Human traffickers using social media

For many teens, one of their daily habits probably includes opening Instagram. While on the app they might post their own photos or stories, or comment or like other people’s posts. This seems like a normal part of anyone’s day. At the same time, human traffickers are scrolling through the same app looking for targets.

Instagram is designed for people to connect, whether you’re friends or not. If you have a public profile and use hashtags or location tags on your photos, someone will be able to find them by searching the location or hashtags you’ve used. It can make the app all the more fun; you can meet like-minded people or search a site to see what it looks like before visiting. At the same time, it can make it a dangerous place to be living out your life. Human traffickers use these tools to search for their next victims.

It didn’t use to be this easy. A predator would have to find their victim in person at a public place such as a school or a mall. But with the use of social media, traffickers can find victims more easily than ever.

Often enough it begins easily. A person wants to hear that they’re smart, unique, or beautiful; that is exactly what these predators will do when communicating with their victim. They’ll watch for a person’s posts, looking for someone whose weakness they can prey on. When they see that someone is complaining how their parents don’t understand, they will swoop in a say that they agree with the target. They will make them empty promises that if they come to them, they will give the target everything they wanted. This tactic is referred to as grooming.

They look for teens and young adults alike that lack confidence or are looking for attention. They’ll make an effort to get into their target’s life, and then the grooming process starts. It’s not always about finding a sad lonely teem, this can happen to the most popular kids. If a teen wants to be a model – for example – they’ll promise they can help them. Once they’ve gained the trust of the target, they’ll schedule a pick up for them and make their move. Other traffickers will wait longer. They’ll play the “I did this for you card, so you need to do this for me.”

This past summer an airlines agent in Sacramento, California was credited with thwarting the plans of an alleged human trafficking scheme. Two girls, aged 15 and 17, came to the airport without any identification to board a flight to New York alone. The airline agent had a bad feeling because of the red flags already stated. She then discovered that the teens only had one-way tickets and that they had been flagged for being purchased with a fraudulent credit card.

The agent then flagged down a deputy who chatted with the girls about their plans for their trip. The girls had met a guy on Instagram named Drey. He asked that they come to New York and take modeling pictures and be in a music video. The two weren’t aware that their tickets were only one way. The deputy realized that this could be a possible set up for human trafficking, and when he explained that to the teens they didn’t believe him. When authorities contacted “Drey” on Instagram he deleted his account. They believe that he was using a Google phone number which is untrackable.

Predators will often use another tactic called “sextortion”. The predator asks for nude photos under the promise that they won’t send them to anyone else. It then turns into sextortion when the predator threatens to send the photos to friends or family. It becomes blackmail from there. The trafficker will request more photos from that point on.

Traffickers don’t always use Instagram to find their victims. They’ll also use Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Kik or ChatRoulette. You might not understand how all of these apps work, but the best option for a parent isn’t to become a helicopter parent in hopes of protecting their child from the dangers lurking on social media. Ask your teen questions. Ask them how these apps work and let them show you. Start asking them, and they’ll start teaching you. In terms of talking about human trafficking, don’t just say it’s bad. Make it a topic of the day, show them how easy it is to become trapped in the sex trade.