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Hundreds of people forced to pose as online lovers rescued from scam center in Philippines

Love scam
Love scams have proliferated in Southeast Asia since the coronavirus pandemic.Marc Dufresne/Getty Images
  • Hundreds of people were rescued from a scam center in the Philippines earlier this week.

  • They had been forced to pose as online lovers.

  • Centers such as these have been on the increase in Southeast Asia.

Hundreds of people who were forced to work in a "love scam" center in the Philippines were rescued by police earlier this week, the BBC reported.

The victims had been enticed to a compound around 60 miles north of the country's capital, Manila, with the promise of work opportunities.

But upon arrival, human traffickers took their passports and forced them to take part in online love scams, Gilberto Cruz, an executive director of the force that led the raid, told AFP, per The Telegraph.

"The workers who failed to achieve their quota ... were physically harmed, deprived of sleep or locked up inside their rooms," he said.

Winston Casio, a spokesperson for the presidential commission against organized crime, said the center, which posed as an online gaming company, specifically targeted "good-looking" individuals to trap people.

The case came to light after a Vietnamese man who said he escaped the compound tipped off police.

The majority of those rescued in the raid were either Chinese or Filipino. Police also seized a number of weapons at the scene, per the BBC.

Eight people were also arrested on suspicion of human trafficking.

Human trafficking for the purpose of forced criminality, specifically online scams and financial fraud, is a "new and growing trend" in Southeast Asia, a 2023 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said.

This trend has largely been driven by organized crime groups, it said, adding that in one country, the scam industry could be making around $7.5 billion to $12.5 billion — which it said was half of the nation's GDP.

It added that victims who have been rescued from scam centers have come from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South America, which it said highlighted the global nature of the problem.

Steve Baird, the CEO of International Justice Mission Australia, visited survivors of such operations in Cambodia and described what he heard as "horrifying."

"Workers are prohibited from leaving the buildings. They are secured with razor wires, barred windows, controlled lifts and armed security guards. The men I spoke to were referencing 30 security guards out the front," he said.

"They were working 12–20 hours a day, six days a week, with an average of four hours a night of sleep," he added.

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