Rescuing tricked recruits of online scams companies in Cambodia
This is the first ground operation GASO is disclosing to the public.
Last week, Malaysians trapped by an online scams company in Cambodia were rescued and repatriated back home. See report from Channel News Asia (CNA): 16 Malaysians duped by fake job offers in Cambodia rescued, and in Free Malaysia Today: 16 rescued after ‘forced to work as scammers’ in Cambodia | Free Malaysia Today (FMT)
To summarize, a few Malaysians were tricked by job ads on Facebook into going to Cambodia as "customer service agents". Upon arrival at the recruiting company, their passports were taken (as usual), and they were not allowed to go out and were forced to run the company's online scams. On April 9 they were rescued by local police in conjunction with Malaysian, Interpol and ASEAN police as well as the relevant foreign ministries.
from Channel News Asia
An example of a scam job ad aimed at expats in Cambodia. Others would be job openings for "digital marketing" and "translators".
What happened behind the scenes
GASO, along with partners on the ground, started the chain of events leading to the Malaysian embassy appealing the Cambodian government for help. While gathering intelligence in early March, one of us found a comment on a post on the Cambodian prime minister's Facebook page left by a Steven Wong (alias) appealing anyone for help. We connected with him, and submitted him to tests to verify his authenticity, his situation and his willingness to work with us.
A glimpse of their dormitory.
Outside their building, recorded at personal risk.
Video from his personal page. The location is Golden Water compound in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. He revealed that he is actually Malaysian, and together with 15 of his other compatriots were trapped in other compounds of the telecom/online fraud company in Cambodia after being lured there for a job. The company runs crpytocurrency pig-butchering scams on MetaTrader targeting Americans and Europeans.
Satisfied with the information they gave, GASO worked on a plan of action. With reportedly 50 guards around the compound entrances and being a rather large group (insisting on escaping together), the typical methods of escape and rescue was out of the question. But being a large number of Malaysians worked in their favor in another way. Since authorities almost never open a criminal case on reports of third parties, we reached out to and guided Steven Wong's mother and the relatives of the other trafficked Malaysians to report a kidnapping case to their local police on March 10. These reports eventually trickled up to the Royal Malaysian Police, and on April 4 the Malaysian foreign ministry finally directed the Malaysian embassy in Cambodia to ask their host for help getting their citizens out.
It was not without a hitch. The company boss got wind of his impending loss and forced his Malaysian indentured employees to call their family to ask for ransom. He wants to get reimbursed for supposedly paying for their flight tickets and visa to Cambodia -- pay, or else. Bovine manure. In no uncertain terms, we firmly urged the families to not give in. On some calls GASO members were listening in on the other line, and even on a few tense moments our lead negotiator herself was on the line talking down on the boss and calling out his BS. Unfortunately, Steven Wong's mom panicked and relented to sending over 18,000 Malaysian ringgit (~$4,300) as demanded.
Accounts where ransom was paid, in 2 tranches. Feel free to freeze.
On April 6, Cambodian police raided the compound, busted down their gates, rescued the Malaysians, and arrested the ringleader. We wished that that was what happened. Actual events are appallingly anti-climactic.
On April 6, the local Cambodian police phoned the company management and told them to bring down the named Malaysian citizens to avoid any trouble for everyone. And so the company just brought them to the police station (and ate their investment "loss"). The Malaysians were brought to the capital Phnom Penh and finally flown home on April 11.
Steven Wong thanking GASO and recounting what happened:
Translation: I found a post on Facebook before I came to Cambodia. It was a job for hire and it said Cambodia. The salary was 2000usd to do restaurant. But when I arrived in Cambodia on February 18, I found out that it was a customer service scam when I arrived in Cambodia and started working at night. At that time I couldn't leave. The next day, when I got back to the recruiting Facebook account, he had already blocked me. After that I told my mom that I was working here as a scammer. I wanted to leave, but my boss wouldn't let me. So I asked ask my mom to report this in Malaysia, but there kept on having no response. It wasn't until 1 week later that I went to Facebook myself and asked the Prime Minister of Cambodia for help. When I commented on his comment section a Cambodian media person private messaged me asking me what happened. I told him and he told me to contact anti global scam org and when I did, this media person told me to send him all the information I had and let him help me out. Until April 6, the Cambodian police came to my workplace and took me to the police station. When they took me to the police station, he (police) asked me to pay 20,000++rm, so I paid him. But he said he had a return ticket and a visa, and today I [hate] the police. Who would have known that I got cheated by them, and when I work without customers to talk to when I get physically punished, beaten and so on. Then I also do not like to cheat people. This is the reason I want to leave and I work 15 hours. And I get paid 300usd a month instead of 2000usd. But I also want to thank global anti scam org for helping me and not letting me die in Cambodia.
GASO is revealing more on this side of its operations to call out the billion-dollar scam industry in Southeast Asia and lack of attention on this problem. Albeit this was large rescue; 3 other human trafficking victims were also rescued/escaped in the past 2 weeks. Along with rescuing cooperative turncoats, GASO gathers information on dozens of scam companies operating with more than tacit understanding in scammer-friendly countries. More diplomatic pressure is needed from more countries for any hope of justice.
Having said that human trafficking is partly fueling the scams industry in Cambodia, we opine that the majority of scammers are of the willing type. We reserve judgment on the rescued scammers/human trafficking victims, many of whom swear that they're the ones who could not scam anyone. In any case, unhappy employees can make good informants.