Global cyber scam operation exploits and entraps thousands

The dark web of deceit: cyber scam operation exploits and entraps thousands

  • Published on
    December 14, 2023
  • News Source Image
  • Category:
    Forced Labor, Human Trafficking
Hero Banner

TIME reports on the global cyber scam operation known as “pig butchering” that originated in China six years ago. The scam involves creating fake profiles on social media and dating sites to build online relationships with unsuspecting victims, often from the U.S., Europe, and other Western countries.

The scam has become a growing international issue, with an estimated hundreds of thousands of people, mainly in Southeast Asia, involved. Scammers like Mark Santos*, a 26-year-old Filipino, are victims themselves, lured through fake job ads or lucrative offers and then trafficked and held captive by organizations running the scam centers.

More common than you think

The operation has become so big that the syndicates have internationalized operations in countries with weaker rule of law, like Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos, soliciting labor from at least 40 countries. According to a U.N. report, it is estimated that at least 120,000 people may have been trafficked in Myanmar and around 100,000 others in Cambodia.

Jason Tower, Myanmar Country Director at the United States Institute of Peace, tells TIME:

“There’s really not a country in the world that hasn’t been targeted or whose nationals haven’t been targeted by these criminal networks, either through the pig butchering scams themselves or by human trafficking. So it’s a problem that really needs the focus of the entire globe.”

Santos was one of many trafficked to Myanmar by Chinese crime groups in late 2022 after he responded to a job posting on Facebook.

“Once in Myanmar, they find that they really have no choice but to scam. It’s really an option of either scam and make money for the syndicate or potentially lose your life, be subject to torture, be subject to threats of having your organs removed.” says Tower.

A holistic approach

The suffering and difficulties experienced by those like Santos who are trafficked to scam are multifaceted, and the solutions at the moment are limited by the perceived scope of the issue.

Because most victims arrived at the scam centers on tourist visas and overstayed as they were trafficked, officials sometimes charge them with sky-high immigration fees before allowing them to return home. Many find themselves locked in immigration detention for several months after their escape, treated like criminals if they are unable to pay. For those who do make it home, their reputation as scammers makes it difficult to reintegrate or find jobs, increasing the risk of re-exploitation.

There needs to be a more holistic approach to address the issue, including disrupting criminal networks, increasing public awareness, and addressing governance gaps in countries where scam centers operate. Additionally, governments must focus on a victim-centered approach. Often, survivors of this type of trafficking experience great stigma and shame, as well as continual psychological and physical trauma.

While cyber scams are increasingly difficult to crack down on, Freedom United believes that governments have to ability to provide protection to any kind of trafficking victim by taking away punitive immigration policies that contribute to one’s increased vulnerability to being trafficked.

We must do everything in our power to decrease the risks of trafficking and provide better access to modern slavery protections. You can help by signing our petition to encourage safe migration to end human trafficking.


Freedom United is interested in hearing from our community and welcomes relevant, informed comments, advice, and insights that advance the conversation around our campaigns and advocacy. We value inclusivity and respect within our community. To be approved, your comments should be civil.

stop icon A few things we do not tolerate: comments that promote discrimination, prejudice, racism, or xenophobia, as well as personal attacks or profanity. We screen submissions in order to create a space where the entire Freedom United community feels safe to express and exchange thoughtful opinions.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

This week

Undocumented workers exploited in pizza chain forced labor scheme

A 48-year-old owner of an American pizza chain was recently found guilty of exploiting undocumented workers in a forced labor scheme which relied on their irregular migration status. Prosecutors outlined how Stavros “Steve” Papantoniadis abused and threatened to report six undocumented workers to immigration authorities, exploiting their vulnerable status to maintain control. Preying on irregular migrants Papantoniadis, who owns three pizza

| Saturday June 8, 2024

Read more