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Illustration by iStock; Security Management

Hacking Human Trafficking

In a three-day operation in The Netherlands, 85 experts—representing 26 countries and four law enforcement organizations—targeted online criminal efforts that exploit people into human trafficking.

The operation was supported by Europol and was styled as a hackathon, running from 18 to 22 September and focused on using open-source intelligence (OSINT) to identify which online platforms are being used to recruit victims largely into sex and labor trafficking.

The hackathon ran checks on more than 370 platforms, including social media and dating platforms, Web forums, marketplaces, and online applications. Social media and online platforms are increasingly used by human trafficking recruiters, promising potential victims some form of a better life: love, marriage, education, or employment.

The operation looked into more than 300 phone numbers, email addresses, mobile apps, and fax numbers. The experts identified 26 online platforms were involved in human trafficking, 10 linked to child sexual abuse, and five platforms identified to be involved in human trafficking. The press release about the operation, published by Europol, did not elaborate on whether any specific actions against these groups was taken.

The operation also concentrated on websites and platforms that traffickers are using to target specific groups of people—Ukrainian refugees and Chinese nationals. Beyond use of popular social media platforms, recruiters are also using dating apps and review forums. Recruiters often use community groups on social media, too, leveraging them to filter among these groups by geography.

Separately, direct action was taken against a human trafficking group headquartered in Serbia. The family-based criminal organization had forced victims into criminal activity, marriage, and begging. The Serbian Police, with support from Europol and law enforcement authorities from Austria, France, and Germany, arrested five Serbian nationals, including the group’s leader.

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The group was involved in trafficking young women and minors between ages 5 and 17—sometimes including their own biological children or children related to them.

Underage victims were taken into child protection services, including the Centre for the Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking.

The group also lured other victims by using a “loverboy,” someone who seduces a young woman and then forces her into prostitution or other forms of human trafficking.

Europol also recently published a guide on how to identify fake job advertisements, another tactic traffickers can use to lure victims.

These fake ads usually promise an attractive and lucrative job, but once someone arrives to start working, he or she finds that the job, conditions, or payment are completely different. “Often the advertisements are for jobs abroad, further isolating the victims from possible support networks,” according to the tip sheet. The recruiter might also hold passports, visas, or other forms of identification hostage, as well as withhold the victim’s access to money.

What to Look Out For

Rmember, if something sounds to good to be true, it usually is.

  • Do a background check on the company to make sure it’s a legitimate business and does not have any reports of labor violations.
  • Do a background check on the person trying to hire you or the company’s manager.
  • Take another look at the job ad. Does it offer a realistic salary and working conditions? Or are they promising to overpay compared to market rates?
  • Any obvious or blatant grammar and spelling mistakes in the ad are a red flag.