Report Unveils Extent of Online Scamming in SEA

A UN Human Rights’ report has revealed the extent of online scam centers across Southeast Asia, estimating there are about 100,000 people in Cambodia being lured into activities
Preah Sihanouk province, August 2023. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Preah Sihanouk province, August 2023. Kiripost/Siv Channa

A United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner report has found that hundreds of thousands of people are being trafficked into online scamming in Southeast Asia.

The report, which was released in August, estimates that at least 100,000 individuals in Cambodia alone are forcibly coerced into participating in online scams.

It also found that scam centers in Southeast Asia are estimated to generate billions of US dollars in revenue each year. The report said it has reached a staggering $7.8 billion in stolen cryptocurrency.

The report went on to highlight the need for a coordinated international response to the issue of online scam trafficking in the region.

The UN report estimates that at least 120,000 people in Myanmar and 100,000 in Cambodia are being forced to participate in online scams. These numbers highlight the alarming scale of the issue and the significant impact on individuals who are coerced into participating in fraudulent activities.

Scam centers in Southeast Asia are reportedly operating in a variety of locations, including Phnom Penh, Kandal, Pursat, Koh Kong, Bavet, Preah Sihanouk, Oddar Meanchey, Svay Rieng, Dara Sakor Special Economic Zone (SEZ), and Henge Thmorda SEZ in Cambodia.

In Myanmar, the report named Shwe Kokko, Myawaddy on the Thai border, Kokang Self-Administered Zone in Shan State, and the Wa-administered city of Mong La on the Chinese border.

Other named locations include the Golden Triangle SEZ in Laos, and Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) and SEZs, such as the Clark Free Port Zone, in the Philippines.

The UN report underscores the urgent need for a comprehensive human rights response to tackle the issue of online scam operations and trafficking in Southeast Asia.

Am Sam Ath, operations director for Cambodian human rights group Licadho, said that the UN Human Rights Office's research methods are reliable and can be believed.

He pointed to the fact that online scams are occurring in Cambodia and other countries, and that the United States has blacklisted Cambodia for its involvement in online scams and human trafficking.

"The report is one of specific reflection, expressing the crime that has occurred, which is why the United States still puts Cambodia on a blacklist, considering that online scams are related to human trafficking and other crimes,” Sam Ath told Kiripost.

He added that there have been reports from embassies of other countries about their citizens being the victim of online scams in Cambodia.

Sam Ath added that the government has not been responsive to these reports, and that the country needs to develop the capacity to respond quickly to online scams.

"The government has the right to defend itself against the report. However, it is crucial to closely monitor UN Human Rights’ reports, and strive to improve, prevent, and dismantle the issues identified. The government should take an active role in addressing these concerns."

The spokespeople for the National Police and Interior Ministry declined to comment on the report when contacted by Kiripost.

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