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How Corporations Can Fight Human Trafficking

This $150 billion business of misery is only growing larger thanks to instant app communication, but corporations can help fight it: Here's how.

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You’ve probably heard of banks, credit unions and money apps being exploited by fraudsters and perpetrators of organized crime to launder and otherwise move money around. But if someone told you that lurking within your favorite social networking, gaming or dating app were predatory human or virtual agents of human trafficking, you’d be forgiven for raising a skeptical eyebrow. 

But that’s precisely where perpetrators of such crimes are now placing their bets, amplifying an industry of misery that nets $150 billion in worldwide profits every year, according to a 2017 report from the International Labor Organization.

Digital parasites

These people’s motives are as complex as they are nefarious. First, they’re parasitically manipulating the power and reach of these corporate platforms to run and grow their operations for financial gain. Why would they want to take on overhead when they can piggyback on someone else’s investment?

Second, established corporate platforms represent a goldmine of potential victims. By tapping into these established and extensive user communities, criminals can identify and groom targets at leisure. And, unfortunately, technological advances are making it easier to identify the most vulnerable targets. In the days before social networks, if you were in that kind of business, you had to do it all physically, which took a lot more effort and planning and involved a far higher risk of being caught. Technology has provided a mask for these criminals to hide behind.

The success rates for online grooming are grim. When launching “bulk attacks,” it takes perpetrators approximately 150 outreaches to find one victim who will respond. Among those who do, the will-respond-further rate jumps to about one in 10. With that, the stage is set to instigate the grooming process, with the end goal of scheduling a meet-up, recruitment or in the worst-case scenario, a kidnapping. It's a numbers game that’s skewed firmly in favor of offenders. 

Repeat incidents of data breaches have resulted in people’s information being literally up for grabs on the dark web to the highest bidder. This means it’s never been easier for perpetrators to pre-educate themselves about victims, cherry-pick the most vulnerable targets and/or impersonate others. 

Related: How Fraudsters Steal Your Data in the Digital Age

Absent guardrails

So, how are corporations protecting their users from such online “stranger danger?” Where are the digital checks and balances? Sadly, in most cases, they’re absent or inadequate.

Most corporate digital platforms lack robust controls for authenticating who customers are — of verifying that someone who signs up is actually a human being rather than just an algorithm. And once a fake user has signed on, they can morph into whoever they choose to be, depending on whom they’ve set their predatory sights.

Imposters can serially reinvent themselves, impersonating those they think their targets are most likely to interact with. This can mean being a strapping young man this morning, a wealthy elderly widower this afternoon and a teenage girl somewhere in between. Meanwhile, users of these platforms lack any means to validate that the person they are talking to is really who they say they are, or even anything more than a digital “ghost.”

Solutions: strength in numbers

We believe that legitimate players in the industry need to up their game, because that’s precisely what fraudsters are doing. They routinely invest much of their ill-gotten gains into sharpening their capabilities and sophistication.

Yes, it’s an ongoing and uphill battle, but if we don’t act, the scales will tip further in favor of criminals. We have an ethical obligation to protect society and prevent these elements from using technology in ways it was never intended. Specifically, the focus should be on building alliances to fight this epidemic. A great example is the All for Humanity Alliance, which has engaged a community of  “…legislators, business leaders, rescue organizations, celebrities and influencers,” with the aim of passing more stringent legislation in the U.S. and abroad and prompting an evolution in corporate behavior.

Related: How Masters of Marketing (Like You!) Can Help Fight Human Trafficking

In the same way that locking your car helps prevent a break-in by lowering the chances of the burglar’s success, only when more players in the business community take action to bolster their online security protocols will power be stripped from traffickers and online fraudsters.

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