In the past few years, the incidence of scams has significantly gone up worldwide. The internet and social media, great as they are, have exposed more people to scammers. Couple that with living in a volatile economy like Zimbabwe, and the vulnerability is even worse. There is a disturbingly high rate of unemployment in Zimbabwe – over 90 percent according to some sources. This is forcing many Zimbabweans to search for greener pastures in foreign countries. This is where human traffickers have noted desperation that they can capitalize on. Human trafficking is a criminal activity whereby people are recruited, harboured, transported, bought, or kidnapped to serve an exploitative purpose, such as sexual slavery, forced labour, or child soldiery.

Human Trafficking Disguised As Promising Job Offers: Brief Account Of A True Zimbabwean Story

About 2 weeks back, I listened to a real-life account of someone who survived human trafficking. It was a 26-minute heart-breaking testimony. She and her sister had applied for an overseas job in Kuwait where they were promised a starting salary of US$700. She had a marketing background and had been assured she was the right fit for the job. She was to probably start as a maid and then, later on, get a better job. One of the requirements was to pay US$150 per person, supposedly to sort out the paperwork. Everything was done, and they went to Kuwait, but everything changed once they got there.

They were then given to their ‘sponsors’, who essentially were the people who had bought them. She was then taken to work as a maid for a particular family. She was to work like that for 2 years and was subjected to gruesome treatment. She was locked in and made to work literally as a slave. When it came to a point where she could not take it anymore, the ‘sponsor’ said she had two options. It was either she completed her 2 years, or she reimbursed them their money. It turns out they had paid US$3000 to buy her.

The story of how she escaped is truly a miracle. She was fortunate that when she had been taken, her phone was not taken from her. They would turn off the Wi-Fi when they went out for their daily routine. It was only one day when they forgot, and she accessed the internet in search of a Zimbabwean embassy. The story of how incompetent the embassy was is a story for another day. Anyways, through that internet access, that is when she learnt of a UN initiative. It entailed the UN having a shelter for people like her. When she ran away to the embassy, she pointed that out, and that is how she ended up at the shelter. She would later mobilize to reach out to other victims, and some managed to escape.

By the way, when they initially arrived, she was separated from her sister, who was taken by a different ‘sponsor’. Unfortunately, she would later learn that her sister was being used as a sex slave. Her ‘sponsor’ ran an adult entertainment spot so the patrons would pay to sleep with her. When she, later on, got rescued, she tested positive for HIV.

It is a long story, and I have left out many details, but I wanted to make you see what is happening. Both these sisters were married. The first one did manage to come back to her husband. The second one was unfortunate. Her husband had a hard time believing she truly had been a sex slave; he probably thought it was a cover story. He divorced her. These two women at least managed to come back. Sadly many never get to return. Either they are cut off permanently from the world and never found, or they end up dead. All of this is in the name of trying to seek greener pastures.

Modus Operandi Mostly The Same – Attractive Overseas Job Offers

How that story unfolded holds true for many human traffickers. They usually prey on people online by offering attractive job offers. You probably have come across attractive job offers online. The most basic is when scammers simply want to dupe you by making you pay certain “processing fees”. The extreme one is when they want to get you to the respective foreign country to sell you. Even sadder is that the syndicates now typically comprise Zimbabweans. The two ladies I spoke about were initially in touch with a Zimbabwean. The guy would even create WhatsApp groups for them. It all appeared legitimate, but once they landed, the guy would not be reachable ever again.

That is why you need to have a comprehensive understanding of how scammers operate. There are a number of articles we have published on scams, e.g. tips on how to identify online scams. The central red flag is always the same – if it is too good to be true, it usually is. Thus you must do thorough research. If there is a job offer, find out if what you are being told checks out. Ask for the name and details of the recruiting agency or employer. There should be solid information online to prove their authenticity and offline as well.

The crux of this wake-up call is that you are always vigilant. I have done quite a number of articles on scamming. Take some time to go through them, as they will help you become better informed. It all boils down to this thing which might sound cliché – ‘if it is too good to be true, it probably is’. Some have lived to tell the tale of how they escaped human trafficking horrors. Some were circumstantially saved from potentially becoming victims. Sadly, there are many that are still trapped, and many have even died. Whenever you see some job opportunities in foreign countries, do not just dive in, do in-depth due diligence first!