EXPOSING ILLICIT HUMAN TRAFFICKING ACTIVITIES ON SOCIAL MEDIA
The power of social media is undeniable. The number of active social media users around the world stands at roughly 4 billion with the average individual spending around two hours and twenty-two minutes a day browsing their social accounts. Through advertisements, groups, and pages connected to the various social platforms, boundless information, and new opportunities are presented to users regularly. Compelling content leads individuals to interact and establish connections with strangers and in certain instances connect with fraudulent accounts and content used for deceitful purposes. As more individuals go online, social media platforms have become the perfect breeding ground for recruiters and human traffickers to target susceptible youth and expand their illicit networks.
MODELING OPPORTUNITIES: A FALSE PROMISE USED AS BAIT
A common tactic used online by illicit recruiters is offering a “life-changing opportunity” that entices unsuspecting victims to establish communication and divulge personal information using minimal effort and resources. This tactic, frequently targeting aspiring models, allows criminals to target multiple victims and prey on the most vulnerable. Using false testimony, traffickers further deceit their victims to leave everything behind, and join their operations, all whilst hiding behind fake profile networks operating within job search groups. Although their tactics may seem invisible to the naked eye, OSINT tools provide investigators an operational edge to identify and dissect these trafficking groups modus operandi, thus, facilitating the mapping and taking down of these networks and protecting users from falling victims.
EXPOSING A HUMAN TRAFFICKING NETWORK HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT
Having previous knowledge of the use of modeling opportunities as a medium for mass recruitment by human traffickers, the investigators employed the ProFound™ platform’s mass data gathering capabilities to identify and collect intelligence regarding related social media groups. After an initial analysis, the investigators focused their effort on a prominent Facebook group publishing modeling opportunities that contained accounts exhibiting suspicious activity that did not match previously identified patterns of behavior.
Through the platform’s automatic entity extraction, the investigators pinpointed a suspicious account and collected all additional relevant data. Preliminary analysis of the profile content alerted the investigators that the profile was fake. However, in-depth analysis of the connections of the account, which were crossed referenced with those of the modeling opportunities Facebook group, surfaced a larger network of fake profiles actively involved in sex industry recruitment efforts. The investigators proceeded to collect and analyze the content and connections of the network’s top account which disclosed a company name and contact phone number.
Using the ProFiler™ tool, the investigators enriched the contact information disseminated by the fake profile network and surfaced a new person of interest (POI). The investigators collected the POI’s social presence and mapped out his online activity utilizing the ProFound™ platform’s data and link analysis capabilities. It quickly became evident that in addition to POI’s connection to the contact details disseminated, his high number of connections to fake profiles previously linked to recruitment efforts indicated the POI’s possible involvement as a handler.
Recognizing the importance of the POIs role in the illicit recruitment of sex industry workers, the investigators decided to employ a more active web intelligence investigative approach to retrieve intimate details, such as the user’s IP. The tactic was fruitful, providing the investigators of the POI’s whereabouts and potential locations of operation of this trafficking network.
TOPIC BASED INVESTIGATIONS USING OSINT
While invisible to the naked eye, boundless information is available in plain sight on the web. Utilizing the right OSINT tools, investigators can collect and structure data about a specific topic and conduct investigations that surface people of interest currently under the radar. As demonstrated by the case above, topic-based investigations can benefit from mass collection and analysis capabilities, as this process can reveal patterns, or the modus operandi, used by illicit organizations to prey on the vulnerable. Investigators can then capitalize on this information to carry out operations and remove predators from the web and the streets.