Two Malaysian teenagers arrive home after being duped into foreign job scam

The boys were initially released by the syndicate on April 2 after their families paid a ransom. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Two Malaysian teenagers were forced to work for a scam syndicate in Myanmar after being duped by job advertisements on Facebook and Instagram.

The ads had offered the 14- and 15-year-old boys from eastern Pahang state salaries of RM5,000 and RM7,000 (S$1,570 and S$2,200) as customer service officers.

Their families were forced to pay a ransom for their release, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) Public Services and Complaints Department said at a news conference on Saturday (June 25).

Similar tales of young Malaysians being duped to work with scammers in Cambodia have been highlighted recently in the media.

The boys arrived in Malaysia on Friday after various matters, including documents, were settled. They had been released by the syndicate on April 2 after their families paid a ransom.

Datuk Seri Michael Chong of the MCA department said the captors initially demanded 300,000 yuan (S$62,100) from the families of the two boys.

After some negotiation over the phone, they agreed to let the two go for a lower amount.

"It was likely they were also pressured by media coverage on the human trafficking issue, so they wanted to get rid of the boys as quickly as possible," he said.

The syndicate also could not find a use for them after they failed to reach their "targets" in luring customers with a love scam.

Recalling their ordeal, the 15-year-old victim said he was attracted by the job advertisements.

"The high salary was highly appealing, as I also wanted more freedom," he told a news conference at Wisma MCA, the headquarters of the political party.

"My friend and I were brought to Myanmar on March 22, where we were kept at a compound in Marwadi," he said.

The boy said he realised that he was duped by the syndicate only when he was forced to work as a "love scammer".

"The syndicate gave me a booklet on things to say and told me to charm the victims, who are Chinese nationals overseas.

"I was forced to work from noon to midnight daily and I was given about RM900 as food allowance," he said, adding that the syndicate's compound was well guarded by armed guards.

As for lodging, the victim said he was placed in a room of six people.

"There were many people at the compound including other Malaysians.

"I also saw people being punished should they fail to do their job, including being tasered. Luckily, I was spared such punishment, as my friend and I were too young," he said.

After about a week of working, both victims failed to meet any target set by the syndicates.

"We begged the 'bosses' to let us go and they eventually did after our families paid a ransom," he said.

Mr Chong said after the ransom was paid, the teenagers were taken to Thailand and placed in the Thai border town of Mae Sot, bordering south Myanmar.

"A friend who is a Thailand-based businessman looked after them and handled their lodgings and meals," Mr Chong said.

The friend took care of the boys for about a month, where he assisted with the boys' documents with the help of Thai and Malaysian authorities.

Mr Chong said the department has received 78 reports of Malaysians being duped overseas by syndicates.

"It involved 63 men and 15 women. Of the 78, 15 of them have returned.

"Eight others are still in prison in Cambodia and we hope they will be returned soon, he said.

"We urge Malaysians to be more vigilant against accepting such dubious job offers overseas," he said.

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