International cybercrimes target Asian citizens

Cybercrime has become a threat to every country, with losses estimated at around US$190,000 every second, notes the writer.

Didik Eko Pujianto

Didik Eko Pujianto

The Jakarta Post


Into the rabbit hole: Trapped between debts and bills, many human trafficking victims are employed as scammers. (JP/Hengky Wijaya) (JP/Hengky Wijaya)

April 6, 2023

JAKARTA – On March 14, CNN International quoted the Cambodian Ministry of Interior as stating that “cyber-scam traffickers are targeting professionals across Asia.” The report informed us of the 172 Indonesian migrant workers (IMW) who became online fraud operators in fraudulent investments in Cambodia targeting their fellow Indonesians (Kompas Aug. 5, 2022).

On Sept. 22, 2022, The Jakarta Post reported a similar case in Malaysia. It quoted Malaysia’s foreign ministry which had received 301 reports of people trapped by the job scam networks in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.

Indonesians and Malaysians were tempted by job vacancies in Cambodia with attractive payments. Sadly, they ended up forced to work beyond their limits, all their documents were kept by their employers, they were prohibited from leaving the house and pressured for money.

Such cases are not new. In May 2015, the police arrested dozens of foreigners from China and Taiwan for allegedly committing online fraud targeting Chinese and Taiwanese citizens.

Cybercrime has become a threat to every country. A well-known cybersecurity company estimated in December 2022 that losses from cybercrimes globally reached US$190,000 every second or $11.4 million per minute.

The INTERPOL Global Crime Trend Report 2022 (IGCTR) noted that cybercrimes such as ransomware, phishing, online scams and computer intrusion in all 190 member countries are “high or very high.”

Domestically, National Police detectives recorded 8,831 cybercrimes in 2022, up by 14 times from the previous year.

Life challenges, having no job, having lost a job or failing a business can force someone to look for any job, anywhere. Endless information on job vacancies on social media overthrow logic, prompting vulnerable people to go to countries that are not an IMW’s destination, where the economic development is no better than Indonesia.

Large-scale cyber fraud involving high-tech and expensive equipment are run by hefty investors. They are constantly looking for and attracting people to operate their cash machine. Chinese citizens are employed to swindle compatriots, Malaysians are forced to cheat their fellow Malaysians, and Indonesians are pressured to lure other Indonesians.

The rescued victims of human trafficking from Sihanoukville in Cambodia recently are one example. Across Cambodia it is estimated that there are around 1,000 Indonesians trapped in the illicit practice. More Indonesians are reportedly at risk of the crime in Myanmar and Laos, after entering the countries via Thailand and Vietnam.

Trafficking in persons (TIPs) involves two cybercrimes: providing deceitful information and the act of committing online fraud. The generic steps the government must take are prevention, prosecution of perpetrators, protection of victims and cooperation in handling it.

The basic prevention is a public awareness campaign on proper and safe migration. In Singapore, in almost every area we can find warning signs of cybercrime. Similar prevention efforts can also be found in villages in Subang and Purwakarta regencies, West Java. In those villages, known for suppliers of migrant workers, we can find banners with clear messages urging people to be careful of loan sharks who operate online.

Considering the literacy gap, public awareness campaigns in the country must be carried out through various platforms to make people much more aware of the dangers of misleading information.

Prosecution is key to a deterrent effect. Victims of TIPs often know the perpetrator but are not willing to reveal his or her identity because the perpetrator is their own relative.

We can learn from our neighbors in this regard. Malaysia enforced the Anti Fake News Act in 2018, which threatens to fine those who create or spread false news up to 500,000 ringgit, serve jail time for up to 6 years, or both. 

Singapore adopted the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) in 2019. Whoever creates, disseminates false information is fined up to S$50,000, or faces imprisonment of up to five years. If false information comes from corporations/media, the fine is S$500,000. And if the crime is committed online, the fines and prison term will double.

Indonesia has Law No. 11/2008 that has been amended by Law No. 19/2016 concerning Information and Electronic Transactions (ITE). The punishment for offenders is no less serious than those in neighboring countries.  

Moreover, providing incorrect information and sending an IMW abroad beyond proper procedures and causing problems can be charged with Law No. 21/2007 on TIPs.

The protection of victims is the responsibility of the state. Accordingly, it is important to scrutinize every case to determine whether a crime has happened, and provide proportional assistance and protection to victims.

However, in several cases the police have found that someone who claimed to be a victim of TIPs turned out to be the perpetrator. Nevertheless, there are often misleading and excessive expectations about protection of Indonesian citizens abroad. Protection is not without limits.

Cooperation is a must in eradicating this crime. It is impossible for an institution to solve trans-national cybercrime on its own. The arrest and deportation of Chinese and Taiwanese citizens for their alleged roles in cybercrimes in Jakarta is a result of an interdepartmental work. Likewise, the success of the Indonesian government in rescuing hundreds of TIPs victims from Cambodia followed multi-level cooperation and delicate diplomacy.

Bilateral cooperation between police forces is one of the most common schemes. However, it depends on the system and law enforcement. The better the system and law enforcement in our country and our counterpart’s, the smoother and more likely it will be successful.

On the other hand, if the system and law enforcement in one country or both countries are poor, or the country is in an unstable condition, the chance of success will be even more complicated and slim.

Cooperation can also be realized through regional and international schemes, such as ASEANAPOL.

Globally, there is INTERPOL, which has networks in 190 member countries. The United Nations also has the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), known as the Palermo Convention in 2000, which has become a reference for every country in addressing TIPs and cooperation among countries.

National legal instruments and regional as well as international cooperation frameworks are already in place. All that remains is commitment to enforcing the prevailing laws, which in the end will determine the success of a country in dealing with international cybercrimes.  


The writer is secretary at the Foreign Ministry’s Protocol and Consular Affairs Directorate General. The views expressed in the article are his own. The Indonesian version of this article has appeared in Kompas.

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