Having gone through the ordeal of human trafficking, I now intern with HRC, working to reunite victims with their families

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November 24, 2023
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In 2022, while I was living in Dubai as a freelance IT technician, I was offered a good 6-month work opportunity in Laos. However, when I reached Laos, I was forced to work in a fraud factory. The managers said I had to do whatever they told me to do. They gave me a script, and told me I had to scam other people online. They had lied to me; I didn’t want to do this type of work. They continued lying to me, and later on, I was sold again. They transferred me to a different company in another location, telling me it was 20 minutes away by boat. Indeed, if we used the road it would have been longer, about 6 hours. Little did I know that I was being transferred and sold from Laos to Myanmar. I only realised once I was there.

While in Myanmar, I was sold three more times at a cost that I do not know. But at the last compound they sold me to, I was demanded to pay 10 million Thai Bhat (around 300,000 USD) or scam 1,000,000 USD from others if I wanted my freedom. There was so much money involved, you could not reason with them. I kept requesting for them to release me, but my pleas fell on deaf ears. I and so many others worked for so many hours without any days off to rest. You could no longer feel your body due to exhaustion, and the food was terrible and limited. We were forced to work without pay, with little time for rest and sleep. There was also no proper medication given to us, and falling sick or ill never meant anything to the perpetrators, who were Chinese-speaking people.

I was told to do whatever they wanted me to do if I didn’t want to suffer and if I wanted to leave the compound alive. I was tortured physically, mentally, and socially. They used to beat us and wake us up through electrocution, reminding us that we were slaves. At times these people would just start playing with a compact stun gun behind your back, while threatening you that you have to make them money. We had no choice, we had to scam other people.

This is how we carried out the scamming.

It all begins with creating fake profiles on different social media platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and several dating sites, such as Tinder, Badoo, and Meet4U. These scamming operations often have a beautiful lady who makes video and audio calls. The model provides photographs and videos, which are used to create the fake profiles. You are also required to find suitable profiles on Instagram, and steal those photographs to create fake profiles. You are provided with a script directing you on what to tell the victim so that someone else can take over the chat easily. We worked like machines in a factory. In the scripts, the model is a young, rich, self-made single lady looking for a serious relationship. There are pictures of her having a luxurious lifestyle, like living in a big house and driving expensive cars, so that the intended target will think she is a very rich hardworking independent lady.

I was told to target men. Once the target accepted a friend request or there is a mutual liking, we started chatting. After chatting together for a few days, we were required to evaluate the target in terms of their lifestyle to estimate their wealth. Once the target has developed a strong attachment, you introduce the idea of an investment, and you suggest using a platform. This is always a fake company website made by the fraudsters. The goal is to lure the target to add more and more investment. This is known as ‘fattening up the pig’.

These investments are mainly through digital currencies like BTC, USDT, and Ethereum, among others. Other scammers lure their victims to invest in traditionally stable assets like gold, oil, copper, and diamonds, but all in their digital forms. And they don’t just use social media and data sites, they also deceive victims on platforms for online games, cash rewards and betting.

I want to shed more light on the ongoing modern-day slavery in scamming compounds currently happening in Dubai and Southeast Asia, including Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and other countries.

Let me begin with Dubai, which is a fast-rising hub for scamming compounds. It has been easy to lure migrant workers to fall for such scamming jobs, either in Dubai or abroad, due to the poor job market while the cost of living is high. It leaves most people desperate for anything. This was my situation. I saw what looked like a legit data management role advertised. The interviews would be taken place in Dubai and the job would be in Laos. I went to Rahaba Residences for my first interview, and Jaber Ali for the second interview. They tested my typing speed and other skills. I didn’t realise it was a scam at the time. But people I met in Laos told me that what I saw in Dubai was also a scam, and that’s when I connected the dots.

My friends and I have witnessed the scamming activities in places such as Rahaba Residences, Jaber Ali, Dubai Investment Parks, Silicon Oasis, and Dubai South. These compounds are big enough to house over 30 companies with each company having 20 to 50 employees. For example, Rahaba has 20 blocks, and each block has 8 floors. In Jaber Ali there are more than 10 blocks, with each block having 9 floors. You can see the magnitude of the activities just in Dubai. When I spoke to my friends who were forced to work in Dubai fraud compounds, they told me they once called the police about the situation, only for them to show up and tell them they would do nothing as the place was in a free-trade zone.

From my understanding, most of the compounds are found mainly in Southeast Asia, in the Golden Triangle, which is in the bordering areas of Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand. In Laos many are found just within the Golden Triangle, in the Ton Pheung district. After spending 3 months with local people in Laos following my escape, I found out that in Myanmar the Tachileik district is the place harbouring a high concentration of compounds. Lots of the compounds are situated near the Mekong river, at the border of Thailand and Laos.

All of the compounds I was in operated in China’s style; we ate Chinese food and everyone spoke Chinese. However, in these compounds, there are different nationalities that include; India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Pakistan, South Africa, Sudan, Myanmar, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. Working hours range from 13 to 16 hours a day, depending on the productivity and success of those who are scamming. Successfully scamming means a target has deposited money in digital currency. These companies always work for a period of 5 to 7 months, and then they change the names and websites they use. These criminals often use cloned sites of real platforms; it can be avoided if people check out if a domain is real on Whois.com, for example.  

After spending so many months in the compound, I was later helped out of captivity by the tireless dedication of Mr. Thomas Choate from the International Justice Mission (IJM), the intervention of Uganda’s embassy, and the efforts of Interpol, among other local and international organisations.

Being in the compound was difficult, and even when I came back home life was so difficult. This was until I met Mina Chiang of HRC, who introduced me to the HRC team. HRC has continuously supported me in many different ways, including giving me an opportunity to work as an intern at HRC. I don’t know what I would have done without meeting my team. I continue to learn different things daily from them.

I now focus on getting in touch with the people who are still in the compounds and support them in going home, as well as striving towards stopping these horrible acts against humanity.

I would like to extend a lot of thanks to HRC, IJM, International Organization for Migration (IOM), Village focus International, Interpol, Laos Women and Orphans Empowerment Center, Global Anti Scam Organisation (GASO), Laos anti trafficking police, and other organisations that I cannot name publicly, for their continuous efforts in fighting and disclosing crimes against humanity as well as greatly supporting survivors. I truly can’t thank you all enough.