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Ads for lucrative jobs in Asia fail to mention chance of slavery as crypto-scammer

The FBI has issued a warning about fake job ads that recruit workers into forced labor operations in Southeast Asia – some of which enslave visitors and force them to participate in cryptocurrency scams.

The warning follows reports of multi-storey slave compounds housing unwilling workers in places like Cambodia, and comes eight months after The Register reported on raids by Cambodian authorities that aimed to shut down the scams.

The FBI’s advice suggests those scams are ongoing.

“Criminal actors assign debts to victims under the guise of travel fees and room and board, and use victims’ mounting debt and fear of local law enforcement as additional means to control victims. Trafficked victims are sometimes sold and transferred between compounds, further adding to their debt,” said the FBI.

Advocacy groups and media report similar tactics, with victims targeted online and promised lucrative jobs abroad with travel fees and other benefits paid.

Upon arrival in a foreign country – which may not even be the one jobseekers were told they’d visit – workers’ passports and travel documents may be confiscated, and the victim coerced to conduct scams under the threat of violence.

The scams the slaves conduct often involve “pig butchering” tactics that see perpetrators encourage victims to make investments in cryptocurrency. Once payments are made, the scammer ceases communication with the victim and their cash disappears. Pig butchering perps often use romance scams, promises of sex, or illegal gambling as lures.

Life for enslaved scammers is made doubly miserable by the fact that authorities pursue them as illegal workers. After a raid by the Cambodian law enforcement last September found 262 foreigners in these camps working without permits, authorities vowed to “take strict legal action” against foreigners that remain in illegal employment – and fined the victims.

That raid also turned up four guns, 804 desktop computers, 16 laptops, 36 passports, 12 data storage devices, four pairs of handcuffs, eight electric batons, two “electric shock torches” and 8,776 phones.

The FBI has advised victims to contact the nearest US embassy. While leaving the compounds is not easy, social venture Human Research Consultancy [PDF] said intervention from a victim’s embassy is one of the most successful means of securing an exit from the forced labor. Contacting local authorities often results in “no response” but diplomatic pressure can get individual victims released, said the org.

While the FBI’s warning is aimed primarily at US citizens, the bulk of victims are from China, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand, according to Global Anti-Scam Org (GASO). GASO also found the compounds are largely owned by businesses based in China and are common in Myanmar, Laos, Dubai, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

Governments in various countries, including China and Malaysia, have issued similar advisories. ®