Rising Online Fraud in Southeast Asia Sparks Calls for Regional Cooperation

Rising Online Fraud in Southeast Asia Sparks Calls for Regional Cooperation
FILE: Indian scammers (photo credit: Techjuice)

Online fraud in Southeast Asia is continuously growing, to the point where syndicates are reported to be robbing an estimated amount of USD 64 billion each year worldwide. The widespread issue calls for cooperative regional measurements, according to a report from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) released on 13 May. 

The document suggests that the scammer groups are stealing approximately USD 43.8 billion every year only in Southeast Asia, specifically in Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. 

USIP stated that most victims are the result of scammers using the “big butchering” scheme. This approach involves the frauds tricking people on the internet into making fraudulent investments after gaining their trust through grooming.

Jason Tower, Myanmar country director at USIP noted that the issue used to be as small as a regional scale problem before ascending to a global mess within a very short period. The expert added that there has been a substantial increase in non-Chinese victims and those that cannot speak mandarin. He suspected that it was an act, carried out in retaliation to Chinese law enforcement’s increasing scrutiny of the industry. 

According to a report from the High Commissioner’s office of the United Nations Human Rights in 2023, more than 200,000 people are being forced to carry out cyber scams in Southeast Asia, with Laos and the Philippines being hotspots for cyber-related trafficking. 

The report says that Individuals are likely to accept jobs posted on social media which promise high-payment and involve information technology. These so-called jobs also require moving from one country to another.

After the relocation, the victims would find themselves imprisoned, with their passport confiscated before getting forced to carry out an online scam through the pig butchering method.

Many international corporations have been carried out to tackle the scam syndicates through some rescue missions in, as evident in a recent case in Laos where the country’s Indian Embassy successfully rescued approximately 25 to 30 Indian nationals who fell prey to a scam jobs in Thailand, only to find themselves coerced into illegal work in Laos.

In a separate case, three Nepalese women who were victims of human trafficking were also rescued from an illegal scamming job in Laos back in 2022 after receiving help from some of her fellow nationals in Laos.

As scam activity continues to increase, the USIP study group suggests several steps to address the problem, including imposing sanctions and travel bans on leaders of scam syndicates, holding countries responsible for allowing scam operations, and possibly penalizing social media platforms such as Telegram for enabling money laundering and promoting scam activities.