The Dangers of Swiping Right
The internet & social media has made its way into most aspects of people’s lives. From shopping, to socializing, to getting the news, and even dating. Especially in the time of COVID-19, many college aged students as well as others are turning to dating apps and websites to pass the time. But whether it be Tinder, Bumble, or other apps, there is always a risk for your safety, including risks and dangers for human trafficking.
Photo by Kon Karampelas
In mid-March, the FBI released a public service announcement warning users of the risks of human trafficking as people are spending more and more time online.
“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.”
Dating apps are a perfect storm for human traffickers to find targets. Profiles on most sites do not have to be verified, which means images and information can often be fake or lies. That’s why when using dating apps it is important to realize the risk, and understand the common routes traffickers take to target possible victims. The FBI PSA gives multiple examples of past trafficking crimes using dating sites, but one of the most compelling was a story about a Washington case.
In October 2017, a sex trafficker was convicted on 17 counts of trafficking adults and minors. Additional charges included child pornography and obstruction of justice. The perpetrator received a 33-year sentence. A victim from the Seattle area met the sex trafficker's accomplice on a dating website. The trafficker and his accomplice later promised to help the victim with her acting career. After a few months, the victim was abused and forced into prostitution.
This story has all the elements, and so many lessons can be learned from this story. One of the most important lessons, and the one I want to touch on first in the fact that you NEVER know who you are talking to. They can tell you anything you want to hear, and there is often a false sense of trust that develops after multiple online conversations. Another important aspect is the fact that the criminals can access a lot of information that can be used against you. This could be something as simple as hobbies, family members, places you live and if you are employed.
Especially now amongst the COVID-19 crisis, traffickers target people in harder circumstances. People who have lost their jobs and are desperate for cash are vulnerable targets for these criminals. It is important to keep in mind that offers that sound too good to be true probably are.
If you are to go to the next level and see someone you met online in person, ALWAYS meet in a very public setting. There is a ton of benefit in bringing someone you trust with you, even to have them sit from afar. Online relationships can, and have, developed into more serious relationships. It is important to realize the threat does not diminish or dissolve. The fact of the matter is, you still may not know this person at all. If you’re ever suspicious, trust your gut. It is never wrong to be leery with trust.
Protect yourself first and apologize later!
Read the full FBI report here, and send it to anyone you know who uses dating apps!
Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay vigilant.