Southeast Asia is home to burgeoning social media crypto scams

Indian engineer Stephen Wesley was confused when asked to take a typing test during an interview for a graphic design job in Thailand – but forgot when he got the part.

After we landed in Bangkok to begin work in July, Wesley and seven other new recruits were instead taken across the border into Myanmar, where their phones and passports were confiscated and used to participate in online cryptocurrency scams to work.

“I spent up to 18 hours a day researching, texting, chatting with people on social media platforms, gaining their trust and encouraging them to invest in cryptocurrency,” said mR Wesley, 29 , in a phone interview.

Thousands of people, many with tech skills, have been lured by social media ads promising high-paying jobs in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, only to find themselves forced to scam strangers worldwide via the internet.

Mr Wesley spent 45 days in detention at a compound in Myanmar’s southeastern border town of Myawaddy and was given a list of about 3,500 names to contact via Facebook, Instagram or dating apps.

“We were taught how to flirt, chat about hobbies, everyday life, likes and dislikes. In about 15 days, trust would be built and the client would be ready to take our advice on investing in crypto,” he said.

Cybercrime rings first emerged in Cambodia but have since spread to other countries in the region, targeting more tech-savvy workers, including those from India and Malaysia.

Authorities in those countries and United Nations officials have said they are run by Chinese gangsters who control gambling across Southeast Asia and are offsetting losses during the pandemic lockdowns.

The experts say the trafficked prisoners are being held in large camps in converted casinos in Cambodia and in special economic zones in Myanmar and Laos.

“The gangs targeted skilled, tech-savvy workers who had lost their jobs during the pandemic and were in despair, and fell for these fake job ads,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“The authorities have been slow to respond and in many cases these people are treated not as victims of human trafficking but as criminals because they were involved in these scams.”

Cybercrime has risen sharply with the advent of digital platforms that allow easy access to personal information online, as well as improved translation software and artificial intelligence (AI)-generated photos that help scammers create fake personas.

The scam Mr. Wesley and others were coerced into is known as pig slaughter, in which a scammer uses social media, messaging and dating apps to build trust with his victims and then pressures them into bogus crypto or online trading schemes to invest.

The term refers to the process by which scammers “feed their victims promises of romance and wealth” before cutting them off and taking their money, according to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, which traced its origins to China in 2019.

“People don’t know, but they share a lot of information on social media platforms,” ​​said Dhanya Menon, director of Avanzo Cyber ​​Security Solutions in India, which advises companies on cyber security.

“If you follow someone’s social media for just 15 days, you will gather a lot of information about them,” she said, adding that cryptocurrency fraud is on the rise because little is known about how virtual currency works.

India’s Foreign Ministry issued an alert in September warning youngsters with tech skills about fake Thai jobs Southeast Asia is home to burgeoning social media crypto scams

Fry Electronics Team

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