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Human Trafficking Recruitment Tactics: How Traffickers Lure in Victims

Posted by Travis Uresk | April 12th, 2023 | Human Trafficking |

7 ways to tell if a job posting is actually a human sex trafficker


It may be hard to spot a job post from a sex trafficker because it can blend in, but there are 7 red flags to avoid when job hunting to avoid becoming a victim of human sex trafficking – it can happen to anyone.

Red flag #1 – overpromising

You’re probably not the type of person to fall for the bandit signs on the side of the road that promise travel, a fancy car, clothing budgets, and high pay, but no experience is required (and all you have is a phone number to call). But your child or niece/nephew might…

What all of these signs have in common is that they offer a lure but no details.

These signs or shady online ads often use female names to appear more trustworthy, and require you to text them (you won’t hear their voice because it’s not a polished receptionist, it’s a scary sex trafficker).

If you can’t get any details in advance of inadvertently giving someone your phone number by texting or calling, it may not be safe – don’t call/text. It’s not worth it.

If they tell you to check out their Instagram account and it’s just pictures of someone’s unidentifiable hands holding wads of cash, that’s a common method to appear legitimate (“but look how much money they made!”) but it’s a common ingredient in scams of all sorts, including trafficking.

Red flag #2 – they don’t ask you questions or give info

If a company that you’re inquiring about (online or via a sign) doesn’t ask you any questions, you may be in danger.

All legitimate businesses will want to review your professional experience, even if you’re applying for entry level work. They’ll care if you’re in their industry or interested in their industry.

If there is no way to apply online, or nowhere to email your resume, and they get angry with you for asking, it’s not a legitimate opportunity (sex trafficking or otherwise).

If they jump immediately to an interview after you text “I’m interested,” that’s not how normal businesses operate. Legitimate businesses can’t interview everyone that is interested, it’s not logistically possible. That’s a big red flag.

If you can’t even tell what industry it’s in or what the position is, the best choice is to not even contact them.

Don’t overreact to personal questions, sometimes traditional employers ask them, but do run if someone asks questions about your body or how you would react in certain sexual situations. Even if the interviewer is a well dressed older woman – many tricks and disguises will be used to lure you in.

Red flag #3 – the interview is in a weird place

Small businesses will often interview you in a Starbucks, and that’s totally legitimate.

But if you have ignored the first two red flags and found yourself lining up an interview, look at Google Maps before you head that way.

Some online advertisers will say that you’re such an interesting candidate that the boss wants to meet you personally at his home.

That is not normal. You should never go, even if the boss is well known.

But in the case of sex trafficking, you won’t have the real name of a person, and if the interview location is a run down, dilapidated house, you’re going to end up in a trunk. Sometimes it will even be in a decent looking house, but that’s still not normal and they could be renting it online for the day to appear more upstanding.

If you look on Google Maps and it’s in an abandoned strip mall that you know hasn’t had any open companies in a decade, that’s another terrible sign of danger.

All interviews should be at a company’s offices, or in a very public place like a Starbucks. And even if the interview goes well and the interviewer wants you to immediately go to a private location, never ever ever do that.

If you have a WeWork or coworking space in your city, if you aren’t totally sure about a lone interviewer or their chosen location, tell them you cowork there and you’d be happy to meet there in public, in the bright lights (you can buy a day pass if they say yes). If they’re unwilling to meet in a public space, run.

Lastly on this red flag, if you end up meeting at Starbucks and it doesn’t go well, your gut says you’re in danger, or you rejected their offer to immediately go to their house to continue the interview, don’t leave first. Stay put, lie, say you have another meeting there in a few minutes, and let them leave first so they can’t follow you to your car. Watch them drive away. And if your gut still says you’re in danger, tell an employee that you’re going to your car and ask if they’d make sure you got there and the creepy interviewer doesn’t get you (that’ll get their attention).

Safety first.

Red flag #4 – weird contracts

Let’s say you’ve found yourself answering a shady ad that you didn’t know was shady. They say it’s all remote, so you don’t have to meet anyone in person. So far, so good.

Maybe they promised that you’ll do a ton of fancy international travel, and their headquarters are in another nation, so the contract is in another language, but they tell you what it says so you sign anyways.

Wrong. If an employment contract is in another language, you truly have no idea what you’re signing to – don’t do it.

