Pretoria - A 29-year-old Free State man who left South Africa in high spirits after he was offered a job to work as customer screening specialist in Thailand, is now stuck in Cambodia as the job turned out to be a scam.
Xolani Sidwell Fongo, an unemployed university drop out, said he received an email in October 2022 from a man who identified himself as John Thomas, claiming to be a recruiter for Huilong Technology, a Chinese marketing company supposedly based in Thailand.
The job offer in itself was not alarming to Fongo as he is well versed in Mandarin, one of the most spoken languages in China.
Fongo learnt Mandarin when he studied in China through a Free State government funded scholarship.
The alleged scammer made him an offer claiming to have seen his profile on Pnet. Without conducting due diligence, Fongo accepted the company’s offer and within a month, he was in Thailand, ready to work.
It was only when Fongo arrived in Thailand that he realised something was amiss.
“When I arrived, there were people waiting for me at the airport and I was mixed with another group of people from different countries. We then went on a long drive to a remote place. Upon arrival, we were met by people who were dressed in army uniform,” he said.
He said they crossed a river overnight, illegally crossing into Myanmar.
Once in Myanmar, they were taken to a place which looked like a camp. The camp was allegedly operated by people he believed were Chinese nationals.
“When I got there, we were forced to scam people. Initially, I refused, but I was told to pay back all the expenses they incurred when bringing me to the country. I didn't have much of a choice, I worked for them,” he said.
He said the scam involved targeting wealthy US men.
“We pretended to be women and there was an AI model used to dupe the men,” he explained.
Fongo said he worked with people from Zambia, Madagascar, Zimbabwe and other South Africans.
He said they were monitored on how they used their cellphones.
“We were not allowed to take pictures or use our phones during working hours, we only had our cellphones when going to sleep. Food was provided and we had proper beds to sleep, but I didn’t like the job we were doing,” he said.
After a month, they were given an opportunity to quit or continue working.
However, they were told that if they chose to leave, they wouldn’t get their full salaries. Money for travel expenses, including funds which were paid to cross the river to Myanmar, would be deducted.
He said some people chose to stay and while others left.
“I decided to leave thinking I will get help from the South African embassy. I left the place and went back to Thailand and went to the SA embassy in Bangkok. The lady who assisted me told me that they can’t help me but they can allow me to contact my family,” he said.
As he was looking for help, Fongo said he came across an agent who paid for his hostel fees, overstay fee, and a tourist visa to work in Cambodia for another Chinese company.
“Unfortunately when I got here, I realised that it’s the same scam company. So I decided to work for one month as it was enough for me to buy a flight ticket and go back home. Unfortunately it didn’t go as planned, they delayed payments and the treatment was bad and I decided to leave.”
He said he approached local police, Red Cross, International Organisation for Migration and UNHRC but was unable to get assistance.
“I was getting desperate as I couldn’t pay for my rent, so I reached out to someone who I met while working in Myanmar and he told me to come to Lek Muoy where I would get a job and that’s where I’m currently staying.”
He said the new job involved getting people to invest in Binance.
“I haven’t started working yet, I still have to do some training, but I don’t want to do this job. I’m scared it might be another scam, I want to come back home,” he said.
Meanwhile, Clayson Monyela, spokesperson of the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) has warned young people not to fall for overseas job scams.
“Contact Dirco before you accept overseas job offers. Human trafficking is real,” he said.
Monyela said he had alerted consular services to attend to Fongo’s case including another matter of a young woman from Limpopo who fell victim to a scam of an English teaching job in Thailand.
Monyela added that the department had launched a Dirco Travel Smart App that will allow travellers to register with the department for any travel either locally or internationally.
“The app allows you to share information with the department so that if any situation arises where you need help or you are in distress we are able to locate you or your next-of-kin,” he said.
I just got a call about a young woman from Limpopo who also fell victim to a job scam (English teacher) in Thailand. Please warn young people in your circles not to fall for these scams. Contact @DIRCO_ZA before you accept overseas job offers. Human trafficking is real. I've… https://t.co/bLyDbk0UVA— Clayson Monyela (@ClaysonMonyela) June 13, 2023