Miracle’s Dream Job Turned Out To Be A Nightmare

After following a promising job offer, Miracle* found herself trapped in a forced scamming compound.

Miracle, 45 years old, had aspirations of saving for her retirement, which led her to consider a job change from her role as a tourist guide in Batam, Indonesia. When an old friend presented her with an enticing job opportunity in Cambodia, she thought she applied for her dream job. This job promised an online marketing position with a monthly salary of AUD$1,500, a considerable increase from her previous income. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to realise her dream of saving money and eventually starting a small business. 

Miracle’s friend, who served as a broker, assured her that her fluency in Mandarin and English would enable her to earn more than the average Indonesian worker. The job came with appealing perks, including four daily meals and free accommodation. She was told that she’d be working eight hours a day. Additionally, the agent covered her plane ticket and visa. With all these promises, Miracle couldn’t have foreseen that this would be the beginning of a harrowing experience in Cambodia. 

Upon her arrival in Cambodia, Miracle found herself in a vastly different situation. Her employers confiscated her passport and phone, effectively imprisoning her within a compound. She ate, slept, and worked within the same building.  

This was not an ordinary marketing job; she was required to create fake social media profiles to deceive innocent people. Miracle had to pose as a wealthy individual using fake profiles and pictures. She manipulated unsuspecting individuals into trusting her, and once she had gained their confidence, real female models conducted video calls to persuade them to invest in cryptocurrency scams. Despite her discomfort with scamming people online, she was forced to target three individuals every day, under the threat of physical punishment if she failed. 

“I worked more than eight hours a day. I usually start my day early and return to my dorm late at night. If I miss one target, I’ll be forced to do 50 times push-ups. If two missed targets, 100 times push-ups. One of the terrifying scenes I encountered was when the supervisor electrocuted one of my colleagues after making a mistake. I wanted to save him, but I could not do anything.”

In addition to the physical and emotional toll, Miracle did not receive the salary she had been promised. Most of her earnings were deducted for meals, dormitory expenses, and other deductions for sick leave, even though she rarely received proper medical care when she was ill. The broker had promised her one day of sick leave each month without any deductions. Escape seemed impossible, as anyone wanting to return home would have to pay around AUD$4,500, an exorbitant sum for most workers. Families would have to bear significant financial burdens to secure the victim’s release. 

Miracle’s ordeal was not unique, as the scourge of scam slavery extended beyond Cambodia. Similar cases were reported in countries like Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, and many others. The full extent of this industry and the accompanying human and financial exploitation was difficult to fathom.

Miracle’s rescue came through a daring attempt to contact her family about her situation. Though her phone had been seized on her first day in Cambodia, she managed to keep another hidden beneath her bed. She asked her brother for help, and he, along with his wife, sought assistance from a UN agency, which eventually led them to International Justice Mission. After a period of waiting, the Cambodian Police conducted a swift rescue operation, liberating Miracle and eight other Indonesian workers from their ordeal.

She vividly recalled the gratitude she felt upon escaping. She realized that had the police arrived later, her fate could have been much darker – being sold to other employers or subjected to further torture.

The three perpetrators were subsequently arrested and put on trial in November 2022. Along with other survivors, Miracle testified for the case against the brokers. In March 2023, the three perpetrators were convicted of human trafficking for forced labour in cyber-scamming by a District Court in Batam, Indonesia. 

Justice has prevailed. I hope that in the future, no more Indonesian people will experience the same fate as me” – Miracle.

*Pseudonym used to protect survivor’s identity.

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