Teens seeking seasonal employment, beware human trafficking scams

Teens and college students seeking employment during the holiday season may be ensnared by criminals offering fake employment, potential education opportunities, and other scams through social media.

Posted Updated
Gale Wilkins
, WRAL contributor
RALEIGH, N.C. — Teens and college students seeking employment during the holiday season may be ensnared by criminals offering fake employment, potential education opportunities, and other scams through social media.

Criminals are using fake websites or post advertisements on legitimate employment portals and social networking websites to lure young people into illegal activities. Parents must be diligent in verifying employment opportunities for our teens.  

Several years ago, my husband and I were out late at a local restaurant. After being seated, I noticed a young adolescent girl (10-12) seductively dressed in heels, makeup, and tight clothing. As she passed, she stared at me with her piercing eyes. Returning to her seat at the bar, I noticed she was with an older, well-dressed gentleman. Unfortunately, we left the restaurant that evening perplexed about this young girl. Unknowingly, that night we witnessed an invisible crime called human trafficking. After becoming knowledgeable of this act, I promised I would sound the alarm about what our youth are confronted with and provide tips to parents on how to protect their teens.

Why am I sharing this information with you? Because human trafficking is a business and, like other businesses, they were impacted by the pandemic. Schemes are being created to increase revenue and plan their growth. Human trafficking is a highly profitable industry.

Reaping an estimated $32 billion in the trade of human beings, according to UNICEF. Human trafficking is the second largest criminal organization in the world.

The Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention says, child sexual exploitation is one of the fastest-growing crimes due to access to youth through the internet. They are lured by ads and friends recruiting friends. Trickery and coercing their victims are primary behaviors traffickers commonly practice. 

Human Trafficking is a crime involving the exploitation of a person for labor, services, or commercial sex.
  • Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.
  • Forced labor is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery. 

In every region of the world, men, women, and children of all ages and backgrounds can become victims of human trafficking.

For example, recently, in Raleigh, a 12-year-old Wake County middle school student was human trafficked by a female acquaintance. WRAL broke the story as the mother provided the details of how her daughter was recruited, groomed, and trafficked. The following traits are common:
  • Recruited: Authorities said the recruiter, age 21, spent many days and nights in mid-June lurking in an apartment complex parking lot to befriend the middle schooler who lived nearby.
  • Grooming and Seasoning: She was isolated from her family. Police speak of sexual activities, drugging her with Percocet and fentanyl, and photos of the girl with an advertisement for sex for the purpose of prostitution and human trafficking.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline states that North Carolina is still within the top 10 states for reported human trafficking cases, ranking as the ninth highest in the United States, with 260 cases in 2020. Sex trafficking is the leading form of trafficking in the nation, and commercial sex (residential-based, hotel-based, online ads) is by far the largest industry that contributes to it. Charlotte is the #1 city in North Carolina.

Social media platforms are the forces behind human trafficking and the beginning of many youths’ hazardous journeys. Youth today post their personal information about their family, hardship, and insecurities, aiding the trafficker in identifying their potential victims. Traffickers can now communicate with your teen knowing their most intimate details; at this moment, they are vulnerable. Because of time restraints, as parents, we do not diligently monitor our teen's social media accounts.

As parents, we can engage at the community level by educating our youth and families about human trafficking, attend awareness and training events locally and online, and become advocates. Knowing what to look out for when identifying victims will change the trajectory of this crime. Again, sex and labor trafficking exist everywhere in the United States. Like the teen at the restaurant, I noticed but was unaware of what was happening; this teen was being exploited as others are at your neighborhood grocery stores, gas stations, nail salons, malls, and hotels.

Those trafficked will need help to gain normalcy in their lives. Their mindset will have to be renewed. As family life coaches, we help people overcome obstacles and provide direction and motivation but much more is needed for those returning to families and society.

January is Human Trafficking Prevention and Awareness Month in the U.S., and together, we can help stop this devastating crime by local programs providing services to victims and education and awareness programs, as mentioned. Changing Destinies Founder and Director Kimberly Nixon is one such program. Please visit their website and see the fantastic activities their community is involved in.

Next Steps:

  • Parents, the first step is to share this information with your teen and start a conversation.
  • First, avoid the option of a live chat with those you do not know if this is a trafficker; it gives them immediate contact and the opportunity to obtain your personal information.
  • Ask your teen what actions are needed to be safe on social media. Wait for their answer.
Gale McKoy Wilkins is a wife, mom, grandparent and family life coach. She is the founder of Project Arrow, an evidence-based peer-to-peer and leadership program teaching middle, high school and first-year college students how to deal with trauma and crisis using life coaching. It's the first life coaching organization in the state to receive funding from the Department of Public Instruction and the first to implement life coaching in a school setting.


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