Cambodia Investigating 5,000 Indians Allegedly Forced to Work in Online Scams in the Country

This photo taken on September 26, 2022 shows a motorist passing a building previously shut down by the police, in Sihanoukville in Preah Sihanouk province. Dozens of casinos sprang up in recent years in Sihanoukville following Chinese investment, making the City a hub for gamblers and drawing in international crime groups. As travel restrictions bit during the pandemic, these groups shifted their focus from gambling to scams. (Photo by AFP)

PHNOM PENH – The Cambodian authorities are investigating the case of 5,000 Indian citizens allegedly being forced into cyber-slavery in the country as was reported by the Indian Express on March 29, Cambodia’s Interior Ministry announced on March 30, urging transnational action to tackle the situation.

The Indian Express newspaper reported that more than 5,000 Indians are trapped in Cambodia, being forced to commit cyber fraud as they were deceived, believing they would get jobs in the country. For the past six months, Rs 500 crore or nearly $60 million has been taken away from the people in India through cyber frauds originating in Cambodia.

“Those trapped in Cambodia were forced to scam people in India and, in some cases, extort money by pretending to be law enforcement officials and saying that they had found some suspicious materials in their parcels,” The Indian Express reported.

Among them, three Bengaluru residents who were stranded in Cambodia have managed to return to India.

According to the newspaper report, the Rourkela Police in the Indian state of Odisha cracked down on a cybercrime syndicate in December 2023. This led to eight people being accused of being involved in taking people to Cambodia, which brought this scam to light.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Touch Sokhak said that revealing only statistics without mentioning the actual location of these people in the country or detailed information on the scams could affect the country’s reputation and undermine the work of the working group investigating these allegations.

“I call on the Indian Embassy in Phnom Penh to join hands with the Interior Ministry or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to investigate the case,” Sokhak said. “Cambodia is determined to address the cyber scams and cyber frauds. We never ignore such issues.”

So far, the Ministry of Interior and the Sihanoukville authorities have cracked down on online scams at three different locations in the province, helping nearly 1,000 victims, most of them Cambodians, Touch Sokhak said.

The victims were tricked into working at online businesses with the promise of high wages and other benefits. They cannot escape due to the work contract that they did not read carefully enough when they signed it, Sokhak said.

Identifying and finding these culprits is painstaking because criminals always have clever tricks to escape, he said, adding that it is a global issue, and that Cambodia is the victim of online frauds and cybercrime.

In February 2024, India pledged to work with Cambodia to pursue a new strategy to tackle cybercrime and counter-terrorism by offering training programs under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC).

In 2023, the UN Human Rights Office reported that 100,000 Cambodians were forced into online scam centers by organized criminal gangs, and had to work in romance investment scams, crypto fraud, and illegal gambling in Southeast Asia.

However, Cambodia is working on cracking down on any scam in the country with the aim of putting an end to the saying according to which “Cambodia is a haven for criminals,” Sokhak said.

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