In the elaborate setup of a scam HQ manned by people forced to scam

*Names have been changed

SINGAPORE and PHNOM PENH: For some of the people bending over computers and typing Angry, sweet-talking strangers thousands of miles away what drives them is the threat of torture – beatings, starvation, even electrocution. For others, it’s the promise of a promotion, cash rewards, or even the promise of drugs.

The spartan room they are in is newly renovated, with rows of office desks. Dozens of cellphones — maybe eight to ten per person — sit in front of them as they type.

They come from many places like China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and even Turkey. Singapore is also represented. Most of them are men, but there are also some women.

A man is talking to a woman from Singapore; she thinks he lives there too. She mentions that she’s about to go out and asks what he’s doing. He immediately does a Google search for “Singapore weather” and then replies, “I slipped in the rain earlier. Be careful.”

Another man murmurs to his colleague, “She’s upset that I mention cryptocurrency. How should I react?” His colleague looks at the conversation on WhatsApp and then types an answer.

In a smaller space separate from everyone else, everything that appears on their screens, whether desktop or phone, is monitored in real-time by a “supervisor” some have never met. He or she reports to one more person in a shadowy, seemingly endless chain of command.

In another room is the “Marketing” department, where a few people compile voice memos, images, and videos.

One of them is editing a video of a slender young woman cooking fish head curry. It might be sent to an unsuspecting chat partner somewhere in the US or Australia. In the meantimea picture of an empty fridge is sent to one of the men sitting outside, who in turn forwards it to awHe’s been talking to Oman in Malaysia for weeks.

“I just spent the afternoon cleaning my parents’ fridge,” he types. “What have you done today?”

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