Hong Kong task force tackles SE Asian scams

Hong Kong task force tackles SE Asian scams

Authorities' priority is to help local residents ensnared by criminal call centre operators

Officers question two of the 21 Thais who were deported from Cambodia in February this year following raids on call-centre scam operations in Phnom Penh and Preah Sihanouk province. (Photo: Police Cyber Taskforce)
Officers question two of the 21 Thais who were deported from Cambodia in February this year following raids on call-centre scam operations in Phnom Penh and Preah Sihanouk province. (Photo: Police Cyber Taskforce)

HONG KONG: Law enforcement authorities in Hong Kong have set up a task force to track down and help trafficked residents ensnared by “boiler room” scams in Southeast Asia that have become a growing scourge.

In recent months, victims have reported being lured to countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos on false promises of romance or high-paying jobs, and then held against their will and forced to work, sometimes for months.

The operations, most of them run by Chinese gangsters, have received extensive news coverage around Asia. But they drew fresh outrage in Hong Kong and Taiwan recently after local media published graphic photos and videos of victims being threatened and abused.

Hong Kong has received requests for help from 20 people, with eight of them unaccounted for in Myanmar and the other 12 confirmed safe, said Michael Cheuk, Undersecretary for Security.

“Our top priority at the moment is trying to secure their safe return,” he said on Thursday, adding that the territory would work with Chinese embassies and local law enforcement.

Cheuk urged the public to exercise caution when travelling to Southeast Asia, and to avoid the northern and southern parts of Myanmar.

“Boiler room scam operations really took off in border areas and special economic zones in Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos during the pandemic,” Jeremy Douglas, regional representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for Southeast Asia, told AFP.

“And in quite a few they’re using trafficked labour to work the scams. It’s nightmare for law enforcement and human rights.”

Human rights lawyer Patricia Ho said Hong Kong’s existing laws were not adequate to tackle such scams, as the city had no legislation that specifically outlawed human trafficking and forced labour.

“Legislation which empowers the police to freeze assets in human trafficking cases will be vital to help them solve these crimes” if the criminals had ties to Hong Kong, Ho said.

On Thursday, police in Macau said five residents were found involved in scam operations that promised casino jobs in Laos and Cambodia.

One man had safely left Laos while three women were successfully persuaded to cancel their trips to Southeast Asia, Macau police said.

Earlier this week, Taiwan brought nine people back from Bangkok after Thai authorities suspected them of being trafficking victims.


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