How Cambodia’s scam mills reel in new “cyber slave” workers

Casual trafficking, calls to parents, misleading ads: even with global pressure, recruitment is rife.

On October 26, at 7 a.m., Linh Ne was abruptly woken in her dormitory by her boss. He was hurrying around the workers’ living quarters, turning out hallway lights to make the building look vacant.

Linh says she and her colleagues worked at a fraudulent investment app operating clandestinely in Bavet, a Cambodian gambling town on the Vietnam border. The company was about to be raided by police, their boss warned them. He seemed shocked; he believed he’d maintained a close enough relationship with local authorities to avoid searches. But after a video of a worker beaten and lying motionless circulated on Facebook, Linh said, her boss thought it might have triggered the police.

Linh was trafficked into Cambodia two years ago, she told Rest of World, in an experience she described as “hell.” She said that since then, she’s worked in Bavet’s scam compounds: shadow businesses of online gambling and fraudulent apps tucked behind the town’s casinos, extorting victims based anywhere from the U.S. to neighboring Vietnam. They’re powered by a force of “cyber slaves” — many trafficked and detained under grueling conditions, but some there of their own accord.

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