* Foreigners lured by adverts offering call center jobs * Held against their will, victims forced into online scams

* Pandemic makes it easier for gangs to exploit foreigners * China links kidnapping, trafficking to online gambling

Foreign workers and tourists stranded in Cambodia during the COVID-19 pandemic have been trafficked and forced to work in sophisticated Chinese-run online scams, a Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation has found.

In interviews, nine trafficking victims said they were lured by social media adverts promising well-paid jobs in call centers. Instead, they ended up in shuttered hotel-casinos and guarded compounds where they had their passports confiscated before being put to work online.

The victims, mainly from Africa and Asia, said they were ordered to create fake profiles on Tinder, WhatsApp, and Facebook to entice people into fraudulent investment schemes involving cryptocurrencies, foreign exchange, and shares. Those who objected or performed poorly were subjected to violence and threats, victims said. Mary, a teacher from the Philippines, said she miscarried while locked in a room without food and water for three days.

“We were desperate,” said Mary, who was three months pregnant and four months out of work when she responded in July to a Facebook post offering call center jobs to English-speaking foreigners. “We thought it was real work but it became a living nightmare,” said the 26-year-old, whose name has been changed to…

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