GEORGE TOWN, Malaysia (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Job scam victims from Malaysia, Taiwan and even China are being held in prison-like conditions in the Myawaddy area at the Thai-Myanmar border, a victim has claimed.
He claimed he was in a tightly guarded area where trafficked people were forced to become reluctant scammers to snare prospective victims around the world by phone.
Workers from China were the worst treated and were beaten and confined to a dark room for days if they disobeyed orders, he said.
"Malaysians are treated better but still get beaten if they do not perform," the victim claimed after he managed to get in touch with Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) members of Jelutong town in the Malaysian state of Penang.
Jelutong MCA committee member Jeffrey Ooi said he had spoken with the victim.
"There are mini markets, restaurants, clinics and amusement centres in the area for syndicate members to use," Mr Ooi told a press conference at the division's premises in Jalan Taman Free School on Friday (May 13).
"One of the victims we talked to claimed he was 'sold' by a Malaysian agent to a syndicate there for between RM30,000 (S$9,500) and RM50,000 (S$15,900).
"He claimed he had to pay that sum to leave or earn 500,000 yuan (S$103,000) to be freed," he said.
Penang MCA Youth vice-chairman Sit Jie Hao, who was at the press conference, said the victims first entered Bangkok, where they surrendered their passports.
"They would be driven by car for seven hours to reach the Thai border area of Maesot. In the dark of the night, they would be smuggled into Myawaddy, just across a river.
"We were told that the working hours were from 4pm to 4am daily, with two hour-long breaks," he said.
Mr Sit said Malaysians were asked to become scammers for the European market as they could speak English.
Jelutong MCA chairman Chuah Chin Chuon said Penang MCA had received four reports on job scams and was helping the families bring their loved ones home.
Meanwhile, Penang police chief, Commissioner Mohd Shuhaily Mohd Zain, urged the public not to be easily fooled by overseas job opportunities offering lucrative salaries.
"Check the validity of these offers. Many people are easily deceived by promises of big salaries and lavish lifestyles," he said.
Meanwhile, in Kuantan, a mother is trying to reunite with her son, who is believed to have become a victim of a job scam in Myanmar.
Ms Loke Chooi Tip, 55, said her youngest son Koh Sheng Yur, 19, had told her that he was leaving their home in Pekan to work in Kuala Lumpur on April 6.
"My son just said he received a job offer from a cryptocurrency company. I told him that kind of job was unsuitable for him, but he was stubborn and left with his friend.
"He stayed in touch until April 13, when I suddenly could no longer reach him," she said on Friday.
Ms Loke said a friend of her son later called to say Koh was asking for RM60,000 to leave Thailand.
"I was shocked. I do not know how my son could have gotten into Thailand as I have his passport. My son's friend said he had entered through the Kelantan-Thai border.
"On April 15, I got a call from my son saying he wanted to go home. He sounded distressed. A man then got on the phone and said my son was safe but must pay up if he wanted to leave.
"When I got to talk to my son again, I told him to contact his elder brother. He managed to send out a geolocation which appears to be in Myanmar," she said.
Ms Loke has since lodged a police report and was seeking help from Teruntum assemblyman Sim Chon Siang.