Silence of the Pigs

G1

(Continued from
yesterday)
At this point in the process, things might look pretty good for the people getting scammed. You’ve sent a bit of money to a legitimate-looking site through an account that you control, and your new friend’s trading tips seem to be working, so maybe you send a little bit more and pretty soon, you might have a fair amount of money tied up on this trading platform. But when you eventually go to withdraw it, that is where we hit the final step of this process.
Remember that woman mentioned earlier whose online friend claimed that he was from the same town where she was born. She even convinced her father to invest as well. They had seemingly made a bunch of money, and then this happened. By December of last year, their accounts showed a combined balance of $1.2 million. That’s when she decided it was time to cash out. That is when the site told her before she could withdraw her money, she’d have to pay a hefty tax bill of around $380,000. That’s when she eventually realized something was not right; it was not a real cryptocurrency investment after all, and all her and her father’s funds had gone into the scammer’s pockets – all in all, $390,000 stolen. The tax bill was just the ultimate attempt to squeeze them dry one last time!
This isn’t the only brutal story. One woman lost $350,000, another guy lost $300,000, and the first woman victim who fell for Jimmy sent him two and a half million as she was dealing with terminal cáncer herself. It is traumatic and humiliating, and it took extreme courage for those people to come forward.
That is partly why experts think the $3 billion per annum figure that they have estimated is way too low. Most people who’ve been scammed like them simply do not report their losses out of embarrassment. At this point, you have every right to be furious with the people on the other end of all of these messages. You want to see them taken down, at the very least.

Who’s behind it?
Reasonable people could also fathom that the persons on the other end of that phone (the scammers) might not be the ones you should be mad at because these post-Covid scams were being done in former casinos of Southeast Asia by organized Chinese crime syndicates. It turned out they were not great bosses after all, as one Indian man named Rakesh recalled. He said he was forced to work for more than 11 months without pay for a Chinese criminal gang.
Rakesh said he first flew to Thailand for what he thought was an IT job. Instead, he says he was tricked into crossing the border to Myanmar, where a Chinese gangster told him to work or else. He threatened to kill him. The job required Rakesh to spend 16 hours a day on social media with a fake profile targeting Americans. It would be complete torture to be forced to spend 16 hours a day on social media unless you love it or because you are 15 years old and the Facebook algorithm has addicted you to it. A lot of these organizations are using people who’ve been human trafficked after being lured to these compounds of organized crime under false pretences. People like Rakesh are actually the victims of scams themselves. They might see job ads for skilled positions as translators or IT specialists in another country. They then go through a whole application process, with some going through up to four seemingly legitimate online interviews, and fly to their new job. At this point, they suddenly learn that their new bosses have their travel and other documents confiscated, and they cannot leave.
Back in 2022, Rakesh estimated that tens of thousands of people had been tricked in this way, and a more recent UN report estimated that hundreds of thousands of people had been forcibly engaged in this scheme. UN also said most victims are confined to the scam compounds, and the members of the organized crime groups constantly monitor their screens. Once they are inside, they have been provided with fake profiles to try and hook people in.
Rakesh found himself acting out like a Russian girl all day, every day, using the fake profile of a beautiful Russian girl. He said he needed to scam the people posing as a Salt Lake City-based investor named Clara Simonov. Rakesh then flirted online with potential targets. 70 to 80 per cent fall for fake love. Even after scamming as many people as he possibly can, Rakesh’s boss would not let him leave the job.
The whole operation is highly organized and set up to get around the usual ways that you might detect a scam. For instance, some of these crooked organizations generate their own photos for their profiles so that they cannot be reverse-image searched via Google. Employees are given detailed manuals that guide them through every step of the scam process. They were told to target people who looked wealthy and successful. One advises even on daily activities for scammers – on the first day, talk about things like your name, age, occupation and hobbies, then the next day, talk about your emotional experience with a message divided into two paragraphs and then on the third day, talk about your entrepreneurial experience, etc. They’re even given tips on how to break down people’s defences. Several of these manuals carefully explain how to build trust and exploit weaknesses in their so-called clients, e.g., be funny, make clients fall in love with you so deeply that they forget everything. The chilling thing is if you are funny enough, you can make people forget a lot of things, whether it’s common-sense internet safeguards, lessons from previous relationships or that they’ve been accidentally learning about financial fraud and human trafficking for the last twenty minutes. And if you are thinking, why don’t authorities just shut these compounds down, sometimes they themselves are in on it.
One Chinese man named Lee, who was trafficked to a scam centre in Cambodia, explained what happened when he did the obvious thing on his second day in captivity. When he emailed the Chinese Embassy, he was advised to call the civil police, but the police never came. The property management came instead. They apparently knew that he had called the police. The managers then sold him to another scamming company because he had called the police. The managers of the scam centre said they had to take care of the police with at least $4,000, and I had to pay for that, too. Hence, the sale of Lee!
The authorities were not going to help him, which actually makes sense when you learn that according to UN estimates, Pig Butchering scams in Cambodia bring in an amount equivalent to half the country’s GDP, which is worrisome because if something generates that much money for a country, you do not shut it down. You spin it off and pray the magic works a second time.
The conditions in these compounds can be brutal. That trafficked man took photos of abuse of how some coworkers had been beaten. Even some Facebook videos in Myanmar showed workers being chained to beds at night and being tasered with electric rods when they failed to meet targets or misbehaved the slightest.
Lee, who managed to get out of the scam centre now, works to free others. The stories of what he’s seen are warning for others and hard to watch, such as a man getting beaten up very badly and having injuries all over his body. Lee contends it was this man who was reportedly found hanging just hours thereafter. His phone is full of messages from Chinese citizens desperate to be set free from the shackles of scam companies. There were also videos of abuses Lee said he received directly from victims inside the scam industry or found them posted in Social Media Group chats. To say they are shocking and absolutely horrifying would be a complete understatement.

