It's a Modern, Disturbing Twist on Human Trafficking

ProPublica explains how people are forced to work as cyberscammers
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 13, 2022 11:07 AM CDT
It's a Modern, Disturbing Twist on Human Trafficking
   (Getty / Lincoln Beddoe)

When the subject of human trafficking is raised, it's common to think of people forced into sex work or perhaps grueling manual labor. But a story at ProPublica digs into human trafficking with a more modern bent—people forced to work as cyberscammers. In this case, the focus is on Chinese criminal syndicates that lure desperate people from China, Thailand, Vietnam, and elsewhere into taking "marketing" jobs that promise lucrative pay. The victims move onto compounds—a major hub is in Sihanoukville, Cambodia—where they soon discover the truth. They're kept in prison-like conditions, subject to physical and verbal abuse, and forced to learn scripts to dupe victims in the US and elsewhere (language-translation software is used) to hand over their money in get-rich-quick schemes.

Worse, these workers quickly fall into debt to their employers and are told they can buy their freedom again for sums that are out of reach. Trouble-makers get sold to other outfits, with the price of their freedom increasing. The word "sold" is not an exaggeration. The story finds back channels on the Telegram network with chilling ads that read like Craigslist listings, if not for the details: “Selling a Chinese man in Sihanoukville just smuggled from China. 22 years old with ID card, typing very slow,” reads one ad, with a listed price of $10,000. Another reads, “Cambodia, Sihanoukville, six Bangladeshis, can type and speak English.” They read like "handbills in the days of American slavery," writes Cezary Podkul. Read the full story, which details the "pig butchering" scams in play as well as the experience of one such trafficking victim who made it out. (More Longform stories.)

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