“It was all my fault—my stupidity in accepting the job as a scammer since I needed to run away from my life after dealing with some personal issues,” says Santoso, an English literature graduate. He had intended to pursue a higher education degree by applying for a master’s in film or a working holiday visa to Melbourne, and to pay for it, he accepted an “administrative job” offering a monthly salary of Rp 17 million in the Golden Triangle area of Laos. Little did he know that he was stepping into a dangerous world of fraud and deception.
From April 2022 to November 2022, Santoso operated in Bokeo province, which he described as a “mafia aquarium.” His job involved conning people in the United States into investing in a fake crypto scheme. As the months passed, Santoso became increasingly sickened by his illicit occupation. However, escaping this treacherous situation came at a steep price. He was forced to pay a ransom of Rp 80 million (US$5,374) to his employers under the threat of being thrown into the Mekong River. All of his hard-earned savings went toward the ransom demanded by his company.
Santoso’s story is not an isolated incident. According to Yusuf Ardabili, a legal aid staffer at Migrant Care, an NGO that supports Indonesian migrant workers, the number of victims of fraudulent job postings has increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Desperation to find employment, especially among the unemployed and underemployed, has led many people to fall into the traps set by these illegal job postings. The unemployment rate in Indonesia stood at 5.86 percent in August 2022, leaving millions of people without a stable income and vulnerable to exploitation.
Yusuf confirms that most victims are unaware that they are likely to work for bogus companies or become con artists themselves. These fraudulent job postings often offer salaries that are almost double or triple the regional minimum wage, making them attractive prospects for those seeking better financial opportunities. The lure of higher incomes and the promise of a brighter future blind many to the dangers that lie beneath.
According to Statistics Indonesia (BPS), Migrant Care received reports of 189 cases of individuals being lured into fraudulent jobs just last year. Countries such as Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and the Philippines have become hotspots for human trafficking and exploitation. Shockingly, the majority of victims trafficked to these countries were male (91.8 percent). Recent graduates and individuals who lost their jobs during the pandemic are particularly vulnerable, as they are more likely to be enticed by job postings that offer attractive salaries.
The modus operandi of these fraudulent companies has become increasingly sophisticated. They replicate legitimate companies in every aspect, from HR to PR and social media presence. Prospective employees are put through formal interview processes and are often promised lodging and transportation. However, the true nature of their employment is only revealed when they arrive at the bogus organizations.
Yusuf warns that identifying and avoiding social media job scams has a long way to go. The recent rescue of 20 Indonesian migrant workers from a fake organization in Myanmar is just the “tip of the iceberg.” He advises job seekers to be cautious and conduct thorough research on companies before applying, particularly if they are asked to apply under a tourist visa. Checking the credibility of the company on the internet can help potential victims avoid falling into the traps set by these fraudulent operations.