Traffickers use social media to target victims

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Posting, liking, commenting and sharing social media posts has become part of daily life for many people, but those posts can turn into targets for sex traffickers.

“It takes 24 hours to traffic a kid from the time they meet them online. 24 hours,” Cathie Bledsoe, the Indiana State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Youth Educator said.

Social media is designed to connect people, but it also makes it easier for predators to connect with their next victim.

“Social media has opened up access,” an undercover agent at the Fort Wayne FBI office, said. ” Before, you had to go sit in front of a school or other places where kids play to find kids who might be susceptible. Now you just hop online.”

Many cases of sex trafficking start on the Internet and seem harmless at first.

“People want to hear that they’re handsome or special or smart. They’ll tell you that,” the FBI agent said. “If you put on there everything your parents don’t understand, how easy is it for me to pop up online and say it doesn’t have to be like that. You’ll get your hair done. You’ll get your nails done. You’ll eat three times a day. I’ll give you a warm place to stay, nice hotels.

It’s called grooming. Traffickers will monitor posts, pick their target and prey on their weaknesses.

“Traffickers look for naïve children and kids who are needy. If they’re talking about their sad mood or they’re depressed, that’s a kid I can recruit. I can find a way into their life. I can make them feel better. Oh, you want to be a model? I can help you be a model,” Bledsoe said.

The person on the other side of the screen could also ask for nude pictures from their victim, promising they’ll keep them private. But then sexting can quickly turn into sextortion, which is basically cyber blackmail, threatening to share the provocative pictures unless the trafficker gets what they want.

“It starts as sextortion and nude images and what people will do to keep their school from finding out that there are all these nude images. It’s so easy to reach out to someone’s entire family base and make a fake page with same profile picture,” the FBI agent said.

“Always be in communication with your child. Know what they’re doing. Ask them. Talk to them. Parent.” – Cathie Bledsoe, ICAC Youth Educator

Some social media sites, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are pretty well-known. But Bledsoe said many times predators will meet a victim on one of those sites and then convince them to chat on lesser-known sites, like Kik or Yik Yak or ChatRoulette.

“Every day there are new apps, new ways predators can get to our children,” Bledsoe said.

“Stop worrying about making your kids mad at you. But, if you’re that parent, ask leading questions. Say, ‘Hey, I heard about Kik. Can you show me what Kik is about?’ Start asking them to teach you,” Bledsoe said.

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