Sihanoukville, Cambodia
The Cambodian coastal city of Sihanoukville has been a hotspot of Chinese organized crime and cyber trafficking. Image: Sim Kimhort via Unsplash

FBI warns about fake job ads from cyber traffickers

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is warning people to be wary of fake job advertisements used to lure applicants into scamming operations in Southeast Asia.

Such schemes, perpetrated primarily by Chinese organized crime groups, have exploded in size in recent years, with Cambodia as the epicenter of the industry and Myanmar increasingly becoming a hub. Workers are trafficked into scam compounds, where they carry out “pig butchering” operations, in which a cybercriminal forges a relationship with a targeted person from afar before stealing from them.

Historically, labor trafficking has involved work in precarious manual jobs, but the cyber trafficking in Southeast Asia requires a well-educated population with both technology and language skills, meaning syndicates cast a wide net in search of workers.

“Criminal actors target victims, primarily in Asia, in employment fraud schemes by posting false job advertisements on social media and online employment sites,” the notice said, adding that advertised positions include tech support and offer high salaries and good benefits.

The FBI alert is aimed at U.S. travelers, but victims are from all over, with the majority reportedly from within Asia.

“Upon job seekers’ arrival in the foreign country, criminal actors use multiple means to coerce them to commit cryptocurrency investment schemes, such as confiscation of passports and travel documents, threat of violence, and use of violence,” the FBI said.

The traffickers often saddle victims with made-up debts, like travel fees, which they are forced to pay off by conducting lucrative scams. Typically these involve trafficked scammers developing a relationship online and by phone with victims all over the world. Eventually, the victims will be encouraged to make fraudulent cryptocurrency investments, which are ultimately stolen.

The FBI advises job seekers to research a company before accepting a position, to be wary of salaries that seem too good to be true, and to share employment and contact details with friends and family.

In an April 2023 report, anti-human trafficking organization Humanity Research Consultancy said that it is aware of victims from more than 20 countries trafficked into Southeast Asian scam compounds, including from the U.S. The Bali Process also recently included the U.S. as a country of origin for people trafficked into scam compounds.

Other origin countries include Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Russia, Vietnam and Zimbabwe, among others.

According to Jason Tower, Myanmar country director at the United States Institute of Peace and an expert on cyber trafficking, people from more than 43 countries have been trafficked into "no less than 50 criminal enclaves spread across Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, the Philippines, Dubai and Uganda."

"This activity continues to expand at an alarming rate, with thousands of new victims trafficked every month, while industrial sized scam and money laundering operations expand far beyond the pace of any response," he said.

In April, the Justice Department seized $112 million in cryptocurrency in six different accounts in Idaho, California and Arizona connected to pig butchering scams. In 2022, $2.57 billion in losses from cryptocurrency fraud, including pig butchering scams, were reported to the FBI Internet Crimes Complaint Center.

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James Reddick

James Reddick

has worked as a journalist around the world, including in Lebanon and in Cambodia, where he was Deputy Managing Editor of The Phnom Penh Post. He is also a radio and podcast producer for outlets like Snap Judgment.