And what can we do to protect ourselves and our loved ones from getting scammed in the future?
When you know all of this, it starts to change who exactly you are mad at because suddenly, the individuals on the other end of the phone do not seem to be having fun sending out messages to scam you. From now on, whenever you get a sexy text from a new stranger, good luck not thinking, is this a man who was just beaten in a border work camp in autonomous and EAO-controlled regions in Myanmar?
We cannot say that every scammer is someone who was kidnapped, tortured and forced to swindle, but even if not everyone who is doing this is trapped or coerced, the very fact that many fall into this category is still a huge problem. What we can do here when it comes to those imprisoned in these compounds is going to take collaboration between international law enforcement agencies. So unless you are the head of Interpol, there’s not much you can personally do now from wherever country you are in.
Platforms like Facebook should be doing way more to prevent the creation of fake accounts that target people because it’s happening on their watch. Scammers are using sponsored posts. Perhaps the most effective way to stop this from happening is to make it less lucrative by having fewer people fall for it. Awareness of this scam is key. This is one of those rare cases where raising awareness is in itself genuinely useful. Hopefully, you’ve read this in the paper today, and this could happen to someone you know. This has not just sucked in old people or those who are not tech-savvy. It managed to reel in a bank CEO in the first-world country of the USA. Everyone has an image of the type of person who is susceptible to getting scammed in their heads, but unless that image is in a mirror standing right in front of you, you might be wrong.
Thus, as a general rule, whenever a stranger online says either I love you or recommends crypto within a month of talking to you, worry honestly even if they do not turn out to be scammers. Those are pretty good red flags to be looking for. It’s worth telling your friends and family about Pig Butchering, too. If you know someone who’s been scammed like this, try to be kind. It is just human to want companionship, and it’s actually an excellent quality to be trusted by people. It sucks that the Internet, which should be a way to alleviate loneliness, can be turned into a tool to exploit it. Maybe if we all look out for one another, we can ensure that the worst mistake anyone ever makes on the Internet might just be inadvertently buying an excellent Christmas tree for something totally different upon arrival. I am pretty sure you have all experienced that in life, just like myself.

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