But that’s not the only part of this red flag. In this scenario, sex traffickers will have you take the contract to a local who will translate it for you, answer all of your questions, and help you through the process by holding your hand.

They’re remote too, so you’ll have to go to their house, but they assure you the person is your same gender, and you’re not in any danger, they’ve helped hundreds of people and just want to help you.

If you go to that house for “help,” you’ll likely end up victimized.

Red flag #5 – money flows oddly

This red flag is applicable to a number of scams, not just human sex trafficking. If you are required to pay money up front before getting a job (for tools, training, or inventory), you’re either joining a scam, a MLM scheme, or being stolen from. That’s not normal for a traditional full time opportunity.

On the other end of the spectrum, traffickers that are Promisers try to gain your trust, so without meeting you, they may mail you a check as a sign on bonus (you were smart enough to reject giving them your bank account information for direct deposit which is a common way to scam people out of money).

You’ll put the check in the bank, it’ll sit there for a few days while it clears, but meanwhile they’ve gained your trust and start working toward meeting you in person and fast forwarding the trafficking process.

The check isn’t going to clear, but now they have your home address, likely your phone number, name, and if you were tricked into filling out an application, they have your Social Security Number.

Your identity could be stolen and sold, or worse, it could be used to track you down and find you in person, knowing how vulnerable you are since you missed all of the previous red flags.

Red flag #6 – the company is a mystery

So maybe you’re a really smart person and you’ve avoided all of the red flags.

Maybe you just saw a simple Craigslist ad that didn’t provide a company name, but the opportunity sounds legit, so you email through their relay system to avoid giving your real email address. You ask for details. Smart.

In most cases, they’re smaller businesses avoiding being bombarded by desperate third party recruiting firms, so they keep their name off of the ad. Those folks will tell you their website, who they are, and any information you’re seeking.

Do your homework. Find them on Glassdoor, Google around.

If they don’t have a website, maybe they’re just getting started, but the founders should at least be on LinkedIn and have real people they’re connected to (which is still no guarantee of legitimacy. If there’s no mention of them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or even Google, ask for more information.

If someone gets angry at your inquiries, or refuses to answer, they’re either illegitimate, or they’re looking for victims. Either way, it’s not worth it, stay away.

Red flag #7 – your gut says it’s dangerous

Although it should be number one, the final red flag is that if your gut tells you any part of the process is off, trust your intuition.

What is human trafficking?

Most people, when asked about human trafficking and the methods used to lure in victims, will usually think of unrealistic situations where a stranger spontaneously kidnaps a person off the side of the street and vanishes. Due to the media’s false and exaggerated portrayals of human trafficking, many do not consider the plethora of ways that someone can be trafficked using insidious and methodical tactics, oftentimes by people they trust. In fact, the reason why human trafficking remains one of the most profitable crimes is because it is difficult to detect and trace.

A large percentage of victims are women, children, and those from lower-income backgrounds, who are often lured through gradual trust and the promise of money or employment. However, it is important to note that anyone can be subject to human trafficking, no matter one’s gender, age, or location.

The process of human trafficking is rarely physical, as evidence of physical violence can be seen on the body by healthcare professionals, family members, or friends. Instead, traffickers will often use psychological tactics in order to manipulate their victims and prevent them from seeking help.

By avoiding physical restraint, human traffickers are able to indulge in a “low-risk, high-reward” venture that brings in $150 billion in revenue each year. Examples of such psychological tactics include slowly isolating an individual from their friends and family by posing as a lover, friend, or mentor. As a victim becomes gradually intertwined with their trafficker, they will experience emotional abuse in the form of dehumanization, intimidation, and threats.

A more specific term that is used in order to describe this tactic of acting as a lover in order to get close with a victim is called “boyfriending.” Despite the name, women have also been known to use this method. A survivor of human trafficking, Kimberly Blitz, tells Stop Modern Day Slavery about her experience with a boyfriend who turned out to have other intentions.

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Having met her abuser when she was only 14 and vulnerable from the death of her grandmother and the unfamiliarity of a new city, Kimberly found herself easily taken with this older man who seemed to be interested in her. However, as their relationship progressed, the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse began. Kimberly recalls, “I thought things were great between us until our first fight where he ended up hitting me.

