all his Malaysian friends who reported only got transferred to Myanmar sooner, getting beaten first sometimes. (Company bosses often get tipped off by local police.) He didn't know who to trust his life with, except his mother back in Malaysia.
Yew An decided to gamble his life with a plan by escaping in Thailand when on the road to Myanmar. Only after escaping will he let his mother report, and only to Malaysian police. He heard of GASO from a Taiwanese ‘older sister’ (older female friend) still with the company, and sent GASO's Facebook page a long but polite message for help for when he gets to Thailand. He doesn't have his passport, but said he would rather get jailed in Thailand (or Cambodia) for illegal entry rather than be longer with his captors. He used his work phone and his work account in Instagram.
Yew An's first message to GASO on Aug 26
A GASO Malaysian volunteer handled his case, and decided however that the rescue has better chances of success while in Cambodia, through the Malaysian embassy. Despite his fears, she was able to convince Yew An to give his personal info and complete details and evidences of his captivity. This naturally would risk him being discovered by the wrong people in Cambodia, and he had to trust her.
Suddenly, the company set to move him on Aug 28. The GASO volunteer instructed Yew An to secretly take, when he can, pictures of the cars that will be used to transport them and their plate numbers (Yew An was not the only one being sent to Myanmar.) Very luckily, Yew An was still allowed to use his work phone with internet, since hasn't violated any company rules.
They left at 10am local time. Yew An found out that they were instead being driven to Phnom Penh many hours in the opposite direction. All updates were immediately relayed in real time to the Malaysian embassy and the Interior Minister of Cambodia, who directly controls the national-level police and has publicly committed to rescuing foreigners in job scams in Cambodia. Using Zenly, a real-time location sharing and messaging app, Yew An kept contact with the GASO volunteer, who continuously gave updates to the Malaysian embassy for many hours. Yew An and the GASO volunteer texted in Malay at this time, not Chinese.
As Yew An's convoy neared to Phnom Penh, the Malaysian diplomat also downloaded Zenly to keep track of him. Through the Cambodian interior ministry, police checkpoints were made to search for black Toyota Lexus Alphard vehicles. The first car in the convoy got stuck in traffic and a police checkpoint, and so the other 2 cars, one carrying Yew An, drove off for another route. Yew An was still being monitored on Zenly.
Video of the car ride. Aside from the driver, others on the car are fellow victims.
At 5:35 pm, Yew An texted that police blocked the vehicle he's in, and GASO immediately told the embassy. In the end Cambodian police took custody of Yew An and 3 other trafficked victims, who are from China, aged 16 - 18.
Their rescue was very briefly and mistakenly reported in a Chinese language news site with them being arrested as suspected human traffickers. Yew An is now in detention in Cambodia, to wait for a deportation letter before being released back to Malaysia. This may take 2 months.
This was not the only car rescue story. Almost at the same time, GASO also rescued a Chinese girl in Thailand en route to being transported to Myanmar. Her company stopped their car at a mall to buy something, and she escaped to the top floors and hid, where she urgently contacted GASO for help. She is now safe in Thai police custody.
What is it like to be duped to Cambodia?
Yew An lost his job as a online livestreaming battle host in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, in November 2021. A friend told him of a job in Cambodia for those who can speak Chinese, and Cambodia was not as notorious as now with job scams. After much exhortation Yew An agreed to join his friend to Cambodia. They had heard of a mutual friend who a had a similar overseas job in Dubai and came home able to afford a house and car. Since Dubai was reportedly full already, they decided on Cambodia. Yew An had one videocall interview with a Chinese recruiter, who just asked about his age and language skills. The recruiter told him about the high salary, all living and travel expenses paid, but was vague with what their business is about.
He, his friend and other Malaysians went as a big group to Kelantan, Malaysia. To his disappointment, they were then made to board a ship as stowaways to Cambodia, not plane as promised. They were ushered into a compound park in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, PCR tested for COVID-19, and finally brought inside, with the gates shut behind them and many big, armed men around. Their boss soon told them of their "work": just talking to Japanese "customers". The company specializes in scamming in the Japan market, and uses a purchased translation software. Many protested, but to leave the boss said they have to pay a $12,500 redemption fee for all the "expenses" the company has already incurred for them. They can either work for it or ask their families to pay.
After 2 months of pretending to work and having no progress, they all were sold to various scam companies. Whenever other company owners would come in to inspect them, Yew An was always scared and uncertain of the future. They all "felt like a commodity" --his own words in English. More than 20 Malaysians were sold off this way, until he himself was purchased by a scam company that specializes in the US market. There were Malaysians also in the second company, but over time got down to only 6 of them, as others were sold off or tried reporting and got discovered.
Yew An told GASO what scam platform the company uses, Y----, which has already victimized some Americans in GASO's database. They use a certain Chinese app to fake their GPS locations for social media apps like Facebook. He says that the company also employs Ukrainian women to create real profile pictures for scam accounts and show white women to US "customers" who ask for a video chat. Yew An showed GASO an Instagram profile of one, who he says is using her real picture. This particular Ukrainian woman actually grew up in Taiwan he says, and had been in a TV show there. He's not sure how she ended up trapped in this company as he doesn't talk to her much. It's actually typical, he says, for many companies to have 4 - 5 women "models", many Ukrainian. Some models may even earn practically $500,000 a day for a scam company. Although they are only paid $2,000 - $3,000, it is the models who get arrested; Yew An claims that there were already 2 Ukrainian models arrested upon going home to Ukraine for scams.
Note: GASO is withholding details and identities until Yew An is safe in Malaysia. Other details here still need verification. However, his accounts of scam companies having a stable of female models, Asian and non-Asian, is consistent with independent accounts of others. Just recently also, a trapped Russian citizen appealed GASO for help through a friend, though the Russian embassy was able to quickly extract their citizen. May be reported on more later.
Yew An's company didn't let him go when his grandmother died. He told his bosses that his mother might report to police (in Malaysia) if he didn't come home. In response they locked him in a dark room with no food. That's when he hatched the plan to try escaping in Thailand when being sent to Myanmar. He yelled to outside how valuable he is with his English. He can be an English translator for them in Myanmar, if he couldn't scam anyone. The rest is history.
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