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5,000 Indians trapped as 'cyber slaves' in Cambodia, forced to scam Indians back home; MEA says 250 rescued so far
Photo Courtesy: Pixabay

5,000 Indians trapped as 'cyber slaves' in Cambodia, forced to scam Indians back home; MEA says 250 rescued so far

| @indiablooms | 31 Mar 2024, 05:24 pm

New Delhi: At least 5,000 Indian citizens are allegedly being held against their will in Cambodia, forced to engage in online scams targeting Indians back home. The huge scale of this illegal activity, which has reportedly generated around Rs 500 crore in the past six months, has prompted India and Cambodia to join hands to bring down the illicit operation, media reported.

On Saturday, the Ministry of External Affairs said that the government is working closely with Cambodian authorities, resulting in the rescue and repatriation of approximately 250 Indians thus far.

The Indian Embassy in Cambodia is addressing complaints from Indian nationals who were promised legitimate job opportunities but were coerced into illegal cyber activities upon arrival, it said.

"We have seen the media reports on Indian nationals stuck in Cambodia. Our Embassy in Cambodia has been promptly responding to complaints from Indian nationals who were lured with employment opportunities to that country but were forced to undertake illegal cyber work," the Ministry of External Affairs said, adding that around 250 Indians have been "rescued and repatriated" so far.

According to media sources, those trapped in Cambodia were coerced into conduct scams in India, impersonating law enforcement officials to extort money from unsuspecting victims by claiming to have discovered suspicious items in parcels sent by the victims.

The massive scam came to light late last year after a senior central government employee lodged a complaint with police that he was duped of over Rs 67 lakh and filed a complaint. Subsequently, Odisha's Rourkela Police cracked down a cyber-crime syndicate on December 30 and took eight people under arrest allegedly for their role in sending people to Cambodia, reported Indian Express.

"We arrested eight persons from different parts of the country and have prima facie evidence against multiple people involved in the scam. We issued Look Out Circulars against 16, following which the Bureau of Immigration detained two men - Harish Kurapati and Naga Venkata Sowjanya Kurapati - at the Hyderabad airport after they landed from Cambodia," an officer said, the Indian Express reported.

Chinese Link

A victim, named Stephen, who was rescued from Cambodia said he was taken to Cambodia along with two other Indians on tourist visas for data entry jobs. They were taken to an office in Cambodia, where a Chinese man interviewed them. Two of them were selected while one could not make it. He said that a Malaysian man was interpreting their conversation.

"They tested our typing speed among other things," he said. "It was only later that we found out that our job was to look for profiles on Facebook and identify people who can be scammed. The team was Chinese, but a Malaysian translated the instructions to English," Stephen added.

Modus operandi

Rourkela's police official Upasana Padhi told The Indian Express that the trapped workers were coerced into posing as women on social media using fake profiles and images, with daily targets assigned under threat of punishment.

They were required to carefully select photos of women from various sources to avoid suspicion.

Stephen told Indian Express that the “cyber slaves” were deprived of food and rest unless they met their quotas and those who failed to meet targets were not given food and go back to their accommodation.

After suffering for over a month, Stephen, finally, managed to contact his family, who, with the help of local politicians were able to get in touch with that Indian Embassy in Cambodia for his repatriation.

“Many Indians not willing to engage in such scams are trapped there. We are trying to identify, contact, and bring them back through proper channels,” Padhi told Indian Express.

"After some time, they would convince the target to invest in cryptocurrency trading. Many were duped in India this way," she said.

As per Rourkela Police reports, the agents persuaded the target to join a different company involved in investment scams in October 2023.

"This company lured people to invest in fake stocks. They also created a fake online app," the officer said.

The police have collected several key pieces of information, including the location of the fraud companies, their operatives, their modus operandi, and their management hierarchy, Padhi said.

The police have identified three top-level operatives of Indian descent and one top-level operative of Nepalese descent.

"We intend to arrest key players in this scam with the help of Interpol," she added, the report said.

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