I remember thinking how wrong it was, but at the same time justifying it. The next day he showed up with flowers, crying about how he never meant to hurt me. And then he said the three words I was craving to hear: ‘I love you.’” Due to this constant back and forth and psychological manipulation, Kimberly became trapped in an abusive relationship and was trafficked for sex to over 200 men over the course of her trafficking. The belief that what she was experiencing was normal and that her boyfriend abused her out of love prevented Kimberly from seeking the help she needed in order to escape.

As previously mentioned, another method often utilized by human traffickers is false job advertisements. Human trafficking recruiters will seek out people in search of higher pay or who are vulnerable in their current situation. Through ads in magazines and online, traffickers are able to catch the attention of certain individuals and relocate them to other places within the country or outside of country borders.

According to the Washington Post, a Texas man was convicted of human trafficking in 2016 when he confiscated the passports of workers who had arrived in Texas through valid work visas. He then forced them to work and live in inhumane conditions, threatening them with deportation if they sought help or attempted to escape.

Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic taking 195 million jobs around the world, it is important to acknowledge that human trafficking can happen locally, as many families will be in urgent need of new employment and income.

The generalization that human trafficking occurs only at the hands of strangers or gangs is another misconception that is only encouraged by the media. While cartels and gangs do largely contribute to the number of people forced into labor or sex work, family members, friends, and even a country’s government in some cases can be responsible for human trafficking.

According to the CDTC, around half of all human trafficking cases involving children are initiated by a family member. Despite the fact that more than 200,000 children in the US are victims of human trafficking, a very small percentage of such cases are reported. Many children may feel shame or humiliation in telling someone else about their situation and are often threatened by their abusers and manipulated into keeping quiet.

Around the world, millions of people every year are trafficked, and many cases are left unreported. In order to stay safe and to spread awareness, it is crucial to acknowledge that human trafficking can occur in every country and not just by strangers. By understanding the most common recruitment tactics, we can not only better help survivors of trafficking but also work to prevent future cases from happening.

As defined by the Modern Slavery Act 2015, human trafficking is ‘the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, using:

  • Threats and force or other forms of coercion;

  • Abduction;

  • Fraud and deception;

  • Abuse of power or abuse of a position of vulnerability, and

  • The giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve control over another person for the purpose of exploitation.’

Human trafficking is a global issue. Traffickers take people from one area of a country to another, or across borders, and force them into exploitation when they arrive.

Trafficked people can be exploited sexually, placed in domestic servitude, agricultural work, manufacturing or construction, or forced to beg or participate in organ harvesting, amongst a range of other exploitative activities.

Why Does Human Trafficking Happen?

Perpetrators of human trafficking do so for monetary and financial gain. They are aided by the fact that it remains a very hidden crime and one that is difficult to detect. Many victims live in fear of their exploiters and will never speak up about what they are enduring.

Who are Human Trafficking Victims?

Human traffickers deliberately target people who they believe will be ‘easy to exploit’. They provide false promises of lucrative jobs, stability, education, income or romance to attract people.

Victims might be any gender, adults, children or even newborn babies, and they can have varied educational, socio-economic, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Human trafficking is not restricted to a certain demographic.

However, we do know that certain groups of people are at higher risk of being trafficked, including women and girls for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Refugee camps are also commonly targeted by traffickers – for those experiencing poor living conditions, promises of a job and home elsewhere seem much more convincing.

Signs of Human Trafficking

As we have said, victims of human trafficking will likely not disclose what they are experiencing. This is why having an awareness of the signs and remaining vigilant is crucial. A person who has been trafficked may:

  • Show signs of physical and emotional abuse, including injuries and low self-esteem.

  • Appear malnourished, have untreated medical problems and have an unkempt appearance.

  • Live in overcrowded and dirty conditions.

  • Avoid eye contact and social interaction.

  • Act like they have been instructed by someone else, particularly with what to say in conversations, and like they have been coerced into doing something.

  • Appear to be monitored or watched closely by someone else.

  • Have little or no official documentation, including a passport.

  • Have little or no personal possessions. For example, they may wear the same dirty clothes every day.

  • Ask for permission or struggle to make a decision on simple things, such as to use the toilet.

  • Be distrustful of authorities.

Methods of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is based on the deception and exploitation of innocent, unsuspecting people. Common methods used to traffick humans include:

  • Seduction and romance.

  • False job advertisements.

