Befriending a Human-Trafficked Scammer in Myanmar
A Series of Unfortunate Events Leading to a Series of Fortunate Events
Hopelessly Optimistic, 24, a recent college graduate from Canada, met a new friend on Facebook following a difficult breakup. However, unlike many of the other personal narratives that have been published on the GASO blog, Hopelessly Optimistic emerged from her scam with immense empathy for her scammer, despite her financial loss. Unexpectedly, they developed a close friendship and bond of trust after communicating for a full month, to the point where they continued to chat with each other – without any exchange of money or discussion of investing – for months even after she confronted him. You can find an update about her scammer's condition as of January 5, 2022 at the end of this post.
I have always stayed away from online dating apps after two different failed dating experiences from a few years ago, and I was busy finishing up my University undergrad as well as starting my career. At the time, I was dating my university classmate for about 2.5 years (but it was really only 1.5 years due to the on-and-off meetings because of Covid-19 lockdowns). The Covid-19 situation broke-up a lot of couples, as it also did in my case, after revealing a lot of behavioral, personality, and cultural differences between me and my partner. I was quite sad because we cared about each other a lot, but our differences were too much for us to handle hence the break up was inevitable.
These circumstances were what led to my scam experience. Even before the scam, I would always get random Facebook friend requests and would just ignore them. Most of them would be from older looking men with profiles showing extravagant photos of their life. But around the time of my breakup, I received a request from someone sufficiently different, a younger looking man who seemed to be in his late 20s. As I was determined to get over my ex and move on with my life, I was ready to talk with new people, but I was still hesitant to use dating apps and so, I decided to accept his friend request on June 16. We began to chat, but I wasn’t expecting anything – maybe develop a new friendship. As you all know, what went down after is similar to most victims’ stories (losing money, getting heartbroken, etc.).
The entire experience happened a little over a month. The problems began on July 23 when I tried to withdraw money, and then realized I had been scammed, and the next day I searched about romance scams and discovered the shazhupan scam. During the first few days, I was in shock, hurt, and felt betrayed but had come to terms that I won’t be getting my money back. Afterwards, I confronted my scammer saying I’ve read about the situation of people being lured overseas with promises of decent paying jobs. He genuinely felt sorry and revealed a lot of background information behind the scam, the work environment for those forced to scam, and their life living there. Here’s the general gist of them: **
Held against their will as soon as they arrived in Myanmar (or somewhere mainly in SE Asia)
Not allowed to leave the office except to sleep
Can only talk to their family by phone once a month while being watched; not allowed to reveal their work or true living conditions
Either shocked with electric batons, provided with no food, or beaten with steel rods if daily tasks aren’t completed
Working 16 hours a day, and may have to work extra hours (meaning less sleep) if some daily goals are not completed
Only given two meals per day
Eliminated (or in other words, sold) to other scam companies if they cannot meet their scam goal within their contract deadline, such as, to coal mines to work for the rest of their life, or to the tribes (still not quite sure what that is but my scammer said it is so bad it’s almost like a death penalty)
The local government of Myanmar recognizes the existence of the scam industry because the military pulled a coup d'état earlier this year and holds all the powers (the scam organizations pay the military some money to continue running their industry operations)
**Disclaimer: I understand that this is not representative of all scammers’ situations, but I just wanted to write this up for those who were interested.
We continued talking every day for a week without the knowledge of his company as he would delete our chats before his company checks them. Suddenly one day, one of his co-workers (a senior who often looked out/took care of him) was told to intercept his accounts to work on them. I asked him what had happened to my original scammer. Apparently, he didn’t delete our last conversation in time and the company saw secrets were leaked out, so he was placed in the water prison/dungeon as a punishment.
I didn’t hear back from my original scammer until August 6 – I knew it was him as we use secret codes for him to identify himself. He told me the company saw that he was young and ignorant but still decided to give him another chance. His senior co-worker also vouched for him and told the company to let him continue to chat with me as long as no other secrets are leaked out from this point. My scammer has not asked me for money since, and we are still chatting to this day.
