The Internet + Human Trafficking

The Internet + Human Trafficking

Written By: Javier P.

One question often asked about sex trafficking is how victims meet their trafficker. “Recruitment” is the common term for how victims first encounter their trafficker, and there are many ways victims are recruited. For years victims met their traffickers face-to-face for the first time, but over the last 25 years, recruitment has evolved to trap even more victims than before. “Recruitment” is the common term for how victims first encounter their trafficker, and there are many ways victims are recruited.

Recruitment on the Internet 

In the United States, 40% of sex trafficking victims are recruited online. That makes the internet the number one place for trafficking recruitment, occurring on the same apps and websites that most people use every day. The UN Office On Drugs and Crime has identified two main strategies traffickers use to recruit victims online, easy to recognize and avoid. 


The first of these strategies is known as “fishing.” The Fishing strategy of recruitment passively recruits victims by catching their attention with online advertisements for jobs. These job postings promise high pay or travel benefits while giving little to no information regarding job details. If you get an interview for one of these “jobs,” it will be done in an unusual location, such as a home or a private location. The fishing strategy poses a lower risk for traffickers because they do not risk reaching out to victims; instead, the victims make initial contact when they inquire about the advertised job.  In addition, posting online ads to lure victims is easy for traffickers because the platforms for posting online ads are available to just about anyone. The ads are carefully curated in wording and design to avoid detection from law enforcement, meaning that they can run the same ad to attract any number of victims. 


The second strategy used to recruit victims is known as “hunting.” With hunting, traffickers are more proactive in their efforts to recruit victims. Instead of waiting for victims to come to them, they actively pick and pursue victims online. This typically looks like the trafficker approaching potential victims via online chat rooms or direct messages on social media. Social media gives traffickers the benefit of public information from profiles and timelines to gather information and choose their targets. Information traffickers may look for include age, sex, occupation, etc. The main thing traffickers are looking for is vulnerability. Traffickers may distinguish economic or emotional needs based on social posts and geo-tagging and aim to manipulate their target. For instance, an individual facing financial need may be more desperate for work and susceptible to taking risky odd jobs. Or, someone displaying an emotional disposition, such as loneliness, may be more vulnerable to a trafficker who promises to comfort and fulfill them. 

The public display of vulnerability is a big reason why dating apps are also becoming popular platforms for traffickers to abuse. Dating apps have thousands of people searching for connection, with some more vulnerable than others. Traffickers can create a persona to attract victims with specific qualities, win them over, create a false sense of trust and meet them in person. 

How You Can Stay Safe

Developing safe internet habits is the best way to keep you and your loved ones safe from traffickers online. Here are some tips to help you develop some safe internet habits:

  • Avoid clicking on suspicious advertisements.
  • Avoid “oversharing” information on social media that would make you appear to be vulnerable.
  • Don’t accept friend requests from strangers. Consider making your profile private so you can control who follows you.
  • When using dating apps, be cautious of interests moving too quickly or making lofty promises. Traffickers try to establish intimacy quickly. 
  • Be highly critical of jobs posted outside of reputable hiring sites. Sites like Facebook and Craigslist have had many reports of trafficking recruitment.
  • When looking at job opportunities, do your research on the employer. If you can not find information on them, it is best to steer clear. 
  • Trust your gut- if something feels off, it probably is. Trust your instincts, and don’t take unnecessary risks.


Although traffickers use the internet to find potential victims, that doesn’t mean that you should navigate the internet with fear. Safe internet habits will help to keep you safe from traffickers. The more people are made aware of recruitment strategies; the fewer people will fall prey to traffickers. 

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