Interpol said its first operation targeting human-trafficking-fueled cyber fraud showed that the criminal industry was going global, spreading beyond its origins in Southeast Asia, with scam centers emerging as far away as Latin America.
The global police coordination body said law enforcement from more than 20 countries in October carried out inspections at hundreds of trafficking and smuggling hotspots, many known to be used to traffic victims to commit online fraud "on an industrial scale, while enduring abject physical abuse".
The coordinated operation, which led to hundreds of arrests, demonstrated the "expanding geographical footprint" of the crime, the agency said, with examples including Malaysians lured to Peru by promises of highly paid work and Ugandan nationals taken to Dubai then Thailand and Myanmar, where they were confined under armed guard and taught to defraud banks.
While most cases are still in Southeast Asia, Rosemary Nalubega, Assistant Director, Vulnerable Communities at Interpol, said in a statement "this modus operandi is spreading, with victims sourced from other continents and new scam centres appearing as far afield as Latin America."
The phenomenon emerged in Southeast Asia, where the United Nations says hundreds of thousands of people have been trafficked by criminal gangs and forced to work in scam centres and other illegal online operations that have sprung up in recent years.
The fast-growing scams centres are generating billions of US dollars in revenue each year, the UN said.
A Reuters investigation last month detailed the emergence of the crime and its financing, examining how a crypto account registered in the name of a Chinese national in Thailand had received millions of dollars from a crypto wallet that a US blockchain analysis firm said was linked to scams. The victims of one was a US national.
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