Europol scrutinized hundreds of platforms and devices for human trafficking

In the Netherlands, 85 law enforcement investigators from 26 countries coordinated a three-day-long operational action targeting online criminal activities that enable human trafficking. That led to 371 platforms being checked, including social media and dating platforms, web forums, marketplaces, and online applications.

The event, which was coordinated by Europol, took the form of a Hackathon. The authority didn’t provide details if any specific law enforcement actions were undertaken.

The Hackathon teams managed to check 371 online platforms and 31 platforms that are suspected or identified as being engaged in human trafficking. An additional ten online platforms linked to child sexual abuse online were scrutinized. Dozens of individuals and hundreds of communication devices, including phone numbers, mobile apps, email addresses, and fax numbers, were examined.

“This provided the participating officers from the national law enforcement authorities with further investigative leads,” Europol stated. “The 2023 Hackathon focused on filling intelligence gaps in the recruitment of victims of the most frequently reported forms of human trafficking, namely sexual and labor exploitation.”

Organized human trafficking crimes have become increasingly digital, with trafficking organizations using internet platforms to lure and recruit victims.

Europol shared some methods that human traffickers employ to exploit vulnerable individuals for profit:

  • They increasingly use social media and online platforms to recruit victims for sexual and labor exploitation, as well as other forms of servitude.
  • They use several approaches to recruit their victims. One of them is deception: false promises of a better life, education, employment, or marriage.
  • Another deception is the fake offer of well-paid jobs abroad, which turns out to be highly exploitative employment with very low pay or none at all.
  • Traffickers may also offer immigration services to people who want to migrate and then take advantage of their vulnerability and exploit them once they are in a foreign country.
  • Recruitment attempts often take place in community groups on social media as well, which are created based on the geographical provenance of those seeking services, the destination country, and the service required.

Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war are especially vulnerable. Another group with frequent signs of sexual, labor, and other forms of exploitation are Chinese nationals.

“Participants examined how to gather operational intelligence at the EU level on websites and social media platforms where the recruitment of Ukrainian refugees and Chinese immigrants in the EU is suspected to be taking place. The open source intelligence investigative activities revealed that traffickers are indeed using the most popular social media platforms, but also dating apps and review forums,” Europol writes.

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