This Social Media Scheme Is Expanding Every Day – Is Your Child A Target?

If we are honest, many parents would say that we spend as much time worrying about our children as we do enjoying all the incredible blessings of watching them grow.

The world can be a frightening place, and with a culture immersed in social media, our children face dangers like never before.  Parents are continuously warned to monitor their children’s internet activity and who their friends are – but sometimes that is easier said than done.

Of all the dangers facing our kids online, perhaps the most frightening of all is the possibility of being targeted by someone wishing to cause them harm.  And now, more than ever, the internet – especially social media sites – are being used to lure our children into a frightening underworld.

SF Gate reported:

According to [Special Agent Marty] Parker, “Pretty much every popular social media site out there is being used for recruiting potential victims of sex trafficking. These guys are good; they go where they’re going to find victims.”

Where once pimps stalked malls and group homes – places where they could find vulnerable young people (the majority of victims are women) – now they’re all over the internet. Social media facilitates ease of communication, for better or for worse, and Parker says it’s made the practice of pimping even easier.

 Some pimps use online ads to target victims, but this is altogether rare, she says. Generally, they’ll send friend or follow requests to young people in their region and proceed to strike up a conversation. These chats may start off friendly and innocent, but “pimps are master manipulators,” according to Parker, and they know how to charm potential victims before the victims themselves know what’s happening.

These days, our teens are more vulnerable than ever, especially those who may not have a lot of friends or a supportive home environment.  But even teens from good homes whose parents have warned them of social media dangers can be easily targeted.

American teenagers often measure their worth by how many “friends” they have on Facebook, or how many responses they have to their posts and pictures.  Predators will pose as “friends of friends,” making flattering comments or using seemingly legitimate information to gain a child’s trust.

There are many red flags that pop up when a trafficker is trying to lure a child or teen into a sex operation.  Children and teens often do not have the experience or maturity to spot when someone is posing as a peer, especially online where photos and information may be difficult to authenticate.

As parents, we must make our children aware of the warning signs.  Have they ever met this person at school?  Does a friend actually know the person?  Kids and teens should make sure they never give personal information to or accept friend requests from, anyone whose identity they cannot verify.  And it is vital we remind them never to agree to meet someone alone who they have met online.

SF Gate continued:

An easy way to avoid the charms of a pimp is to not accept friend requests from strangers, Parker said. She advises parents to comb through their children’s social media accounts to ensure their friends and followers are within their child’s immediate – and real-life – networks.

 If an account looks suspicious, Parker says to alert the social media site so they can investigate and collect information for law enforcement. Parker also recommends consulting with your local police department, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

 Pimps are still using their old-fashioned methods, too, like paper flyers posted on job boards or other prominent locations. Such flyers are generally easy to spot for what they are, Pittman said.  “If they seem too good to be true, they generally are,” she said.

 One such flyer Pittman shared with SFGATE advertised after-school jobs for teens with flexible hours, transportation and “free trips and activities.” The poster, which featured clip art of dollar signs and smiling kids, asked prospective job seekers to “bring your friends!!” and included only a phone number and first name.  Everything about the ad “screams high-risk,” said Pittman – its appeal to teenagers, its promises of transportation and bonuses.

We must teach our kids and teens to protect themselves by encouraging open communication and allowing them on social media only with our ability to access their accounts.  The risk of danger is too high to ignore, and the expertise of these predators is too great to allow our children unmonitored social media use.

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Teens can also help make their friends and peers aware of the dangers by discussing these tips and the red flags to look for.  In fact, they may already know someone in their social circle who has been lured into a trafficking ring.

Central Valley Justice Coalition reported on signs teens can look for in someone they know.  By sharing their concern with a parent or trusted adult, they just might save the life of someone in a dangerous situation.  If your child mentions that a friend or classmate exhibits any of the following, contact authorities immediately:

  • Appears malnourished or shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
  • High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.
  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account, or no identification documents.
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)
  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story

Ark of Hope for Children reported on the shocking statistic that international sex trafficking victims range from between two to four million annually – 1.5 million in the U.S. alone — with a staggering 50 percent estimated to be children. And to drive home the importance of staying involved in our children’s online activities, 76 percent of these cases were the result of initial interaction with a child online via social media.

While we may feel that we are violating our children’s privacy by monitoring their social media activity, especially in the later teen years, it is always better practice to be safe than to lose our child to the sickening underworld of these predators.

Share these statistics with your teen, and begin an open discussion of the dangerous side of social media with your child as soon as they begin spending time online without direct supervision.

Has your teen come to you with concerns about any red flags on their social media accounts?  Do you openly discuss the dangers with your child or teen?  Leave us your thoughts, and share this to help other parents protect their children from these dangers.