Human traffickers are still recruiting fresh victims via social media and online dating platforms, according to a new warning issued by America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In a public service announcement delivered yesterday, the FBI warned the public to be wary when arranging to meet someone they have met online in person.
Human traffickers use the lure of sex, romance, and increasingly of employment to ensnare online victims, setting up fake dates and making what appear to be legitimate jobs offers.
The FBI said that in addition to providing human traffickers with rich hunting grounds for victims, online platforms are also a favorite way for criminals to advertise victims for sale as slaves or sex workers.
“FBI investigations show that human traffickers continue to use online platforms to recruit individuals to engage in forced labor or sex work. The Internet lets human traffickers contact virtually anyone in the world, giving them an opportunity to communicate with and recruit victims domestically and internationally,” said the FBI.
“Many Americans unknowingly encounter trafficking victims through their daily activities.”
Victims who have been groomed online and persuaded to meet with the trafficker aren’t simply snatched off the street and bundled into a van. The process of victimization is far more sinister and gradual.
“Human traffickers target vulnerable individuals by preying on their personal situations. After establishing a false sense of trust, traffickers may force victims into sex work or forced labor,” warned the FBI.
Human traffickers select users to target by mining the information people share online for vulnerabilities that can be exploited. For example, if a user shares a post saying that they have lost their job, a trafficker might trap them by offering employment.
The FBI said: “Online platforms make it easier for traffickers to find potential victims, especially those who post personal information, such as their financial hardships, their struggles with low self-esteem, or their family problems.
“Human traffickers target and recruit their victims by appearing to offer help, or pretending to be a friend or potential romantic partner. They leverage their victims’ vulnerabilities and coerce them to meet in person.”