Investigating crypto scams around Tether’s stablecoin, journalist Zeke Faux uncovers a large human trafficking ring in Cambodia.
Crypto scams and exchange hacks are becoming almost a regular occurrence in the digital assets space. But a recent revelation from Bloomberg’s investigative reporter Zeke Faux shows how crypto is being used as a fishing hook to run more sophisticated and larger criminal activities – in this case – human trafficking.
Faux’s journey began with a seemingly innocuous text message from a woman named Vicky Ho. Claiming to be a divorced woman running a chain of nail salons in New York, Vicky engaged Faux in conversation before eventually steering it toward cryptocurrency investments.
Faux, suspecting a scam, played along to gather more information. Vicky introduced him to a crypto-exchange app called ZBXS and instructed him to deposit Tether to start trading.
Faux’s initial probe aimed to understand the legitimacy of Tether’s stablecoin USDT. However, his investigation took a grim turn when he discovered a human trafficking ring operating out of Cambodia.
As Faux delved deeper, he found that the scam, commonly known as “pig butchering,” was not just a financial fraud but a front for a more sinister operation. It was orchestrated by Chinese gangsters based in Cambodia and Myanmar, who lured young people from Southeast Asia with promises of well-paying jobs. Once there, they were held captive and forced into criminal activities, including running scams like the one Vicky was involved in.
Faux’s investigation revealed that these operations were housed in large compounds, such as “Chinatown” in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The compound was filled with office towers where thousands of captive workers sent spam messages under the threat of torture or death. Some workers reported being forcibly injected with methamphetamine to increase productivity.
Zeke Faux’s story is not just one isolated case. Recent reports suggested that more than 200,000 people across Cambodia and Myanmar are forced to run scam operations by large criminal enterprises. These scams range from crypto-fraud to online gambling, and they’re also active in other Southeast Asian countries like Laos, Thailand, and the Phillippines.