Scammers by force: electrocuted for missing quotas


Nearly 900 victims of human trafficking have been freed from a romance scam factory disguised as a gambling company in the Philippines. The UN warns that cyber fraud and tech slavery is booming in Southeast Asia.

On March 13th, a Chinese-backed company known as Zun Yuan Technology Incorporated was raided by joint forces of Philippine authorities. They rescued nearly 900 victims of human trafficking who were forced to operate in global romance scams known as ‘pig butchering.’

The forced labor hub was located in Bamban city, just 100km away from the capital, Manila. Disguised as a gambling service provider, the company was actually luring hundreds of job seekers in Southeast Asia with tempting job offers. However, on arrival, victims had their passports confiscated and were virtually enslaved by their captors.

Among the freed victims were citizens of the Philippines, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Rwanda. According to the authorities, the workers who fell behind with their quotas were abused, deprived of sleep, or locked up in their rooms.

The raid was initiated following a complaint filed by a Vietnamese person who had successfully fled from the company’s compound. He displayed signs of torture and electrocution. Nine people are facing charges linked to human trafficking.

It’s not the first time a scam factory has been raided and enslaved workers freed. In May 2023, Philippine law enforcement agencies freed over 1000 workers from an industrial-scale cyber scam hub called Smart Web Technology Corporation in Pasay City, 90 kilometers north of Manila.

Scam slavery is booming

Scam slavery is booming in Southeast Asia. According to a UN report in 2024, the shadow economy of unregulated crypto exchanges and casinos in Southeast Asia has successfully diversified its income to include cyber fraud, among other illicit activities.

Also, the business has reportedly moved its bases to loosely regulated and highly vulnerable jurisdictions, including Cambodia, Lao PDR, and the Philippines, as well as several border areas controlled by armed groups in Myanmar.

The human trafficking schemes normally target educated and tech-savvy young individuals, seducing them with well-paid job opportunities in areas like marketing and currency trading. These offers typically surface through social media and personal connections.

Once the victims accept a job offer and travel to the designated country, they’re taken to fortified compounds with armed guards. Enslaved workers must work long hours, typically 14 or more each day, and told to gain the trust of mainly Americans, Europeans, and Australians to empty their financial accounts.

Non-government organizations are raising the alarm of tremendous human rights violations, as those working in the compounds face physical and emotional violence and threats to their lives.

If the slave-scammers break rules or don't meet targets, they often face violent punishment. Rescued or escaped victims tell stories of beatings, electric shocks, water torture, sexual abuse, starvation, and being locked in dark rooms.

According to Humanity Research Consultancy, there are currently around 25,000 scam-slaves. However, this number could be much higher.


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