May 26, 2023
JAKARTA – Enticing promises ultimately lead to many workers falling victim to human trafficking
“It was all my fault, my stupidity in accepting the job as a scammer since I needed to run away from my life after dealing with some personal issues,” says Santoso, an English literature graduate.
He had intended to pursue a higher education degree by applying for a master’s in film or a working holiday visa to Melbourne and to pay for it he accepted an “administrative job” offering a monthly salary of Rp 17 million in the Golden Triangle area of Laos.
From April 2022 to November 2022, he operated in Bokeo province, which he described as a “mafia aquarium”. He worked as a fraudster conning people in the United States into investing in a fake crypto scheme. After a few months he was sickened by his job but was forced to pay a ransom amounting to Rp 80 million (US$5,374) to his employers to escape. If not they threatened to toss him into the Mekong River. All of his savings went toward the ransom demanded by his company.
The number of victims of such illegal job postings increased considerably during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Yusuf Ardabili, a legal aid staffer at Migrant Care, an NGO that supports Indonesian migrant workers. He mentioned several sorts of occupations that are traps for Indonesians, ranging from “administrative positions” in the online gambling industry to employment as domestic servants.
Yusuf confirms that most people are unaware they are likely to work for a bogus company or become con artists but they are often desperate to find a job.
According to Statistics Indonesia (BPS), Indonesia’s unemployment rate stood at 5.86 percent in August 2022, leaving at least 8.42 million unemployed across Indonesia. As a result, many people, especially the unemployed and underemployed, turn to social media for opportunities but the advent of social networking has brought nightmares rather than rewards.
Yusuf says that last year Migrant Care received reports of 189 cases of individuals being lured into fraudulent jobs. According to the research, the majority of victims who were trafficked in countries such as Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and the Philippines were male (91.8 percent).
“Many recent graduates and those who lost their jobs during the pandemic, may have been tempted by a job postings offering between Rp 8 million and Rp 30 million,” Yusuf says during a Zoom interview on May 6.
The salaries posted by the fraudulent companies are almost double or triple regional minimum wages (UMR). Citing Kompas, the highest UMR in the country is in Karawang regency at Rp 5.17 million followed by Bekasi city at Rp 5.15 million.
Santoso is not the only one to fall victim to fraudulent or illicit companies. Previously, The Jakarta Post interviewed Jaya, who chose not to divulge his real name, a former ojek (motorcycle taxi) driver trafficked to Myanmar after accepting an online post for a “sales marketing” role in a Thailand investment firm.
The business was a “love scamming” company, the job being to steal money from people by pretending to be in love with them. The scam is also known as “pig-butchering”, whereby con artists win their victims’ faith by making grand promises of love and financial prosperity.
Yusuf warns that the current social media job postings can trap the unwary, especially since many fraudulent businesses are carbon copies of legitimate ones. He says that the fraudulent firms’ recruitment practices are identical to legitimate enterprises. They have got everything covered, from HR to PR to social media. The interviews, however, are unnecessary formalities for both the prospective employees and the victims.
Candidates are typically told to apply for a tourist visa and added to a Telegram group chat after their interviews. Most of these businesses, according to Yusuf, also promise them lodging and transportation. Furthermore, the victims are not informed of the nature of their employment until they arrive at the bogus organizations.
Long road ahead
Identifying and avoiding social media job scams has a long way to go.
At least 20 Indonesian migrant workers were recently rescued from a fake organization in Myanmar, and according to Santoso, this is simply the “tip of the iceberg.”
“Do not apply for the job if they tell you to apply under a tourist visa. You need to check the company on the internet, whether it is real or not,” Santoso says.
Devi Ariyani, executive director of the Indonesia Services Dialogue (ISD), warns that the government and society cannot focus solely on one aspect while combating cybercrime. She states that cybercrime has evolved to several platforms, such as job postings on social media, phishing emails, and phone calls.
Thus, she asserts that agencies such as the Communications and Information Ministry, the National Cyber and Encryption Agency (BSSN) and the police must collaborate with other stakeholders, including social media platforms and telecommunications companies.
“We can’t just look at the problem through social media platforms,” Devi says.
According to Devi, to combat cybercrime, the collaboration and support of the general public are essential for keeping tabs on cybercrimes like fraudulent job postings. She says few people know about social media job fraud, thus, efforts to educate the public about cybercrime must be improved.
“The education that is required cannot be one-sided. To eradicate cybercrime, a comprehensive effort involving numerous stakeholders is necessary. We can’t only rely on social media companies deactivating an account suspected of scamming; law enforcement agencies must be proactive in tracking the accounts,” Devi says.
Indonesia could learn from neighboring countries in the fight against human trafficking.
Malaysia passed the Anti-Fake News Law in 2018, with 500,000 ringgit ($110,530) fines for those who create or spread false news and imprisonment of up to six years.
Meanwhile, Singapore adopted the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) in 2019, with fines of S$50,000 ($37,238) or five years’ imprisonment for those who disseminate false information online.
According to Devi adequate training for law enforcement agencies is critical, especially given the ever-changing nature of criminal activities. Criminals continuously evolve and develop their methods of operation.
As a representative of Migrant Care, Yusuf urges careful scrutiny of job postings on social media.
“It is your right to work abroad, but other options exist.” People who have returned are also given a debriefing. Because working abroad is safe if they attend a government to government [G2G] job fair event, such as in South Korea or Japan,” Yusuf explains.
“Lastly, just be careful,” he says.