  • Lies about educational or travel opportunities.

  • Sale by family.

  • Recruitment through former slaves.

  • Abuse of religious beliefs.

  • Abduction.

  • Forced pregnancy or sale.

Seduction and Romance

One of the most common methods of human trafficking is the use of seduction and romance. In these cases, a person (sometimes referred to as a ‘Loverboy’ or ‘Romeo Pimp’) seduces someone else, in order to force them into prostitution or other illegal work. It is a form of grooming and abuse.

These people form romantic relationships with their victims, however the relationship quickly turns into an emotionally abusive one. Blackmail and violence is often used to intimidate victims into compliance.

They might also paint a picture of a better life together abroad or elsewhere in a country. This is with the aim of isolating the victim from their family or community and, in some cases, forcing them to move to a country where they can’t speak the common language. Using romance in this way makes it easier for traffickers to move their victims across borders, as they will often go willingly.

False Job Advertisements

Another common method that traffickers use is enticing people with false job advertisements or travel opportunities.

They often post job opportunities on legitimate websites, using a registered business as a front. They also target places where they know people are looking for ways to leave or make a life elsewhere, such as countries experiencing an economic downtown or instability.

These jobs are often for nanny or au pair positions, or in the hospitality or tourism industry.

Trafficked people will usually pay for their own flights and arrive in the country legally with all their documents. On arrival, these are seized and the victim is forced to comply through a series of abusive acts, including torture and the forced consumption of drugs and alcohol.

Recruitment through Former Slaves

In some cases, former slaves might recruit new people into the trafficking network. They may earn ‘commission’ from their exploiters for each new person they recruit, or be promised greater freedoms if they do so.

Abuse of Religious Beliefs

Religious beliefs are often exploited by traffickers as a way to recruit and coerce victims and ensure compliance. This is achieved through suggestions that this is the way things are meant to be and ‘God’s will’.

When Human Trafficking Victims Are Among Your Church Congregation

Victims may be made to take oaths, swearing that they will obey their trafficker, repay their ‘debts’ and not run away. These oaths act as psychological bonds, placing victims in a state of compliance without having to use threats or violence.

Live chat scams

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.

Remote control

Traffickers use technology to control their victims remotely, sometimes without having to ever met them in person.

For over a decade, online advertising has been the main tactic used by traffickers to solicit buyers for commercial sex

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.

One of the panellists at the Working Group, Alexandra Gelber, the Deputy Chief for Policy and Legislation at the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the United States’ Department of Justice, highlighted the links between trafficking and online technology in her country.

Online marketplace

“Data shows that in the United States approximately 40% of sex trafficking victims are recruited online, making the Internet the most common place where victim recruitment takes place,” she says.

“For over a decade, online advertising has been the main tactic used by traffickers to solicit buyers for commercial sex. In 2020, over 80% of the [Justice Department’s] sex trafficking prosecutions involved online advertising.”

Ms. Gelber adds that technology is also being used to commit “virtual child sex trafficking” which takes place when an offender in the United States sends a digital payment to a trafficker in another country.

“The trafficker will then sexually abuse a child in front of a web camera, while the offender in the United States watches a livestream of the abuse.”

If you believe you or someone you know is the victim of human trafficking of any kind:

  • Contact your local law enforcement agency, your local FBI field office (contact information can be found at, or:

    • the National Human Trafficking Hotline—Call 1-888-373-7888 (TTY: 711) or text 233733;

    • file a complaint online with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at; or

    • contact the FBI’s National Threat Operations Center at 1-800-CALL-FBI or

    • To report possible trafficking involving minors, contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) or at

Victims are encouraged to keep all original documentation, emails, text messages, and logs of communication with the subject. Do not delete anything before law enforcement is able to review it.

Tell law enforcement everything about the online encounters—it may be uncomfortable, but it is necessary to find the offender. When reporting online scams, be as descriptive as possible in the complaint form by providing:

  • name and/or user name of the subject;

  • email addresses and phone numbers used by the subject;

  • websites used by the subject; and

  • descriptions of all interactions with the subject.

It is helpful for law enforcement to have as much information as possible to investigate these incidents; however, it is not necessary to provide all of this information to submit a complaint.

The FBI produced this public service announcement to alert Internet users of the continuing threat posed by human traffickers online and what you should do if you or someone you know suspects human trafficking.

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