An Overview: Trafficking into Forced Criminality

I. Overview

One of the topics that much of my work at Winrock has centered around is trafficking into forced criminality.

Covid-19 caused a considerable rise in unemployment rates all over the world. Simultaneously, the pandemic has made forms of online work more common, as well as online job postings, and human traffickers have found ways to use this to their advantage. In Southeast Asia especially, false job listings that lead to forced labor in cyber scam operations are now a known occurrence. Thailand has become both a principal transit country for trafficking into forced criminality and a source for trafficking victims into forced criminality.      

Example of a typical path:


II. Transit Country 

Individuals who are trafficked into forced criminality and pass through Thailand typically come from countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Lao PDR, and India. From Thailand, they typically head to either Lao PDR, Cambodia, Myanmar, the Philippines, or Malaysia.

There are two categories of individuals who are trafficked through Thailand into forced criminality. Firstly, there are those who think that they have accepted employment in Thailand. However, once they arrive in the country, they are subsequently transported to a different country. Secondly, there those who are aware that Thailand is simply a detour in their route to their destination country. Traffickers in these cases use Thailand as temporary spot to sort documents and/or a point to cross into the destination country illegally.

III. A Source for Victims

Thailand additionally serves a source for victims of trafficking into forced criminality. Advertisements for fake job postings are typically posted on social media (i.e. Facebook and Tik Tok) and Chat Apps (i.e. Line), though some are recruited in person through brokers. These positions are advertised as being overseas jobs in call centers, the hospitality industry, information technology, positions, cryptocurrency negotiation, and for digital sales and marketing executive positions. Those who have been trafficked into forced criminality tend to be young adults who are multilingual and have achieved higher education. These individuals, if it were not for COVID-19, would likely not have trouble finding employment.

After accepting employment, a network of Thai, Laos people Burmese, Chinese brokers and people smugglers are used to transport these individuals to compounds in destination countries such as Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Myanmar. Prior to arriving at the destination country, the brokers/people smugglers confiscate each individuals’ identification documents. At the compound, trafficked individuals are forced to carry out a variety of scams such as investment fraud, romance schemes, fraud related to cryptocurrency, illegal gambling, gaming, and lottery schemes, e-commerce schemes, pyramid schemes, impersonation schemes, and false loan schemes. At the threat of torture and arbitrary debt, these individuals have little to no choice but to participate in these schemes. The compounds themselves often contain the following conditions:

  • Metal windows and are surrounded by barbed wire
  • Constant surveillance
  • Working targets are increased day by day
  • Little or no access to medical care
  • Failure to meet targets can result in:
    • Beatings
    • Electrocution
    • Sexual assault
    • Food and water deprivation
    • Fines added onto debt
    • Threat of being sold to other compound or into sexual exploitation or having their organs removed

In the event that an individual is released, able to escape, or is rescued, they often face several hurdles when returning back to Thailand. While the Thai Criminal Code contains an exception for crimes committed under necessity, the majority of individuals returning from scam compounds are prosecuted. This likely stems from a lack of proper victim identification mechanisms and a lack of awareness about the realities of such scam centers. Misconceptions about those who have been trafficked into forced criminality have further made it difficult for survivors to reintegrate into society and have thus created a reluctance in survivors to come forward and receive proper support.

IV. Conclusion

While a growing awareness of these scam operations has prompted calls from international organizations and governmental bodies for trans-regional cooperation to shut down such facilities, news outlets and NGOs have reported that those who run the facilities often work closely with corrupt local officials and private sector elites. While on-going corruption poses barriers to rectification of this issue, it is imperative in the interim that countries implement proper victim identification mechanisms and support for survivors of forced criminality.


 Work Cited