A research by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found that human traffickers are taking advantage of online technologies by tricking people with fake job offers and promises and then exploit them for profit.
The research have shown how victims are being targeted and recruited via social media and online dating platforms, where personal information and details of people’s locations are readily available.
Sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation are taking place virtually and photos and videos sold further on different platforms to customers worldwide, resulting in even more money for the traffickers at no additional cost.
This week, experts from around 100 countries met online and in Vienna, Austria, to discuss strategies to combat this phenomenon and make the best use of technology to prevent human trafficking and investigate cases of this crime.
The discussion formed part of the annual intergovernmental Working Group of Trafficking in Persons and centres around an in-depth background paper on this topic produced by UNODC’s Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section.
“Traffickers are quick to adapt their business model to suit their needs and increase their profits, so of course they follow online trends,” explains Tiphanie Crittin, a UNODC Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer.
“Traffickers are currently using technology to profile, recruit, control and exploit their victims as well as using the Internet, especially the dark web, to hide illegal materials stemming from trafficking and their real identities from investigators.”
The illicit proceeds from this highly profitable crime are also being laundered online through crypto currencies, which makes it easier for traffickers to receive, hide and move large amounts of money with less risk of being detected.
Today, the Internet provides easy access to a much larger group of potential victims because traditional physical and geographical limitations no longer exist.
Traffickers create fake websites or post advertisements on legitimate employment portals and social networking websites.
Some of these sites feature the option of a live chat. This gives the trafficker immediate contact and the opportunity to obtain personal information, such as passport details, enhancing their power over the targeted victims.
Victims can be repeatedly exploited through live streaming on multiple websites, and there is no limit on the number of times videos of their abuse may be viewed and by how many people.
The global nature of human trafficking and the abuse of technology makes it even more difficult for law enforcement authorities to tackle this crime, explains Ms. Crittin.
“When a crime is planned in one country, with victims in another country, and a customer in a third one, law enforcement authorities face practical challenges such as finding and securing evidence, as any investigation requires cooperation across borders and a certain level of digital expertise,” she says.
Traffickers also use technology to control their victims remotely, sometimes without having to ever meet them in person.
Location-tracking applications and use of global positioning systems in mobile phones can be used to know the victim’s location, while cameras in smartphones used during video calls enable traffickers to see their victims and their surroundings.
Traffickers also maintain control over their victims by threatening to release intimate photos or videos of them to families and friends if they do not comply with their demands. (Source: UN News)