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Police Crackdown on Cambodian Scam Call Centers Frees 66

Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn, Assistant to Thai Police Commissioner speaks to Thai victims rescued from scam call centres in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in this undated handout picture released by Thai police on April 12, 2022. Thai Police/ Handout via REUTERS

BANGKOK, Thailand — A cross-border police operation this week rescued 66 Thai nationals from captivity in Cambodia where they were forced or tricked into working as scam callers, authorities said on Tuesday.

Thai and Cambodian police uncovered and broke up what they said was part of a wider Chinese-run transnational crime racket that has ensnared thousands of people from around Asia in recent years. The full scale of the racket remains unclear.

Since last October, more than 800 Thai men and women, including 300 who were considered victims of human trafficking, have been rescued from working at scam call centers, the Thai police said in a statement.

The workers are lured to Cambodia through social media advertisements promising high-paying jobs but then forced by racketeers to make scam calls in their own languages.

“Those who refuse get assaulted, some get whipped, others get electrocuted...Some get beaten up and others get locked in dark rooms and are not given food,” Thai assistant national police commissioner Surachate Hakparn told Reuters.

He added more than 1,000 Thais are still working in scam call centers in cities like Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Poipet.

Cambodian NGOs said in March that scam call centers are like “slave compounds” where thousands of foreign nationals remain trapped. Meanwhile, foreign embassies including those of China, Pakistan, Vietnam and Indonesia have issued warnings against answering suspicious job ads.

Last week Malaysian police said 16 of its nationals were rescued by Cambodian authorities from similar scam call centers.

Chhay Kim Khoeun, Cambodia's deputy national police chief, declined to comment when contacted by Reuters, saying the police operation is still going on.

Jeremy Douglas, regional representative of the United Nations narcotics and crime agency, said the bust was a “major wake-up call for the region.”

“The location and the crime are not a surprise as we've seen several cases in Cambodia, but to run an operation with a thousand plus working phones takes sophistication, requires investment and would be hard to hide,” he said.