Once a low-lying border township in Kayin State opposite Thailand, today Myawaddy’s skyline is dominated by newly-built tower blocks and gaudy casinos sitting within heavily guarded compounds. The high walls, armed guards, and barbed wire prevent people from getting in, but more disturbingly, they prevent people from getting out.
Thousands of workers from across the world work in the compounds that play host to Chinese-run scam mills. Each day, they scour the internet for targets with the goal of stealing millions of dollars from people worldwide. But this is a criminal industry unlike most. Many of these scam workers aren’t there voluntarily—they scam just to stay alive.
NGOs in Thailand on the frontline of the human trafficking crisis described an unprecedented surge in cases the past 12 months, as people are lured in from across the globe. Jason Tower, Myanmar Country Director at the United States Institute of Peace, referred to the industry within Myanmar as the “United Nations of scamming.”
Detailing these scam mills, 18 current and former scam workers from seven countries described being tricked about the nature of the work, trafficked to Myanmar and forced to defraud targets over the internet. Inside, they described a “living hell” of incessant physical and psychological abuse where the only way out involves paying vast sums to their captors.