Online “boiler room” scams have long had a presence across Southeast Asia but in recent months more details have emerged of people being trafficked and forced to work for them.
Victims have reported travelling to Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos on false promises of romance or high-paying jobs, and then being detained and forced to work, sometimes for months.
A 30-year-old man identified only as John said he has been trapped in Myanmar for three months and forced to run scams by armed men, according to an audio recording released yesterday.
“I have seen people who tried to escape but failed, they were shot and carried back in... escape is not an option,” he said.
“It’s very stressful. Money comes before everything. If I cannot meet the (revenue) quota, they may send me someplace else, where conditions could be 10 times worse.”
AFP is unable to independently verify the account which was released by local Hong Kong advocacy group Stop Trafficking of People and human rights lawyer Patricia Ho.
John said he travelled to Thailand for a vacation on a friend’s invitation but was kidnapped and taken to Myanmar, where his passport was confiscated.
Hong Kong’s government says so far 39 residents have asked for help since January after falling victim to boiler room scams.
Law enforcement officials have established a task force and called on victims to use a government-run mobile app to submit details and send photos of their surroundings.
John said he was contacted on Tuesday by the Hong Kong task force, but was told the situation was “beyond their control” and must be left to the Chinese government.
He added that a contact from the Chinese embassy in Myanmar told him two months ago to attempt an escape but then stopped responding.
Hong Kong authorities say 21 people are in captivity in Myanmar and Cambodia, while 18 others have been confirmed safe.
Family members of scam victims in Hong Kong have turned to the media and political parties to air their grievances.
Michelle Wong, programme manager of Stop Trafficking of People, said Southeast Asian trafficking rings have increasingly turned their attention to young, educated people of Chinese ethnicity.
“If the government could expose this kind of pattern to the Hong Kong public earlier, then these kinds of cases can be prevented,” Wong told reporters.
Hong Kong police have arrested six people in relation to the scams, some charged with conspiracy to defraud and accused of playing the roles of middlemen.
But rights lawyer Ho argued that the lack of a specific law against human trafficking and forced labour makes it harder for police and prosecutors to do their jobs.
“(The current system) doesn’t necessarily capture the severity of the crime that we’re looking at,” she said yesterday.