Yesterday, the United Nations Office and Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released a report that adds the small but growing corpus of literature on the cancerous cyber-scam operations that continue to metastasize across mainland Southeast Asia.
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The UNODC report shines a light on the region-wide wave of digital criminality that has arisen in the Mekong region since the onset of COVID-19. At the time, the operators of existing illegal casino operations across the region advanced existing plans to to begin running online scams, which include various kinds of cryptocurrency frauds and romance-investment scams.
The majority of these industrial-scale operations are located in often Chinese-run special economic zones and other regulatory voids in Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia. Some are also present in the Philippines and Malaysia. Aside from the billions that these scams leech from victims around the world, many have also relied on the mass “trafficking in persons for forced criminality,” to use UNODC’s term of art, which has been facilitated by the context of economic insecurity that accompanied the pandemic shutdowns.