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Scammers posing as cryptocurrency traders may be operating in the country using trafficked foreigners, Sen. Risa Hontiveros has warned.

She warned the scam call centers are employing foreigners trafficked into the country during an April 19 hearing of the Senate committee on women, children, family relations and gender equality, which she chairs.

“Sadly, right under our very noses, the Philippines is hosting its very own scam hubs. Large condominium buildings are being repurposed as living and working facilities for trafficked human beings forced to perform scams on hapless victims,” the senator said.

She said trafficked victims, numbering in the hundreds and perhaps even in the thousands, are from Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia, countries in Africa, and countries in South Asia.

She said “the vast and thriving fraud scheme,” also known as “pig butchering scam,” was a huge and worrying development. 

Last year, Hontiveros exposed a large-scale human trafficking operation that targeted Filipinos looking for jobs abroad. The Filipinos were then forced to work as scammers in Myanmar and Cambodia. 

“A humanitarian crisis is taking shape. A mass of desperate humanity. Human beings of the world are being hurt, abused and used in order to perpetrate fraud. They hurt people to scam other people,” she said partly in Filipino.

During the hearing, “Ridwan” (not his real name), an Indonesian national, said he was tricked and trafficked into the country to work as a scammer. 

Ridwan said he applied for a digital marketing role in the Philippines, but later discovered that the job was actually to scam fellow Indonesians to invest in fraudulent cryptocurrency investments. 

Upon arriving in the Philippines on March 7, Ridwan was greeted by an escort who helped him and two other Indonesians seamlessly pass through the Bureau of Quarantine and the Philippine immigration counters.

 After which, a driver brought them to Bayport West NAIA Garden Residences in Pasay City.

“We were instructed to steal the identities of other people to scam targets. Our targets are our fellow Indonesians. We find them on Tinder, Facebook, and Instagram. After our targets fall in love with us, we make them invest in cryptocurrency. When we do not get victims, we will get punished,” he said.

After learning about the electrocution and punishment experienced by other employees who were not able to successfully scam, he wanted to leave. He was then told he needed to pay the P100,000 that the company spent to bring him to the Philippines. He left the premises on March 13.

“The Philippines should not be used as a petri dish for human trafficking. If the scam hubs in Cambodia and Myanmar are in the middle of nowhere, in the inner provinces, here in the Philippines, they’re in the capital,” she said.

She called on social media companies to immediately take down and keep out dubious job ads that lead to these scam operations, emphasizing that there may still be Facebook ads targeting nationals from Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Africa to work in these fraud factories in the Philippines. Ridwan himself found the job in a Facebook ad. 

“It is frightening that these criminal activities have been made easy by social media platforms. But it is even more frightening to hear how effortless foreigners can get into the country, with the aid of unscrupulous airport or immigration officials. This is a serious national security concern that we must urgently address. We cannot allow these syndicates to turn our country into outlaw territory,” Hontiveros said.

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