New RSO policy brief calls for coordinated international response to huge and growing impact of online scam centres
The Regional Support Office of the Bali Process (RSO) is pleased to announce the release of our latest policy brief, “Trapped in Deceit: Responding to the Trafficking in Persons Fueling the Expansion of Southeast Asia’s Online Scam Centres.” The Brief provides a detailed analysis of the growing threat posed by online scam centres, which have become a significant income generator for organised crime in the Asia-Pacific. The Brief provides a comprehensive overview of the conditions that led to the emergence of scam centres, their development into a lucrative business for criminal organisations, and the appalling conditions faced by trafficking victims who are forced to work in these centres.
The online scam centres operate by employing teams of scammers who target vulnerable individuals, using realistic yet fraudulent websites, mobile applications, and investment tools to defraud scam victims. The report notes that these centres are implementing increasingly complex forms of psychological manipulation to build trust with, and extract money from, potential scam victims, using a strategy commonly known as “pig butchering,” whereby strong relationships are built between scammers and victims, before scammers work from multiple angles to extract money from victims.
Recruitment efforts by scam operations have led to the trafficking of thousands of individuals from around the globe, many of whom are subjected to forced labour and forced criminality. After arriving at scam centres, usually with the promise of a legitimate job, victims of trafficking are subsequently forced to administer the scams through threats of violent reprisals. The Brief highlights that victims report cramped living conditions, back-breaking working hours, and physical, verbal, and sexual abuse are commonplace within scam centres.
The report's release coincides with growing momentum towards implementing solutions to address the problem of online scam centres. The report provides a roadmap for addressing current challenges and for making scam centres more challenging to operate. Specifically, the Brief puts forwards a number of priority recommended responses for addressing the situation:
- Launch regularised regional forums for multi-disciplinary groups of international counterparts in law enforcement, policymakers and tech companies to coordinate at the operational and policy levels
- Clarify communication channels between law enforcement, policymakers and the private sector to support efforts to develop guidelines for electronic evidence requests and the removal of potentially harmful online materials;
- Update or develop guidelines to support consular officials in assisting victims of trafficking who are attempting to leave online scam centres or who are seeking support after having left;
- Intensify research and data collection efforts to quantify the scale of the online scams crisis, including developing estimates of victims of trafficking numbers, as well as the number of scam centres currently operating and their revenues;
- Launch large-scale awareness-raising campaigns to prevent the trafficking of at-risk populations across Southeast Asia, as well as other significant source countries and transit points.
The RSO is well-positioned to coordinate responses to counter the rising prevalence of online scam centres. With the broad membership of the Bali Process, the RSO has the mandate and capacity to bring together governments, law enforcement, private companies, and civil society organisations to implement solutions together. Further to this, the RSO has the unique capacity to engage at the operational, policy, and capacity-building levels, providing us with the potential to coordinate a truly holistic response. This brief presents a clear set of response activities to move forward at each of these levels, aiming to start discussions about the next steps forward and to advance discussions about innovative potential response strategies. The RSO is committed to continuing to work with our partners to turn these ideas into action and looks forward to seeing trafficking in persons related to these scam centres, as well as the organised crime groups operating them, in decline as soon as possible.
For any inquiries related to the Policy Brief or the work the RSO’s Transnational Crime and Technology Programme, please contact email@example.com.