Human Trafficking-Fueled Fraud Expanding Beyond Southeast Asia, 281 Arrests

Published: 14 December 2023

Interpol Turkey Migrant Smuggling

Turkish law enforcement apprehending 239 migrant smugglers. (Photo: Interpol, License)

By Erika Di Benedetto

Human trafficking-fueled fraud, a phenomenon impacting Southeast Asia and now extending to other countries where trafficked victims are forced to work in online scam centers, was revealed by Interpol after an investigation involving 27 countries in Asia and other regions.

The international agency operation, known as Operation Storm Makers II, resulted in the arrest of 281 individuals allegedly involved in trafficking and migrant smuggling. Charges include corruption, sexual exploitation, human trafficking, document forgery, and telecommunications fraud.

Additionally, 149 human trafficking victims have been rescued, and investigations are ongoing.

According to the international police agency, victims of human trafficking-fueled fraud are often targeted by traffickers online through fake job ads.

Investigators found that victims not only endure being forced into a series of online scams, such as fake cryptocurrency investments, lottery and online gambling scams, and work-from-home schemes, but they are also subjected to physical abuse.

“The human cost of cyber scam centers continues to rise. Only concerted global action can truly address the globalization of this crime trend. While the majority of cases remain concentrated in Southeast Asia, Operation Storm Makers II offers further evidence that this modus operandi is spreading, with victims sourced from other continents and new scam centers appearing as far afield as Latin America,” said Rosemary Nalubega, Assistant Director, Vulnerable Communities at Interpol.

During the investigation, Uganda's law enforcement discovered that several people were trafficked to Dubai after being taken to Thailand and then to Myanmar, where they were taught, against their will, by a fraud organization how to defraud banks.

In another case, in the state of Telangana, India, an accountant was trafficked for the purpose of cyber fraud, kept in inhumane conditions, and forced to participate in an online fraud scheme.

Furthermore, authorities reported that in 2022, victims of trafficking rescued in Myanmar came from 22 different regions, mainly from Kayin and Shan States.

During the operation, authorities found cases of human trafficking for other purposes, such as prostitution, involving minors as well.

In August 2023, the United Nations reported that criminal gangs in Southeast Asia, torturing and abusing hundreds of thousands of individuals to force them into participating in a highly profitable online scam industry, are generating billions of dollars annually.

The policy report issued by The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime also confirmed that this type of human trafficking is a global problem, with victims from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South America.