Eric B* returned safely home to Malaysia in September 2022. He is one of the 168 victims rescued by Wisma Putra following a job scam ordeal that saw him transported to the neighbouring country of Cambodia. His gruelling tale serves as a precaution to others who are looking for fast cash.
Despite red flags and opposition from his family in Sarawak, the 29-year-old father of two took the job that promised him quick and fast cash. Eric, who was working as a salesman in a stationery company in Miri, learnt about the job from an online acquaintance. The acquaintance had a criminal record, but that did not deter Eric from being influenced by the lucrative deal.
Eric originally signed up for work in Thailand but upon his arrival at KLIA, he found his destination had been changed to Cambodia. He was assured that he’ll be driven to Thailand via Cambodia, which he conceded.
The syndicate further promised US$15,000 (RM65,000) deposited into three different accounts created for him in Thailand. But no single cent was given. Eric was brought to Cambodia and forced to work in a stock exchange call centre. He refused the position and was forced to stay in a room for two to three weeks. Then, he was sold to another company and was forced to work in a phone scam operation.
I was given a phone as part of the job. I was also promised a salary of US$1,500 (RM6,500) a month. but did not receive a single cent. – Eric B. job scam victim
In Preah Sihanouk, Cambodia, Eric was held captive and beaten by his captors when he refused to cooperate.
I had my passport taken and was beaten twice on the head and leg when I refused to cooperate. I also witnessed other victims being hit with shock taser sticks while I was there. – Eric B. job scam victim
Eric was lucky to survive the ordeal and tell about it – but in reality, there are many more Malaysians stuck in neighbouring countries and entangled in job scams.
A Rising Trend
The official number according to Wisma Putra is 301 reported cases of Malaysians tricked into job scams in Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia. A total of 168 victims have been rescued, with 34 being placed in immigration detention centres and 99 still being traced in different countries.
However, according to Seah, another rescued Malaysian, he saw first-hand that there were over 1,000 Malaysians trapped in the same syndicate he was enslaved in, in Myawaddy, Myanmar.
On each floor, there were about 300 people, mostly Malaysians. They were beaten as well so I know that they are also victims. – Seah, job scam victim
The exact number of victims may be underreported as only about half of the cases have been reported to the police. The victims can be divided into two categories – those with qualifications, such as diplomas and those without qualifications.
This first category will arrive in Cambodia, complete with a job offer letter as if from a real company; but after their arrival, they will be forced to work with a syndicate. However, this category has only a small number of victims (involving one or two cases). – Datuk Eldeen Husaini Mohd Hashim, Malaysian Ambassador to Cambodia
Those without qualifications range from as young as 10 years old to 30 years old.
The second category has the most (number of victims) and they are usually uneducated or desperate because of economic problems, family problems and so on. We see an increase in this trend after the Covid-19 pandemic because many people have lost their jobs, so syndicates take advantage. – Datuk Eldeen Husaini Mohd Hashim, Malaysian Ambassador to Cambodia
The Allure Of Money
According to the Malaysian Ambassador to Cambodia, Datuk Eldeen Husaini Mohd Hashim, the enticement of high salaries in the foreign currency offered by the scams ranging from US$2,000 to US$4,000 (RM9,000 to 18,000) is hard to resist.
The job offer scams have been notoriously active during the pandemic, where multiple lockdowns have cost the jobs and livelihoods of millions in Malaysia.
Not many people had a steady income during the pandemic, and in desperation, they sought an opportunity that could get them out of financial problems. – Chuojashni Subramaniam, social media expert
Some became willing participants if they were on the run from Ah Long (money lenders)or had family problems.
We have rescued many but many also don’t want to return to Malaysia. Some ran away from home, some ran away from Ah Long. – Datuk Eldeen Husaini Mohd Hashim, Malaysian Ambassador to Cambodia
There are an increasing number of advertisements reaching out to social media users through Facebook, Telegram and WhatsApp. Young individuals are often seduced by the possibility of earning money through gig work.
But not all job scams would necessitate the victims to travel abroad, some would deplete the victim’s money instead. For example, a 23-year-old man, who worked as a painter in Arau, Perlis lost RM39,196 when applying for a part-time job.
Attracted to a part-time job advertised on Facebook, the man sent a WhatsApp message to the number in the advertisement. – Supt Wan Aeidil Wan Abdullah, Perlis CID chief
Under the same scam, a 19-year-old female student lost RM8,128 after applying for an online job promising earnings of between RM2,500 and RM4,000 on Facebook.
The suspect instructed the victim to make several purchases of goods on the e-commerce platform for an immediate profit of five per cent for each purchase. -Supt Wan Aeidil Wan Abdullah, Perlis CID chief
There are also some victims who fell prey to larger schemes abroad where they are lured by advertisements on Facebook for job vacancies that promised lucrative salaries and travel expenses that are paid for by the company.
Victims who are interested in the offer will contact the agent through the messaging applications. After getting the victim’s consent, the agent informs them that it will manage and bear the cost of travel to the job destination. – Noorsiah Saaduddin, Secretary of the police force
But in the case of Goi Zhen Feng, the first Malaysia death formally recorded linked to the scam trade, the syndicate preyed on his emotions through an online romance that started off on social media. Some scammers act as attractive young girls to befriend male targets.
He met a girlfriend online and they would talk over video calls,” said his father. “We never saw her face but we heard her voice … whenever we came into the room she would sign off because she was shy or the internet connection would suddenly fail. – Goi Chee Kong, father of the late Goi Zhen Feng
The 23-year-old trainee teacher left his home in Ipoh, Perak to meet his online girlfriend in Bangkok, Thailand with the promise he would return a day before his mother’s birthday in February 2022.
