More scammers setting up shop in Yangon

More scammers setting up shop in Yangon

Cheap office space and large supply of educated young people desperate for work attract criminal operators

Cheap office space in the depressed economy of Yangon is an attraction for call-centre scam operators. (Photo: Bloomberg)
Cheap office space in the depressed economy of Yangon is an attraction for call-centre scam operators. (Photo: Bloomberg)

Call centre scams in Myanmar, associated mainly with its lawless border regions, are also setting up shop in the commercial hub Yangon, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA).

Operators are taking advantage not only of the availability of cheap office space in a depressed economy, but “a nearly limitless pool of educated, unemployed Yangon residents”, RFA reports, citing the results of an investigation by RFA Burmese.

Unlike the operations in places like Shwe Kokko, the town controlled by Chinese gangsters on the border opposite Mae Sot in Thailand, the Yangon-based centres are said to boast a conventional business environment with no abuse of workers, the report said.

RFA Burmese interviewed young people in Yangon who responded to advertisements for online sales jobs and were hired in a matter of minutes after answering a few questions over a messaging app.

New hires were sent to MMB Tower, a modern office building located in the heart of Yangon. There they joined scores of others from Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, China and Thailand, RFA said.

MMB Tower once served as the headquarters of Myanmar Mayflower Bank, owned by the tycoon Kyaw Win. The bank was shuttered by the government in 2005, two years after the US government sanctioned it for money laundering.

The fifth floor of MMB once housed Yangon Airways but in April 2022, a company named Win Win International E-Commerce registered its business there. Extensive renovations were undertaken at MMB Tower and in October 2022, postings for jobs there began appearing on Facebook, Telegram and Viber.

Employees interviewed by RFA Burmese said they were given credentials for as many as a half-dozen fake social-media accounts and put to work using them to contact potential victims of romance and financial scams.

The monthly pay was listed as 450,000 kyats, or $129, an attractive sum given that the minimum daily wage in Myanmar is 4,800 kyats. Workers were free to come and go as they pleased, they told RFA Burmese, as long as they signed in and out.

RFA said it spoke with a man who said he worked for two months as a cyber scam recruiter in Yangon at Junction City, a complex that includes a mall, condos and a 23-storey office tower.

According to a recent United Nations report, at least 120,000 people are forcibly employed in the cyber scam industry in Myanmar alone.

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