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The Vicious Cycle of Human Trafficking and Cybercrime

  • 29 May 2024

The dark underbelly of the digital age has birthed a disturbing phenomenon – the convergence of human trafficking and cybercrime. As technology continues to evolve, so do the tactics of criminal networks exploiting vulnerable individuals for financial gain. The recent saga of Indians stranded in Cambodia sheds light on this grim reality, highlighting the intricate web of deception and coercion that entraps unsuspecting victims in a vicious cycle of modern-day slavery.

The Lure of Lucrative Job Opportunities

The story often begins with the promise of a better life. Unscrupulous recruiters prey on the desperation of job seekers, particularly those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Enticing offers of high-paying jobs in the technology or gaming industry lure victims to distant shores, where the nightmare unfolds. Once in the clutches of these criminal syndicates, their passports and travel documents are confiscated, rendering them powerless and trapped.

  • In the case of Indians stranded in Cambodia, the lure of lucrative job opportunities played a crucial role in ensnaring unsuspecting individuals into the web of cybercrime trafficking. Several examples illustrate the tactics employed by these criminal networks:
  • In the northern states of India, such as Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, where youth unemployment rates are high, job seekers were targeted with promises of well-paying positions in the rapidly growing gaming industry in Southeast Asia.
  • Social media platforms and online job portals were used to advertise these deceptive job listings, often portraying them as legitimate opportunities with reputable companies.
  • Some victims reported being offered monthly salaries ranging from $700 to $1,000, a considerable sum for those struggling to find employment in their hometowns.
  • Recruiters would conduct in-person interviews, lending an air of credibility to the process, and even provide fake employment contracts to further solidify the illusion.
  • Travel arrangements and visa formalities were handled by the criminal syndicate, making the process seem seamless and legitimate for the unsuspecting victims.

Once in Cambodia, the harsh reality unfolded. Passports and travel documents were immediately confiscated, leaving the victims stranded and unable to return home. The promised job roles never materialized, and instead, they found themselves coerced into participating in various cybercrime operations under the constant threat of violence and intimidation.

The desperation for economic opportunities and the allure of a better life made these individuals susceptible to the deceptive tactics of the traffickers. By preying on their vulnerabilities, criminal networks managed to lure hundreds of Indians into a nightmarish situation, trapped in a foreign land and forced into a life of modern-day slavery.

Forced Labor in Cybercrime Operations

Contrary to the promised roles, victims find themselves coerced into participating in various cybercrime operations. Some of the tasks they are forced to perform include:

  • Running online scams and phishing campaigns
  • Laundering money through complex financial transactions
  • Conducting illegal online gambling operations
  • Engaging in identity theft and fraud schemes

These individuals become unwilling pawns in a vast criminal enterprise. Threats of violence and intimidation tactics ensured their compliance, as they were forced to work round the clock under deplorable conditions, often without adequate food or rest.

In the context of the Indian victims stranded in Cambodia, several reports have shed light on the horrific conditions they faced while being forced into cybercrime operations:

  • Many were coerced into running call centers that targeted victims worldwide with scams and phishing attempts, often impersonating legitimate organizations or government agencies.
  • Some were tasked with operating online gambling portals or facilitating illegal betting operations, which are strictly prohibited in India.
  • Instances of victims being forced to participate in identity theft schemes and financial fraud were also reported, where they would steal personal information and compromise bank accounts.
  • A significant number of Indians were found to be involved in laundering money obtained through these illicit activities, using complex financial transactions to obfuscate the trail.

The threats of violence and intimidation were ever-present, ensuring compliance from the victims. One Indian national, who managed to escape, recounted that those who refused to work were subjected to brutal beatings and torture.

In a shocking incident reported by Indian authorities, a group of over 20 Indians were held hostage in a Cambodian prison and forced to engage in cybercrime operations by their captors. They were made to work long hours without proper food or rest, under constant surveillance and threat of harm.

The despicable conditions in which these victims were held and the inhumane treatment they endured highlight the depths to which these criminal syndicates will sink to exploit vulnerable individuals for their illicit gains.

Psychological Toll of Captivity

The ordeal endured by Indian victims trafficked to Cambodia for cybercrime operations has left many scarred for life. In December 2022, a group of 16 Indians, including 3 minors, were rescued from captivity in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The victims recounted horrific tales of physical and mental abuse:

  • They were confined to cybercrime operation rooms without any outside contact, creating a sense of isolation and helplessness.
  • Victims were routinely beaten and threatened with harm to their families back home if they refused to comply.
  • One victim, a 25-year-old from Mumbai, reported experiencing severe anxiety and depression after being held captive for over 6 months without any communication with his loved ones.
  • Another victim, a 19-year-old from Delhi, exhibited symptoms of PTSD, including nightmares and flashbacks, even months after his rescue.

Such psychological trauma can have long-lasting effects, making the process of reintegration into society extremely challenging for survivors.

