A & W INTERNATIONAL MANPOWER SERVICES SPECIALIST (“A&W”) is a Philippines based employment agency. A&W specializes in the deployment of migrant workers from the Philippines to other countries and jurisdictions such as Hong Kong SAR, Taiwan, and Singapore.
A&W operated a scheme to extract excessive fees from prospective migrant workers by unlawfully requiring prospective migrant workers to engage with and pay excessive fees to exclusive training centers, lending companies, and medical clinics. The actions of forcing a migrant worker to pay excessive fees to exclusive training centers, lending companies, medical clinics is defined as a predicate offense pursuant to Philippines RA 9160, as amended, and RA 8042, as amended.
This scheme likely started when the Philippines government prohibited agencies from charging placement fees. As a result, A&W devised a scheme whereby the placement fee money could be collected by forcing prospective migrant workers to pay exclusive partners of A&W. The exclusive partners were also owned and controlled by A&W shareholders or paid A&W an undisclosed kickback for the referral.
Furthermore, A&W, through its exclusive lending partner would require prospective migrant workers to open a bank account at designated bank branches and then A&W, though its exclusive lending partner, would coerce prospective migrant workers into signing blank bank checks issued in their name, often in collaboration with the bank staff. After the blank bank checks are signed A&W directly or through its exclusive lending partner would confiscate the blank bank checks from the prospective migrant workers. A&W and its exclusive lending partner would then use these blank but signed blank checks are leveraged to blackmail the migrant worker if they miss alleged debt payments, file a complaint against A&W or its exclusive partners, or other actions that would be contrary to the interests of A&W and its exclusive partners. By maintaining custody of the checks, A&W and its exclusive lending partner have unchallenged power and control over the prospective migrant workers because the blank but signed bank checks can be filled out and then presented to a bank for cashing at any time. By doing so, A&W and its exclusive lending partner desire to manufacture an instance where one or more bank checks are bounced. After a check is bounced, A&W and its exclusive lending partner will file a criminal case against the migrant workers which usually results in their arrest for violation of the Philippines B.P 22 law. At the arraignment A&W and its exclusive lending partner will inform the migrant worker that they will drop the case if the migrant worker pays an amount usually exceeding 3 times the principle, plus interest, and exaggerated attorney fees.
In more specificity, A&W required prospective migrant workers to engage with, pay excessive fees to, or open bank accounts the following entities:
- Training Center: Right Focus Training Center, Inc. (“Right Focus”)
- Medical Clinic: Right Med Diagnostics Center (“Right Med”)
- Money Lender: Prosperity & Success Lending Investor Corporation (“Prosperity”)
- Banks: Citystate Savings Bank, Inc, CTBC Bank (Philippines) Corporation, China Bank Savings Inc (“Banks”)
- Employment agencies and money lenders have registered addresses or branches of operation with close geographic proximity. Often in the same building.
- Employment agencies, training centers, medical clinics, and lending companies with common or related by first degree to shareholders, directors, and managers.
- Employment agencies require migrant workers to attend non-accredited training centers that charge above the maximum allowable fees.
- Employment agencies require prospective migrant workers to attend non-accredited medical clinics that charge above the maximum allowable fees.
- An employment agency receiving the majority of its revenue from non-customer entities
- The customers are the migrant worker and the employer. It is illegal for the agency to charge the migrant worker so logically the majority of revenue should be from the employer. But in a blackmarket system like this the original source of funds that end up as revenue from the agency comes from the migrant worker
- Agencies that routinely change their name, signage, and operating address to avoid complaints
- Banks opening accounts for migrant workers who leave a small deposit (~5,000 PHP) in the account right before leaving the Philippines to work overseas for a minimum of 2 years.
- Migrant workers requesting check books right before leaving the Philippines to work overseas. These checkbooks can not be used as payment mechanisms for overseas payments.
- Banks opening accounts for a large number of prospective migrant workers that are forwarded to them from employment agencies, training centers, medical clinics, or lending companies.
- Unauthorized sharing of personal data between banks, training centers, medical clinics, and lending companies.
- Employment agency, training center, medical clinic, or lending company staff accompanying prospective migrant workers into bank branches to open accounts.
- A large number of “bounced checks” which were issued to migrant workers. Especially if these checks are presented to be cashed during a period where the migrant worker would be working overseas.
- Employment agencies in overseas jurisdictions (such as Hong Kong SAR) offering remittance services or reminding migrant workers to make payments for alleged debts.
- Money lenders that use Facebook or other social media profiles to publicly shame, threaten, and post personal details of migrant workers online to harass them into making payments.
- Money lenders that file a large number of “bounced check” cases against migrant workers.
- Special Power of Attorneys that grant employment agency, money lender, or other migration related entities and staff control of bank accounts opened by migrant workers shortly before leaving the Philippines or other country.
- Customers that are unable to articulate a reason and purpose for opening an account. In these situations, prospective migrant workers usually tell bank staff that they are “opening an account because Prosperity told me to”.