In the clutches of scammers

Back home safe: 12 Malaysians who were forced to work by scam syndicates in Cambodia arriving at KLIA 2 after being rescued. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

PETALING JAYA: Despite hundreds being rescued, 135 Malaysians who were enticed and hoodwinked with lucrative job offers remain trapped in the clutches of overseas scam syndicates.

Federal police CID’s Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (D3) unit principal assistant director Senior Asst Comm Fadil Marsus said the 135 victims include 117 men and 18 women who are being forcibly held to work for scam call centres.

He said almost 55% of the victims are in call centres in Myanmar while the rest are in Laos and Cambodia, where they are said to face severe labour exploitation to aid the activities of the syndicates, mainly involving love and investment scams to defraud unsuspecting victims.

SAC Fadil said a small number of them are also being held in Dubai and the Philippines.

ALSO READ: Cops to track down mastermind behind Peru job scam ring, says IGP

According to him, the police received 308 reports involving 396 Malaysians who had fallen for the job scam syndicates between 2021 and last month.

SAC Fadil added that 261 of the victims – 208 men and 53 women – have since been rescued, and efforts to bring the rest home are ongoing.

“We are working closely with the Foreign Ministry, Aseanapol and Interpol to trace and expedite the rescue of the remaining Malaysians who are still being confined by the syndicates abroad,” he told The Star in a recent interview.

On a positive note, SAC Fadil revealed that, with regular awareness campaigns and news reports since 2021, such cases have steeply declined.

ALSO READ: Still in captivity, despite being ransomed

He said investigations showed that the victims, mostly job seekers looking for high-paying employment, had responded to advertisements by the syndicates on social media platforms such as Facebook.

“They were lured by the high salaries that were offered. Then there are also those who were deceived by individuals whom they befriended on social media platforms but had never met in person.

“A majority of the victims are fully aware they are required to work as scammers and are paid salaries.

“There are no particular criteria they need to meet to secure the job. As long as they are willing to travel to the syndicate’s location, they are taken in,” he said.

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Although sources have indicated that the masterminds or leaders of the syndicates are primarily Malaysians who relocated their operations to evade police crackdowns, SAC Fadil said that such claims are inaccurate.

“The activities of these syndicates are complex, and they involve networking with various nationalities. There is a possibility that Malaysians are among the members of the syndicates, but to say all of them are the brains behind the scamming or are involved in recruiting other Malaysians is inaccurate,” he said.

Asked if it was safe for Malaysians to travel to countries such as Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam and if tourists are also targets of the syndicates, SAC Fadil said the police have not received any form of warning notifying them of such risk existing in these countries.

“For now, we have not received any reports of Malaysians who have travelled to these countries as tourists falling victim to job scam syndicates,” he said.

Nevertheless, he recommended that Malaysians intending to visit these countries refer to travel advisories issued by the Malaysian government and stay informed about the current situation in their destination country.

SAC Fadil stressed that Malaysians who secured employment overseas should ensure the job offer is genuine.

ALSO READ: Sarikei man falls victim to job scam in Myanmar

“Apart from being aware of the employment laws of the foreign country, they should also see to it that they are issued with documents such as a letter of employment and work visa.

“Checks with the Malaysian Embassy or Malaysian Consulate should also be carried out to ascertain if such jobs exist,” he said.

In February, Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said eight workers of two Klang Valley-based employment agencies were arrested after they were found to have offered jobs linked to job scam syndicates overseas.

He said that while some were genuinely duped into working for the syndicates, others were fully aware they were expected to work as scammers.

However, Saifuddin said the latter claimed to be victims after falling out with their employers.

On Oct 7, 43 Malaysians trapped in a scam call centre in Peru were rescued by police following a raid on a house.

Peruvian police learnt that the Malaysians were victims of human trafficking syndicates from Taiwan and China, while the Malaysian police said they are waiting for more information on the rescued victims from the Peruvian government.

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