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UN Alerts Rapid Rise of Victims in Southeast Asia ‘Forced’ Into Crypto Scams

Sujha Sundararajan
Last updated: | 2 min read
Source: Pixabay

A report from the United Nations Human Rights Office revealed that “hundreds of thousands of people” across Southeast Asian countries are being “forced” by organized criminal gangs to engage in online scams including cryptocurrency frauds and illegal gambling schemes.

The report indicates that a majority of people trafficked into online scam operations are men. However, women and children are also among the victims. These people reportedly face serious violations and abuses, including threats to their safety and security.

“They are subject to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, arbitrary detention, sexual violence, forced labor and other forms of labor exploitation as well as a range of other human rights violations and abuses,” the report declares.

Generally, people who are coerced into working in these cryptocurrency scamming operations are termed as criminals or as immigration offenders, rather than being protected and given access to rehabilitation.

“They are victims. They are not criminals,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk, said in a UN press release.

Crypto Scams Have Two Types of Victims

The UN reports that there are two types of victims involved in these crypto scam acts – people who suffer financial losses and individuals coerced to take part in online scams.

Victims forced into such scams are often “trafficked persons and migrants in vulnerable situations who face a range of human rights risks,” it continued.

Criminal actors make use of their financial and vulnerable situations such as business shutdowns during the pandemic, and lack of social protection, to apparently extend to offering them real jobs.

Interestingly, many of the victims are well-educated, sometimes coming from professional jobs or with graduate or even post-graduate degrees, computer-literate and multi-lingual.

Countries Involved

The report said that online scam trafficking in Southeast Asia is “difficult to estimate.” However, citing ‘credible sources,’ UN noted that at least 120,000 people across Myanmar and approximately 100,000 in Cambodia may be trapped in online crypto scam operations.

Furthermore, nations including Laos, the Philippines and Thailand, have also been identified as places of transit or crime destinations, where at least thousands of people are involved.

“While some countries in Southeast Asia have put in place legal and policy frameworks relevant to counter trafficking, in some cases they fall short of international standards,” it added.

The APAC region faces an increasing rate of cybercrime and cases of serious crypto thefts in recent years, a 2019 report from law firm Holman Fenwick Willan, wrote.

“This vulnerability is due to quicker digital transactions and greater internet connectivity combined with lacking cybersecurity investment and low awareness.”

Türk said that only a “holistic approach” could break the cycle of impunity and ensure protection and justice for the people who have been affected.