Role of Technology In Enabling Exploitation

Traffickers have exploited technology to their advantage, making it easier to lure victims and evade law enforcement. In the case of Indian victims, several instances highlight this:

  • In 2021, a cybercrime ring was busted in Bengaluru that used social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp to advertise lucrative job opportunities in Southeast Asia, ultimately trafficking people for cybercrime operations.
  • In 2022, the Delhi Police uncovered a human trafficking racket that used encrypted communication channels on the dark web to coordinate the movement of victims across borders.
  • Sophisticated hacking tools and malware were used by traffickers to gain remote access to victims' devices, further enabling exploitation and coercion.
  • Online job portals and fake recruitment websites were used to lure unsuspecting job seekers, making the process seem legitimate.

Authorities have acknowledged the challenges posed by the anonymity and technological sophistication of these criminal networks, which often operate across multiple jurisdictions, making it difficult to track and disrupt their activities.

As technology continues to evolve, law enforcement agencies and policymakers in India are working to enhance their capabilities to combat this growing menace of human trafficking in cybercrime operations.

Global Implications of Cybercrime Trafficking

The impact of cybercrime trafficking extends far beyond the individual victims:

  • Fuels a broader ecosystem of illegal activities (identity theft, financial fraud, data breaches)
  • Stolen funds and personal information funneled into other illicit enterprises
  • Perpetuates a cycle of exploitation and criminal revenue streams
  • Reputational and economic consequences for nations harboring criminal networks

Breaking the Cycle: A Call for Collective Action

Combating the scourge of human trafficking in cybercrime requires a multifaceted approach involving stakeholders from various sectors:

  • Governments strengthening international cooperation and intelligence sharing
  • Law enforcement adopting proactive strategies and leveraging advanced technologies
  • Raising public awareness through educational campaigns and community outreach
  • Collaboration between law enforcement, technology companies and civil society organizations
  • Developing robust cybersecurity measures and enhancing online user verification processes
  • Strengthening data protection regulations to mitigate exploitation risks
  • Providing comprehensive support and rehabilitation services for survivors (psychological counseling, legal aid, vocational training, reintegration assistance)

The Indian government has taken several initiatives to break the cycle of human trafficking in cybercrime:

  1. International Cooperation: India has signed bilateral agreements with several countries, including Cambodia, to facilitate intelligence sharing and coordinated efforts to combat transnational organized crime and human trafficking.
  2. Capacity Building: The Ministry of Home Affairs has launched specialized training programs for law enforcement agencies to enhance their skills in investigating and disrupting cybercrime operations, as well as identifying and rescuing victims of trafficking.
    1. The MHA launched specialized training programs for law enforcement agencies like the "Cyber Crime Investigation and Intelligence Summit 2023," held in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, in October 2023. It was held in collaboration with the MP Police, provided advanced training to law enforcement officials from various states. The focus of the summit was to enhance the skills of police personnel in investigating and disrupting cybercrime operations.
  3. Public Awareness: The Indian government, in collaboration with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), has launched awareness campaigns through various media platforms to educate the public, particularly in vulnerable communities, about the tactics employed by traffickers and the risks associated with deceptive job offers.
  4. Victim Assistance: The government has established dedicated units and helplines to provide comprehensive support to survivors of human trafficking, including psychological counseling, legal aid, vocational training, and assistance with reintegration into society.
  5. A recent example of the government's efforts to provide comprehensive support to survivors of human trafficking is the launch of the "Ujjawala" scheme, which has been revitalized and expanded in 2023.
  6. Legislative Measures: India has enacted stringent laws, such as the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Act, 2018, to combat human trafficking and provide a robust legal framework for prosecuting offenders and protecting victims.


The vicious cycle of human trafficking in cybercrime is a complex and multifaceted challenge that demands a concerted global response. By shining a light on this dark reality, we can raise awareness, foster international cooperation, and mobilize collective action to protect the vulnerable and dismantle the criminal networks that exploit them. Only through a unified effort can we break this cycle and ensure that the digital age remains a force for progress and empowerment, rather than a breeding ground for modern-day slavery.


  1. https://www.livemint.com/news/india/cambodia-job-scam-rescued-from-fraudulent-employers-60-indians-return-home-11716483444684.html
  2. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2023/10/cybercrime-violent-crime/
  3. https://www.cnbctv18.com/india/india-cybercrime-cases-from-southeast-asia-human-trafficking-cambodia-19416229.
  4. https://www.mha.gov.in/en/division_of_mha/cyber-and-information-security-cis-division/Details-about-CCPWC-CybercrimePrevention-against-Women-and-Children-Scheme
  5. https://prsindia.org/billtrack/the-trafficking-of-persons-prevention-protection-and-rehabilitation-bill-2018#:~:text=trafficking.%5B3%5D-,The%20Trafficking%20of%20Persons%20(Prevention%2C%20Protection%20and%20Rehabilitation)%20Bill,House%20on%20July%2026%2C%202018.
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