FBI warns of human traffickers luring victims on dating apps

The warning highlights one of the potential risks associated with revealing too much private information online

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) issued a warning yesterday about the continued threat posed by human traffickers luring victims online. Using tactics such as coercion, fraud, force, and bogus job offers, the criminals scour social media sites and dating platforms in an attempt to exploit the personal situations of down on their luck individuals by promising to help them out.

“Offenders often exploit dating apps and websites to recruit – and later advertise – sex trafficking victims. In addition, offenders are increasingly recruiting labor trafficking victims through what appear to be legitimate job offers,” said the Bureau. The criminals usually pose as work recruiters, modeling agents or scouts, lulling potential victims with fake career prospects or offers of a helping hand.

To put the problem into context – according to data by the US National Human Trafficking Hotline, between 2015 and 2018 almost 1,000 potential sex trafficking victims were recruited using online services such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Craigslist, as well as online dating sites.

Per the FBI’s warning, the internet has been a boon for sex traffickers, who now have access to a vast pool of potential victims from all around the world. Online platforms make it simpler for human traffickers to find out more about their targets, often teenage girls, especially if they overshare about their financial woes or family problems. The offenders then leverage this information and feign romantic interest or offer fake prospects of a better life. They groom their victims, establish a false sense of trust, and ultimately meet them in person. Before long, they force the targets into sex work or forced labor.

RELATED READING: How (over)sharing on social media can trip you up

In its announcement, the FBI also described three cases where victims were exploited using such tactics. One sex trafficking victim met a trafficker’s accomplice through a dating website. Both the trafficker and his accomplice promised to help her with her acting career, but went on to abuse her and force her into prostitution.

In another case, a couple posted false advertisements on the internet and in a newspaper in India, lying about the nature of the work they were offering in their household and the salary their employees would make. Once the workers arrived, they were forced to work 18-hour shifts and were paid next to nothing.

It’s important to be vigilant about what you share on your social media accounts and be wary of who can see your posts and photos. Why not take precautions right away and review, for example, your Facebook privacy settings?

17 Mar 2020 – 10:10PM

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