SKOPJE, North Macedonia — Police in North Macedonia say they have broken up a Taiwanese crime ring that had lured unsuspecting Taiwanese workers to the country and forced them to work in slave-like conditions to commit telephone fraud targeting people in Taiwan.
A police statement Friday said authorities acted after receiving a tip-off from Taiwanese authorities last November about a crime ring operating in several countries, including North Macedonia. It said the suspects had been under surveillance since April.
Raids on several locations near the capital Skopje on May 7 uncovered 39 Taiwanese people who were identified as victims of enforced labor, police said. Another nine Taiwanese, all in their mid-20s, have since been arrested on an international arrest warrant as suspected ring organizers.
Police spokesperson Toni Angelovski told The Associated Press that the organizers arrived in the country in November, and the victims began arriving successively from November until April.
According to Angelovski, the victims were lured with promises of work. Most didn’t know what the nature of their jobs would be until they arrived.
Once in North Macedonia, Angelovski said, the organizers allegedly confined them to a house from where they would be working, and confiscated their passports and phones. They were then forced to work long hours without pay, and were beaten if they didn’t obey orders, he said.
The organizers allegedly used high-speed internet to set up international telephone centers from where the workers were forced to make fraudulent calls to people in Taiwan, telling them they had been served with fictitious fines.
In a three-tier system, some workers impersonated bank, post office or insurance company employees who would make the initial calls. The call would then be transferred to a second worker, impersonating a police officer who would try to extract more personal information from their targeted victim and seek proof of payment for fictitious fines.
Finally, the call would be transferred to a third worker who would impersonate a judge or prosecutor who would seek to persuade victims to transfer money to designated accounts to avoid prosecution or to reduce potential sentences.
The public prosecutor’s office said that the nine suspects and the 39 victims had all been sent to Taiwan from Skopje on Thursday. The nine suspected organizers face charges there of human and drug trafficking, and money laundering.
Authorities did not elaborate on why the crime ring might have picked North Macedonia as one of the countries from which to operate.