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INTERPOL issues orange notice on alarming global human trafficking trend

INTERPOL issued an Orange Notice on Wednesday (7 Jun), its international alert system signalling a serious and imminent threat to public safety, regarding an escalating global crime trend: large-scale human trafficking tied to fraudulent online job recruitment schemes.

In these malicious operations, unsuspecting individuals are deceived by false promises of high-paying job opportunities, only to find themselves ensnared in a web of forced labor and online scam centres, propelling a vicious cycle of cyber-enabled financial crime.

According to INTERPOL’s most recent research, the scale and reach of this criminal phenomenon is expanding at an alarming rate, with the organization warning that the threat’s actual impact might be far more extensive than previously suspected.

Initial traces of this activity were identified in Southeast Asia, with Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar acting as primary trafficking hubs.

However, the criminal model has since taken root and expanded into Western Africa, an area already grappling with cyber-enabled financial crime.

“Trafficking hubs have now been discovered in at least four additional Asian countries,” reported Jürgen Stock, INTERPOL Secretary General. “This ominous trend, once a regional threat, has evolved into a global human trafficking crisis.”

The demographic profile of the victims has expanded as dramatically as the geographical reach of the crime.

Originally, the targets were primarily Chinese-speaking individuals from China, Malaysia, Thailand, or Singapore. However, victims are now being lured from as far away as South America, East Africa, and Western Europe, amplifying the complexity and diversity of the issue.

The criminal organizations behind these trafficking rings often advertise lucrative job opportunities on various platforms, including social media and job recruitment websites.

However, these appealing work prospects are merely a façade. Victims are kidnapped, kept in appalling living conditions, and are forced to commit a broad range of online fraud, including investment scams, romance schemes, and cryptocurrency fraud.

INTERPOL’s Operation Storm Makers in March 2022, aimed at combating human trafficking and migrant smuggling, unearthed further insights into this growing trend.

The convergence of human trafficking with cyber fraud observed in these operations paints a worrying picture for global security agencies, marking a grim milestone in the history of global criminal activity.

In light of the findings, INTERPOL is calling for enhanced cooperation and intelligence exchange among law enforcement agencies, non-governmental organizations, financial intelligence units, and private sector companies.

This collective effort is crucial for dismantling the extensive money laundering networks that facilitate these criminal activities and to aid in the rescue of trafficking victims.

Isaac Espinosa, Acting Coordinator of INTERPOL’s Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling unit, reiterated this sentiment, “We have supported member countries in cases involving hundreds of human trafficking victims over the past year. However, thousands of people continue to fall victim to these ruthless crime syndicates. A crucial piece of new intelligence could be the key to prevent further exploitation and rescue a victim from these horrific circumstances.”

In Taiwan, the government has taken active measures to combat this issue. As of December 2022, the government successfully assisted in the return of 403 Taiwanese individuals who were duped by fraudulent job offers and trafficked to Cambodia. Despite these efforts, a number of Taiwanese are still unaccounted for, many of whom are believed to be trapped in different Southeast Asian countries. In response, the Taiwanese government has assembled a dedicated task force to address this crisis and raise public awareness.

Malaysia has also felt the brunt of these crimes. As of October 2022, a total of 313 Malaysians have been rescued from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand after falling prey to employment scams. Of these, over two hundred have been safely repatriated, while the remaining are still detained, awaiting deportation.

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