Traffickers Abuse Online Technology, Warns United Nations Crime Prevention Agency |

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Research conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows how victims are targeted and recruited through social media and online dating platforms, where personal information and location details people are readily available.

Sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation are taking place virtually and more photos and videos are sold on different platforms to customers all over the world, making more money for traffickers at no additional cost.

New strategies

This week, experts from over 100 countries gathered online and in Vienna, Austria, to discuss strategies to combat this phenomenon and make the most of technology to prevent and investigate human trafficking. cases of this crime.

The discussion was part of the annual Intergovernmental Working Group on Trafficking in Persons and revolves around an in-depth background paper on this topic produced by the Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants Section of the UNODC.

Sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation take place virtually, by Unsplash / Priscilla du Preez

“The traffickers quickly adapt their business model to their needs and increase their profits. So of course they follow online trends, ”explains Tiphanie Crittin, UNODC Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer.

Dark web exploitation

“Traffickers are currently using technology to profile, recruit, control and exploit their victims, as well as use the Internet, especially the dark web, to hide illegal trafficking documents and their true identities from investigators.

The illicit proceeds of this very lucrative crime are also laundered online through cryptocurrencies, making it easier for traffickers to receive, hide and move large amounts of money with less risk of detection.

Today, the Internet provides easy access to a much larger group of potential victims, as traditional physical and geographic limitations no longer exist.

The traffickers create fake websites or post ads on legitimate job portals and social media sites.

Live Chat Scams

Some of these sites offer the option of a live chat. This gives the trafficker immediate contact and the ability to obtain personal information, such as passport details, thus strengthening their power over targeted victims.

Victims can be repeatedly exploited via live streaming on multiple websites, and there is no limit on how many times their abuse videos can be viewed and by how many people.

The global nature of human trafficking and the abuse of technology make it even more difficult for law enforcement to tackle this crime, says Crittin.

“When a crime is planned in one country, with victims in another country and a client in a third, law enforcement authorities face practical challenges such as finding and obtaining evidence. , because any investigation requires cross-border cooperation and a certain level of digital technology. know-how, ”she says.

Remote control

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

For more than a decade, online advertising has been the primary tactic used by traffickers to solicit buyers for commercial sex.

Tracking applications and the use of global positioning systems in cell phones can be used to find out the location of the victim, while smartphone cameras used in video calls allow traffickers to see their victims and their surroundings. .

The traffickers also maintain control over their victims by threatening to disclose intimate photos or videos of them to their families and friends if they do not comply with their requests.

One of the task force’s panelists, Alexandra Gelber, deputy chief of policy and legislation in the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the United States Department of Justice, highlighted the links between trafficking and online technology in his country.

Online market

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

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

Ms. Gelber adds that the technology is also 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 live feed of the abuse.”

COVID factor

The COVID-19 pandemic has opened up new opportunities for traffickers due to the increased use of the internet, especially social media and online video game sites.


Governments in a growing number of countries intentionally disrupt the Internet or electronic communications, exercising control over the flow of information.

Traffickers Create Fake Websites or Post Ads on Legitimate Job Portals and Social Networking Websites, by Unsplash / Avi Richards

“Containment measures to control the spread of the virus mean people are spending a lot more time online, especially children since schools closed. We have seen an increase in child sexual exploitation material created and shared online during the pandemic, ”said Tiphanie Crittin.

Despite the increasing criminal uses of technology by traffickers, the technology can also be used to identify victims and support police investigations and prosecutions.

Stricter frameworks are needed

“However, when investigators enter the digital world of citizens, they have access to personal information. It is crucial to have strict frameworks around this access and use of data to ensure that the right to privacy and human rights are respected, ”said UNODC’s Ms. Crittin.

The UNODC backgrounder shares many examples of existing or promising partnerships and tools that countries are using or developing. These include digital forensics, data analysis tools, smartphone apps, and successful collaborations with tech, social media and internet companies.

UNODC has also co-organized “DataJams” with IT giant IBM and Colombian non-governmental organization Pasos Libres, in which students compete online to develop technological solutions to identify and protect victims of trafficking and support prosecutions.


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