• Tuesday, July 23, 2024


How Cambodia’s ‘cyber slave’ industry exploits south Asians

Sihanoukville, Cambodia, stands out as a focal point for multi-billion pound industry, targetting individuals mainly from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Malaysia.

These victims are are forced to work 12-hour shifts. (Representative image from iStock)

By: Vivek Mishra

Thousands are lured to Cambodia with promises of data entry jobs, only to find themselves trapped in a nightmarish world of forced labour. These “cyber slaves” are forced to run online scams that target people worldwide.

These victims are held captive in high-security complexes, guarded by armed men. Their passports are confiscated, and they are forced to work 12-hour shifts.

Stephen Monthero, from Karnataka, India, is one such victim. Like many others, he was tricked by an agent who promised a high-paying data entry job in Cambodia. He paid a hefty fee and ended up with a tourist visa to Thailand and a one-way ticket to a life of misery, reports The Print.

Monthero said they followed scripted dialogues, aided by AI, luring targets into investments or sextortion. Punishment rooms await those who resist, with starvation and isolation as tools of coercion.

Monthero’s daily routine involved 12-hour shifts, manipulating social media to deceive targets. AI-generated imagery and scripted conversations trapped unsuspecting victims, and financial scams were executed with precision, leaving victims penniless and broken.

Two others from Karnataka, Ashok from Chikkamagaluru and Jaishankar from Kolar, were also rescued. They were reportedly among the 5,000 Indians held captive in Cambodia where they were being forced to run cyber scams or sextortion rackets.

Those who refuse to participate or underperform face brutal punishment. They are locked in “punishment rooms,” deprived of food and human contact for days.

Men armed with tasers and batons are on guard 24/7 to apprehend any runaways. On the one side is a seemingly unending shoreline and on the other, rows of multi-storeyed buildings which harbour. Equipped with ‘punishment rooms’ and state-of-the-art AI units, the complex which harbours office spaces, casinos, gambling dens and brothels is one of many operating in Cambodia, The Print reported.

India’s response

The Indian government said it was rescuing its citizens who were lured into employment in Cambodia and were being forced to participate in cyber fraud schemes, reported Reuters.

The Indian embassy in Cambodia is working with Cambodian authorities and has rescued and repatriated about 250 Indians, including 75 in the last three months, India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said in a statement on Saturday.

“We are also working with Cambodian authorities and with agencies in India to crack down on those responsible for these fraudulent schemes,” Jaiswal said. The Indian government and its embassy in Cambodia have issued several advisories informing them about such scams, the spokesperson said.

Cambodia’s cyber scam industry

Sihanoukville, Cambodia, stands out as a focal point for multi-billion pound industry, targetting individuals mainly from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Malaysia. In September 2022, Cambodian authorities launched a crackdown on this sector, raiding numerous buildings and apartments in Sihanoukville.

While there were many arrests and deportations, media reports indicate the industry still thrives with operations shifting to Pursat, Koh Kong, Kandal provinces, and Bavet. The Covid-19 pandemic further fuelled its expansion.

Cambodia is a hub for this forced labour industry, but it’s not alone. Countries like Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos known for this. Estimates suggest over 100,000 people are trapped in Cambodia alone.

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