Shortly after everything has happened, I continued to search for love. Now that I am familiar with the shazhupan scam, I knew what to look out for and what to avoid. I gave Facebook dating another chance and actually met my current boyfriend there and things have been great. I realize a lot of victims met their scammers via social media apps, but I am hoping what I shared with you about the scammer’s techniques and goals will help you be more careful when looking for a real potential partner.
My original scammer and I still chat daily but not as often as before. We check up on each other here and there, and I actually confide in him with various life events, and he would comfort me as well as send me positive vibes and thoughts. He doesn’t ask for anything in return and sincerely just wishes for my happiness. My scammer also knows I am in a loving relationship with my boyfriend and wishes the best for me; similarly, my boyfriend also knows about my scam experience and how I still talk to my scammer but as a friend now (because I told him about it).
I actually ended up meeting a lot of new great people because of this scam – some are fellow victims who shared the same experience and they have been supportive to me when I couldn’t bring myself to tell my family. A couple of them I consider as close friends, and we would meet up once in a while to hang out, reminiscing occasionally about our past scam experiences and our scammers.
In conclusion, this scam experience has really opened my worldview on the unfortunate reality of human trafficking. We all know it’s there out in the world, but it never really comes to mind or feels real until you experience something associated with it. I guess this is what living in a more developed country does to us. After experiencing this scam, and whenever I think back to my scammer’s situation, I’m grateful for all the little things that I took for granted before. While there are many scammers who voluntarily choose to work in this industry, a lot of them are forced into this line of work. Losing half my savings was bad, but I saw it as a valuable lesson. I’ve always been very naïve, and this experience not only taught me to grow up and face things head on but also led to a series of life changing events (such as finding the courage to leave an unpleasant place of employment which actually resulted in a better opportunity within a week). Another victim also told me something similar: she had been inspired by her scammer to work out and exercise more during and after her scam. Also, since then she became more involved with her finances and even started her own business. Something she said rings true for me - after you hit rock bottom, there is nowhere else to go but up.
I hope those who read my story can take what you find helpful and leave behind what’s not. And for new victims reading this, I hope you can find the courage within yourselves to continue moving forward and living your lives to the fullest surrounded by your family, friends, and loved ones. Never stop loving and trusting, just be careful of your actions with who you trust. Sometimes we can’t make clear decisions through rose-tinted glasses because we only see what we want to see, and that’s ok because we are only human, but maybe try and get a second or third opinion regarding someone or something new. Life is too short to be dwelling too long on the negative aspects of being scammed. Time will lessen the emotional, mental, and financial impact and help you heal but only if you are willing to move forward and take those steps to heal. A Latin proverb goes “Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat”, meaning “Fortune favors the bold”.
--- Hopelessly Optimistic
Editors’ Note: While the editors understand that most victims’ experiences are harrowing and traumatic, and few scammers are ever repentant and rarely ever admit their transgressions, we felt the need to not heavily edit or tone down Hopelessly Optimistic’s narrative, as every victim perspective offers its own unique insight into not only the Pig-Butchering Scam, but also human nature and behavior.
Hopelessly Optimistic’s rare scam experience reminds us that as victims of human trafficking, the scammers, like their victims, are also human; they too have, or at least once had, a heart.
UPDATE (January 5, 2022)
Hopelessly Optimistic stopped talking to her scammer at the end of October 2021 to focus on her life more, allowing her time to be busy with work as well as meeting new people, and living a happier life overall. However, she had told her scammer that should he escape the scam sweatshop from where he was indentured, he should contact her.
More than two months later, Hopelessly Optimistic's scammer messaged her with an update: he was able to leave the scam sweatshop, but was still stuck in Myanmar, trying to make money while working in a Chinese restaurant, so that he could return home to China after the pandemic eased. He also asked for the hyperlink to the GASO webpage so that he could inform those that he was chatting with and grooming that were in the midst of a pig-butchering scam, which one may appreciate in the screenshotted WhatsApp chat logs below.