How traffickers in Malaysia and Thailand used Facebook to lure victims

Authorities tracked down and arrested a Malaysian man and two Thai women who lured women to Malaysia from overseas using Facebook to promise them a new line of work.

Sakchai Lalit/AP
Office of the Attorney General spokesman Wanchai Roujanavong talks to reporters during a press conference in Bangkok, Thailand on Friday. Thailand's state prosecutors recommended charges against more than 100 people, including a Thai army general, in a multinational human trafficking scandal that came to light after dozens of bodies were discovered in the country's south earlier this year, a spokesman said Friday. In another trafficking case, three were arrested Friday for luring women into sex slavery over Facebook.

A Malaysian man and two Thai women were arrested Friday for using Facebook to trap women from abroad into a prostitution syndicate, the Associated Press reported.

The traffickers would lure women to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia by promising them work in restaurants, spas, and karaoke bars, Thai police Lt. Col. Komvich Padhanarath told the AP. Once the women arrived, they were forced into sex work.

The Malaysian man, Kheng Hsiang Low, and the two Thai women face charges of human trafficking, forced prostitution, and participating in a transnational crime network, the AP reported. Mr. Komvich said in the last five years, they have trafficked six women.

Thailand’s Department of Special Investigations worked with Liberty Alliance anti-trafficking organizations Freeland and Exodus Road to catch the trio.

“This case is a good example of how social media is being used as a tool by traffickers to lure impressionable job-seekers into slavery,” Exodus Road CEO Mark Rhodes said Friday in a Freeland statement.

Because the trio operated on a relatively small scale, the Internet was vital to its ability to do business on a transnational level. Rob Wainwright, the director of European policing agency Europol, told the Telegraph last year that social media – Facebook, in particular – has become a huge facilitator of international trafficking systems.

“Facebook is effectively being used in many cases as the means to attract and then enslave vulnerable young women, in particular,” Mr. Wainwright said.

Once victims are recruited, social media may allow traffickers to remotely monitor and check in with victims using webcam capabilities.

"In the past, the pimps and traffickers had to do that by physically visiting them,” Wainwright said. “Now they can just do it at the click of a button and therefore control 50 victims much more easily and readily in virtual form.”

"What that allows therefore is a sort of industrialisation of the problem,” he said. “Single traffickers and pimps can control many more victims."

Freeland, the Bangkok-based group, said in the statement it had received tips from friends of trafficking victims and, in turn, alerted the Department of Special Investigations.

"DSI took our analysis, corroborated it, and added much more information to this case before taking professional action," Sombat Tuengwiwat, Freeland’s director of intelligence analysis said in the statement.  "DSI is to be congratulated for breaking up this human trafficking syndicate, including removing the boss and his senior team from harming more victims."

The arrests coincided with an unrelated, larger-scale trafficking bust Friday in which Thai prosecutors indicted 72 suspected participants in an international human trafficking ring. Another 32 suspects remain at large. According to the New York Times, “Thailand has been conducting a sweeping investigation into human trafficking within its borders, after graves containing more than 30 bodies were found in southern Thailand in May.”

Among the charged are a number of military and civilian officials. “We will not let influential people rise above justice,” Office of the Attorney General spokesman Wanchai Roujanavong told the Times.

Both busts come days before Monday’s release of the US State Department’s annual report on trafficking.

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