A startling revelation from the United Nations Human Rights Office hints at a dire situation in Southeast Asia where droves of innocent individuals are entrapped in online scams, including cryptocurrency frauds – all orchestrated by relentless criminal gangs. These victims are cited to be in their hundreds of thousands across the region. Notable, however, is the fact that both men, often in the majority, and women plus children are systematically trafficked into such snares.
The ordeal brought by these unscrupulous actors extends beyond mere manipulation as victims are reported to undergo severe human rights violations and hazardous conditions, ranging from torture, inhumane treatment, arbitrary detention, sexual violence to forced labor among others. Despite this horrifying reality, these victims are often mislabeled as perps or immigration offenders instead of receiving the necessary protection and rehabilitation, causing further harm.
The cunning design of these crypto scams introduces two categories of victims. First, those who lose financially from being snared in these fraudulent crypto schemes. On the other end are individuals coerced into participating in these online swindles, often involving trafficked, vulnerable individuals or migrants who face escalating human rights risks.
Adept manipulation by these criminal elements oftentimes exploits their victims’ dire financial situations, precipitated by unstable circumstances such as the disruptive business shutdowns during the pandemic, and lack of social protection. Tragically, a majority of these victims are armed with impressive educational backgrounds, boasting professional or graduate degrees, demonstrating computer literacy and multilingual skills.
The extent of the rampant online scam trafficking in Southeast Asia is hard pin down, but according to the UN report, citing credible sources, a mammoth 120,000 individuals in Myanmar alone and roughly 100,000 more in Cambodia are enmeshed in these online crypto scams. More disturbing is the involvement of other nations in this regional nightmare including Laos, the Philippines and Thailand, identified as either transit corridors or destinations of crime hosting thousands more victims.
Surprisingly, the UN report notes that countries in Southeast Asia have put in place legal frameworks to counter trafficking, though they occasionally come up short in matching international standards. A 2019 report from law firm Holman Fenwick Willan identifies the growing cybercrime rate and crypto thefts in the APAC region, attributing these to quicker digital transactions plus greater internet connectivity, compounded by sparse cybersecurity investment and awareness.
To eradicate these wrongful activities and secure justice for victims, a “holistic approach” is required according to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk. This involves recognizing the intricate nature of these criminal systems and implementing comprehensive solutions to dismantle them.