Young people across Burma have reported being kidnapped by criminal gangs after searching for jobs in the country’s border towns.
Victims that spoke to DVB told of torturous conditions faced after being held captive by local militias working for gangs operated by Chinese nationals.
Those who have managed to escape captivity say that phoney brokers are recruiting young people on Facebook with deceptive salary offers ranging from K12 lakh (US$650) to K18 lakh (US$970) a month for online digital marketing jobs.
Hotspots for the scam include Myawaddy on the Thai border and Laukkai in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone near China, victims told DVB.
A young man from Yangon, who recently escaped a gang in Laukkai, told DVB that he had been tasked to persuade foreign customers to trust and invest in a fraudulent online business. The victim said he had been ordered to scam seven customers a day, and, if failing to do so, was lock in a dark room and beaten by militias for hours at a time.
“We were each given a laptop and asked to communicate to foreigners via Gmail. We persuaded foreigners to invest money in the company’s stocks. If they did, we had to send a small amount of money to their bank account for a month or two. If they then deposit a large amount of money, we had to block their accounts and cut off all contact. After that, we had to find other customers,” he recalled.
Locals said it is common practice for Chinese nationals to hire local militias to enforce illegal business activities in Laukkai. Victims are guarded by the militias to prevent them from fleeing, and must pay bounties of roughly K20 lakh (US$1,080) to obtain their release.
“Never go [to Laukkai] unless you have a close relative in Laukkai… It is not true that they are paying 5,000 or 6,000 Chinese yuan per day… It was like being in prison,” another of the gangs’ victims told DVB.
Those caught up in the scams said that criminal activity was being driven by Chinese nationals unable to speak Burmese. Local authorities have so far failed to investigate or take legal legal action against those responsible.
Unemployment levels have risen sharply since the military coup, making young job seekers increasingly open to exploitation by criminal gangs.