Behind online romance scams, torture and modern slavery are hiding

Behind online romance scams, torture and modern slavery are hiding

Behind online romance scams, torture and modern slavery are hiding

Warning: This story contains details of violence, including sexual violence, which may be disturbing. Names have been changed to protect identity.

Online romance scams are commonplace for many living in today’s world, but behind these scams hides an also increasingly common form of exploitation and modern slavery. Migrants from Southeast Asia, tempted by the promise of a job with a living wage, are being duped into debt and modern slavery in increasing numbers. Sold by recruiters to scam compounds deep in the jungle, the BBC reported on migrants forced to run these romance scams under threat of violence, with ransom payments often their only hope of escape.

Dreams of a better life turned into a nightmare filled with torture

Sri Lanka has been hit hard by an ongoing economic crisis. So, when Ravi, a newly wed computer specialist, heard from a local recruiter about a job doing data entry in Bangkok with a monthly salary he could only dream of he jumped at the chance. Like many others, Ravi took out a loan to pay the recruiter’s fee, but on landing in Thailand, he was handed over to gunmen who took him across the border into Myanmar. From there they traveled deep into the jungle to a compound with high walls ringed by barbed wire and protected 24hrs a day by armed guards. Ravi found himself trapped with about 40 young men and women, including other Sri Lankans, as well as people from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and various African countries. They were told they had to help trick lonely, rich men out of thousands of dollars in so-called romance scams or they would be tortured.

Ravi said:

“They stripped off my clothes, made me sit on a chair and gave my leg electric shocks. I thought it was the end of my life.”

For 16 days Ravi was kept in a cell, given no food and only water mixed with cigarette butts and ash to drink, refusing to do the work despite the torture. But when they gang raped two girls in front of him, he realized the Chinese speaking gangsters would not think twice about killing him if he didn’t cooperate. Ravi said he and the others were forced to work up to 22 hours a day, only getting one day off each month. They were forced to build romantic relationships with wealthy men, particularly in Western countries, using stolen phone numbers, social media and other messaging platforms. The end goal was to convince them to invest large amounts of money in fake online trading platforms, once they “invested” their fake lovers melted away.

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