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Online scamming industry includes more human trafficking victims, Interpol says

Goi Chee Kong shows a picture of his son Goi Zhen Feng, who died after falling prey to human trafficking, during a press conference in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, on Sept. 21, 2022. Goi said he believed his 23-year-old son was forced to work for groups involved in online scams.
Vincent Thian
/
AP
Goi Chee Kong shows a picture of his son Goi Zhen Feng, who died after falling prey to human trafficking, during a press conference in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, on Sept. 21, 2022. Goi said he believed his 23-year-old son was forced to work for groups involved in online scams.

Human trafficking-fueled cyberfraud, which lures victims through fake job ads and forces them to work as online scammers, is becoming more prevalent across the world, according to the global crime-fighting organization, Interpol.

The France-based group facilitates police coordination among countries. In its first operation dedicated to investigating this abuse, Interpol said it found a majority of cases existed in Southeast Asia, but scam centers using forced labor were also beginning to appear in Latin America.

"The human cost of cyber scam centres continues to rise," Rosemary Nalubega, assistant director of vulnerable communities at Interpol, said in a statement on Friday. "Only concerted global action can truly address the globalization of this crime trend."

Each case often involves multiple countries and continents. In an example from October, Interpol said several Ugandan citizens were taken to Dubai then Thailand then Myanmar, where they were forced to be involved in an online scheme to defraud banks.

In another harrowing case, 40 Malaysian citizens were lured to Peru and coerced into committing telecommunications fraud, according to Interpol. This past year in Myanmar, local authorities rescued trafficking victims who were from 22 countries, the group added.

Cyberfraud is considered human trafficking's newest form of exploitation. According to a 2023 U.S. State Department trafficking report, a common strategy is for traffickers to pose as job recruiters and post fake listings on social media.

These traffickers promise high salaries for workers who can speak English or have a technical background. But when victims arrive on their first day at work, they are transported to remote scam centers and and forced to pay off their "debt" through cyber crimes, like illegal online gambling or investment schemes as well as romance scams.

The State Department report added that victims can be held against their will for months or years at a time, often with limited access to food, water, medicine and communication.

Human trafficking-fueled cyberfraud took shape during the pandemic, as people across the world lost their jobs and spent more time online, the report said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.

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