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This image has been cited as an example of a 'sex traffiking ad' in facebook & twitter posts here:

ad image

Was this picture actually used by sex traffickers to find victims?

  • The news organisation posting this is not a fake news organisation, which is what I suspected from the uncommon TLD. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Costa_Rica_Star – Andrew Grimm Mar 22 '17 at 0:55
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    Job search 101: If the ad doesn't say what the job actually is then don't bother with it. Apparently "you might be kidnapped and raped" is the primary reason. It looks like my worrywort mother was right. – fredsbend Mar 22 '17 at 3:00
  • @AndrewGrimm why would you suspect a Costa Rican site of being a fake news site? – phoog Mar 22 '17 at 3:14
  • @phoog I don't know about Costa Rica, but if it was traced back to a Puerto Rican news site, I would require stronger evidence that it happened. Many places have lax policies on what passes for news (or what can be fabricated as news) as long as the items drive revenue. pasquines.us/2015/09/08/… – Edwin Buck Mar 22 '17 at 6:22
  • @EdwinBuck places like the BBC and CBS you mean?... As to stories like this, I'd be skeptical no matter where they originated. – jwenting Mar 22 '17 at 11:40
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The verifiable facts:

On Feb 1st, 2017, the "Costa Rica Star" reported that a school district in San Diego performed a sweep which arrested 400 in connection to sex trafficking, featuring a cropped picture of this photo.

San Diego released a press statement on Feb 1st 2017, indicating that "Operation Reclaim and Rebuild" resulted in 474 arrests state wide (California) with 28 children rescued and 27 adults rescued. The breakdown was

  • 142 men were arrested on suspicion of solicitation
  • 238 people were arrested on suspicion of prostitution
  • 36 men were arrested on charges of pimping

The article detailing this specifically mentions operative in the "streets and online". Where they make explicit description of police personnel using the internet.

The day prior, an inital press release was performed. In that release "Operation Reclaim and Rebuild" was detailed to have worked by the technique, "Fake ads were posted online offering sex for money, and when the buyers showed up to make the transactions they were met by law enforcement."

Two people on social media suggested that this poster might be related to sex trafficking, without corroboration beyond their suppositions (based on the minimum age, and indication that transportation would be provided) However, both the people are from Ohio, not California, and one makes claims of documenting a note from a third unnamed parent who "witnessed" a phone call that almost got their 14 year old, but when called back the man was angry with them and yelled at them then hung up. (I would be too if I was accused of sexual trafficking). The complaints are registered at a robo-call tracking site, which would be slightly odd to robo-call if you're phishing.

I don't know if the poster was ever used for sex trafficking; however, it certainly wasn't used in conjunction with the statewide California "Operation Reclaim and Rebuild" announcement for two reasons.

  1. It was posted as a flyer, initially reported as seen on 18 Mar, 2016 on social media.
  2. It has a long distance phone number to Ohio, when the sting was operational in California.
  3. The San Diego press releases have indicated twice they found their victims online, by posting online ads. This is incompatible with the idea that the sting operation was a follow up to posted flyers.
  4. The posted flyer in question was reported nearly a year before the sting operation. Such a delay in investigation is possible, but highly unlikely.

Finally, this is a trope that continues to be raised. In 2015 large numbers of "firms recruiting teens for sex trafficking claims were raised", yet not one of the claims were substantiated or resulted in statement stronger than a few schools stating "some flyers for student work might be fronts for trafficking"

These claims have failed to raise a single confirm-able case, but they did leave a trail which indicated that BuzzFeed may have paraphrased a Twitter parody account which was being believed as a real complaint as early as 2 June 2014.

One of the claims puts text to an image of a letter from Vector the door-to-door sales organization that distributes CutCo Cutlery. Note that while the letter makes no claims about what sex you should be to apply, indicating you must be 17+, the caption distributed indicated it was "being sent to young women" from a group that was "drugging girls that show up to the interview".

In short, it seems extremely unlikely that one would post a flyer to recruit; but, the story is good enough to keep coming back. For sex trafficking, there is already a large number of people who can be recruited that will not be missed (or at least won't be reported as readily as the average US school student would be reported if gone missing).

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    My first thought as well. Note that the article does not reference the picture. The editor may have grabbed some random more-or-less related pic as filler. – Jan Doggen Mar 22 '17 at 14:05
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    I agree that an internet fetched filler pic makes the most sense. – Edwin Buck Mar 22 '17 at 16:56
  • Can anyone just call the number and find out? :P – BlueMoon93 Mar 29 '17 at 9:05
  • @BlueMoon93 I don't think you'll get the results you want by calling the number. If it was an abuser, they're not going to answer after getting a lot of non-taker calls. If it wasn't an abuser, they're going to respond poorly and hang up. Basically, you would get the same response "respond poorly and hang up" either way, which doesn't bode well for a testing scenario. Besides, I sincerely doubt the number is in the same hands as the time of the poster, even if it was never real (as any sane person would immediately request a new number avoiding the hate). – Edwin Buck Mar 29 '17 at 14:28
  • @BlueMoon93 There are cruel people out there who enjoy playing pranks. In the past they'd write "for a good time call XXX-XXXX" on a bathroom wall without the recipient's knowledge. This might be the same idea, blown way out of proportion. The "blown out of proportion" bit will effectively guarantee that any prank-ish behavior will never be exposed, as it would be the grounds for a harassment charge. – Edwin Buck Mar 29 '17 at 14:31

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