But the victim was alleged to have been forced to work for a massive scam and money-laundering scheme led by gangsters from China but operating in bordering towns of Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar.
No matter the offers online of meeting friends, boys or girls or high-paying jobs, please don’t be cheated by them. These syndicates will use any method to lure you into this hell on Earth. – Goi Chee Kong, father of the late Goi Zhen Feng
Findings from recent investigations found that victims who are lured into these places have to surrender all travel documents and phones. They are then locked up or closely monitored by syndicates. Victims are then coerced to work for online gambling syndicates and play the role of a scammer for investment fraud, love scams and or other forms of scams.
The Ever-Evolving Modus Operandi
As their old method of circulating scam offers via social media and emails has been sniffed out, their tactics have changed, using a more personal mode of texting and sending messages.
By now, people are already aware of the standard red flags of fake job offers sent via email such as the sender’s address, layout, etc. More or less we know how to recognise and avoid it so scammers have changed their delivery mode to text/SMS. – Yeo Siang Tiong, general manager for Southeast Asia at Kaspersky
In some cases, scammers will appear as close friends or potential lovers reaching out to promise a relationship or trusted friendship. There are also scammers who use vendor accounts on Shopee, a popular online shopping platform or fake accounts on TikTok, another popular social media site.
There is also a lowered expectation of danger in text messages so it’s less scrutinised by the receiver, which means the scam is likely to succeed. – Yeo Siang Tiong, general manager for Southeast Asia at Kaspersky
But the end result is the same, either the money would be lost or victims would be trafficked to neighbouring countries, to work in the scam trade. Failure to follow orders would lead them to be tortured, have their organs harvested and sold for cash or sold to other syndicates as slaves (forced labour without pay).
Weak job performance or not bringing any money in may result in women victims being sold as prostitutes. Most victims are at the mercy of the syndicate and would have to pay their way out with a fee ranging from USD $3,000 – $15,000.
It’s a ransom. It is paid in cryptocurrency … it’s untraceable. – Victor Wong, a Malaysian businessman based in Thailand
Keep One Eye Open
Job scams have evolved with innovative methods to lure and snap vulnerable victims. Despite more and more news headlines addressing online job scams, many still fall prey to the syndicate.
Although this issue has been widely reported in the media, most of them do not read the news and only look at social media, so family and friends also need to play a role. – Datuk Eldeen Husaini Mohd Hashim, Malaysian Ambassador to Cambodia
Eric B., despite warnings from his family members, was drawn to travel and work abroad. But, it cost him his freedom and was subject to abuse.
When an unsuspecting person gets a message like a job offer with irresistible pay, he/ she is likely to disregard his/ her mental checklist of warning signs and just click through. – Yeo Siang Tiong, general manager for Southeast Asia at Kaspersky 
There have been awareness campaigns on the authority’s front, with Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) ongoing programmes such as “Say No To Scam”, “Klik Dengan Bijak” (KDB), “Malaysia ICT Volunteer” (MIV) and collaboration with the police to protect more Malaysians from falling victim to such scams.
The Malaysian government has been placed under increasing pressure from the victims’ families, members of parliaments and non-governmental organisations to rescue and halt the human trafficking of Malaysians. Thus, the government chaired a coordinated and organised task force that would lead to action implementation concerning job scam syndicate cases involving Malaysians abroad.
However, it doesn’t hurt to be more vigilant and careful of any job offers that you may receive in the future:
• Be alert that scams do exist and are present in different modus operandi. If it looks good to be true, it probably is.
• Do not respond to messages from unknown people or organisations. Replying would confirm that your phone number is active.
• When job hunting, limit job searches to official sources and check the company’s official website for open vacancies matching your job skills.
• Check contact information on companies’ official websites if you have been contacted by a recruiter. Take a step further and send an email to the company and verify the identity of the recruiter.
• Be wary of offers or job interviews that are being held in secret chats where messages are encrypted, and cannot be forwarded and alerts the participants if anyone takes a screenshot.
• Beware of any requests for personal details or payment requests to secure employment. It is important to never send money or give credit card details, online account details or copies of personal documents to anyone you don’t know or trust.
• Use the SemakMule Portal to check if the bank account or phone number used in the communications was involved in criminal activities.
• Do our part by channelling information or lodge reports to the police’s Commercial Crime Investigation Department (CCID) Scam Response Centre at 03-26101559 and 03-26101599, or MCMC through aduan.skmm.gov.my, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or WhatsApp at 016-220 6262.
*Last name not revealed for privacy and safety purposes.
Explore our sources:
- J.Santos. (2022). I was tortured: rescued Cambodian job scam victim shares ordeal. The Vibes. Link
- FMT Reporters. (2022). Protect Malaysians from job scams overseas, MTUC tells govt. Free Malaysia Today. Link
- A.Adam. (2022). Why are Malaysians falling for deadly job scams in Cambodia, and what is Putrajaya doing to prevent more victims? Malay Mail. Link
- Malay Mail. (2022). ‘Good offer’, lack of awareness reasons Malaysian victims fall for Cambodian job scams, says envoy. Link
- S.T.Raju. (2022).Don’t fall prey to foreign job scams: Bukit Aman. The Sun Daily. Link
- S.J.Zahiid. (2022).Report: Some Malaysian job scam victims in Cambodia refused rescue. Malay Mail. Link
- Digital News Asia. (2022). Cybercriminals continue to prey on Malaysian job-seekers – Kaspersky explains why. Link
- Bernama. (2022). Painter, student fall prey to online job scam. New Straits Times. Link
- Bernama. (2022). 168 still stranded outside Malaysia in jobs scam. Free Malaysia Today. Link
- A.Jones. (2022). Exclusive | Malaysian victim’s death linked to Asia’s ‘hell on Earth’ scam trade. South China Morning Post. Link