12-Hour Work, No Food, Rest Until Targets Met: 'Cyber Slaves' Detail Ordeal

Those trapped in Cambodia were forced to scam people back home, reports said (Representational)

New Delhi:

At least 5,000 Indians are being reportedly held against their will in Cambodia and are being forced to scam Indians back home online. The sheer scale of the fraud – the Centre pegs the proceeds of crime generated over the past six months at a whopping Rs 500 crore – prompted the two countries to join forces to bring it all down.

“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 reports, those trapped in Cambodia were forced to scam people back home in India and extort money by posing as law enforcement officials and telling the potential victims that suspicious things were found in parcels shipped by them.

The police became aware of this massive scam late last year when a senior central government employee claimed he was defrauded of over Rs 67 lakh and filed a complaint. Odisha’s Rourkela Police busted a cyber-crime syndicate on December 30 and arrested eight people allegedly involved in moving people to Cambodia.

“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.

The Modus Operandi

Stephen, one of the men rescued from Cambodia, has an ITI degree. When the coronavirus pandemic struck, he did some computer courses, he told The Indian Express, detailing the racket’s modus operandi.

“An agent in Mangaluru offered me a data entry job in Cambodia. There were three of us, including one Babu Rao from Andhra Pradesh. At the immigration, the agent said we were going on a tourist visa, which made me suspicious,” he told Express.

The three were taken to an office in Cambodia where they were interviewed, Stephen said, adding that only two of them could clear it. The boss was Chinese, while a Malaysian helped translate for them, he said.

“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,” he added.

A Day In The Lives Of Cyber Slaves

Forced to pose as women with fake social media profiles and fake photos, the men were given daily targets, and punishment for not meeting them. This is how the recruits would spend their days in a country they were lured to with the “promise” of a better job.

The “cyber slaves” would go without food and rest if they failed to meet their daily targets, the Express report quoted Stephen as saying.

“We had to create fake social media profiles with pictures of women sourced from different platforms. We were told to be careful while picking the photos,” he said.

“A “South Indian woman” would trap someone in the north to avoid raising any suspicion. We had targets and if we didn’t meet them, we would not get food or be allowed to go to our rooms. Finally, after a month and a half, I contacted my family and with the help of some local politicians, they managed to speak to the Embassy,” he said.

How Were The Indians Scammed

The accused took the men, or the potential scammers, to Cambodia on the pretext of jobs, Rourkela’s police official Upasana Padhi told The Indian Express.

Once there, the men were made to join the companies that indulged in defrauding people, she said. These companies would take away the passports, making it impossible for them to leave, and force them to work 12 hours a day, she added.

“If anyone refused to do what is asked of him, he would be tortured by way of physical assaults, electric shocks, solitary confinement, etc. 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,” Ms Padhi said.

The scammers would pose as women on dating apps and chat with the potential targets. “After some time, they would convince the target to invest in cryptocurrency trading. Many were duped in India this way,” she said.

According to the Rourkela Police, the agents got the men to join another company that focused on 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 gathered several key pieces of information, including the location of the fraud companies, their operatives, their modus operandi, and their management hierarchy, Ms Padhi said.

They have also identified three high-level operatives of Indian origin and one high-level operative of Nepalese origin. “We intend to arrest key players in this scam with the help of Interpol,” she added.


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