You open your eyes and it’s completely dark. Your head is throbbing and you’re in a tight space in a fetal position with your arms tied behind your back and your feet tied together.
You taste copper in your mouth and realize it’s blood. Your heart is starting to beat so hard it’s nearly coming out of your chest as you realize you’re in a car trunk of a car that isn’t moving. Panic sets in…
The last thing you remember, you were going in for an interview at a company after being unemployed for nearly a year. It was weird that the boss wanted to interview you at his house in a rough neighborhood, but you try not to be judgmental and you really really need the work.
You’re remembering that you were only in that house for a few seconds before someone hit you in the back of the head and everything went black.
Now all you can see is a crack of light coming from outside, but not enough to mean it’s daytime.
Do you start kicking and screaming for help? Or is whoever attacked you right outside of the car? It’s so quiet and you have no idea where you are or how you ended up there, but you know you’re in danger.
This panic is drilled into the heart of people every day in America, both men and women just trying to earn a living that end up violently thrown into the sex trafficking trade.
You may think you’re too smart to fall for a sex trafficking scheme. You probably think it’s just drug addicts desperate to get high.
Human sex trafficking can happen to anyone at any time, and there are red flags that are either unknown or overlooked by people from all backgrounds.
Traffickers use various tricks, from pretending to be a romantic partner, a provider, or even extortion. But the most dangerous are the people that promise the world (a high paying job no matter your qualifications, a nice car, vacations, new clothes).
We want you to be aware and open-eyed, and urge you to never be so desperate that you can’t walk away – that’s how they get you.
This is not the definitive guide, there could be more red flags, but we want you to live, so here’s how you can tell what’s normal and what’s not.
Red flag #1 – overpromising
You’re probably not the type of person to fall for the bandit signs on the side of the road that promise travel, a fancy car, clothing budgets, and high pay, but no experience is required (and all you have is a phone number to call). But your child or niece/nephew might…
What all of these signs have in common is that they offer a lure but no details.
These signs or shady online ads often use female names to appear more trustworthy, and require you to text them (you won’t hear their voice because it’s not a polished receptionist, it’s a scary sex trafficker).
If you can’t get any details in advance of inadvertently giving someone your phone number by texting or calling, it may not be safe – don’t call/text. It’s not worth it.
If they tell you to check out their Instagram account and it’s just pictures of someone’s unidentifiable hands holding wads of cash, that’s a common method to appear legitimate (“but look how much money they made!”) but it’s a common ingredient in scams of all sorts, including trafficking.
Red flag #2 – they don’t ask you questions or give info
If a company that you’re inquiring about (online or via a sign) doesn’t ask you any questions, you may be in danger.
All legitimate businesses will want to review your professional experience, even if you’re applying for entry level work. They’ll care if you’re in their industry or interested in their industry.
If there is no way to apply online, or nowhere to email your resume, and they get angry with you for asking, it’s not a legitimate opportunity (sex trafficking or otherwise).
If they jump immediately to an interview after you text “I’m interested,” that’s not how normal businesses operate. Legitimate businesses can’t interview everyone that is interested, it’s not logistically possible. That’s a big red flag.
If you can’t even tell what industry it’s in or what the position is, the best choice is to not even contact them.
Don’t overreact to personal questions, sometimes traditional employers ask them, but do run if someone asks questions about your body or how you would react in certain sexual situations. Even if the interviewer is a well dressed older woman – many tricks and disguises will be used to lure ou in.
Red flag #3 – the interview is in a weird place
Small businesses will often interview you in a Starbucks, and that’s totally legitimate.
But if you have ignored the first two red flags and found yourself lining up an interview, look at Google Maps before you head that way.
Some online advertisers will say that you’re such an interesting candidate that the boss wants to meet you personally at his home.
That is not normal. You should never go, even if the boss is well known.
But in the case of sex trafficking, you won’t have the real name of a person, and if the interview location is a run down, dilapidated house, you’re going to end up in a trunk. Sometimes it will even be in a decent looking house, but that’s still not normal and they could be renting it online for the day to appear more upstanding.
If you look on Google Maps and it’s in an abandoned strip mall that you know hasn’t had any open companies in a decade, that’s another terrible sign of danger.
All interviews should be at a company’s offices, or in a very public place like a Starbucks. And even if the interview goes well and the interviewer wants you to immediately go to a private location, never ever ever do that.
If you have a WeWork or coworking space in your city, if you aren’t totally sure about a lone interviewer or their chosen location, tell them you cowork there and you’d be happy to meet there in public, in the bright lights (you can buy a day pass if they say yes). If they’re unwilling to meet in a public space, run.
Lastly on this red flag, if you end up meeting at Starbucks and it doesn’t go well, your gut says you’re in danger, or you rejected their offer to immediately go to their house to continue the interview, don’t leave first. Stay put, lie, say you have another meeting there in a few minutes, and let them leave first so they can’t follow you to your car. Watch them drive away. And if your gut still says you’re in danger, tell an employee that you’re going to your car and ask if they’d make sure you got there and the creepy interviewer doesn’t get you (that’ll get their attention).
Red flag #4 – weird contracts
Let’s say you’ve found yourself answering a shady ad that you didn’t know was shady. They say it’s all remote, so you don’t have to meet anyone in person. So far, so good.
Maybe they promised that you’ll do a ton of fancy international travel, and their headquarters are in another nation, so the contract is in another language, but they tell you what it says so you sign anyways.
Wrong. If an employment contract is in another language, you truly have no idea what you’re signing to – don’t do it.
But that’s not the only part of this red flag. In this scenario, sex traffickers will have you take the contract to a local who will translate it for you, answer all of your questions, and help you through the process by holding your hand.
They’re remote too, so you’ll have to go to their house, but they assure you the person is your same gender, and you’re not in any danger, they’ve helped hundreds of people and just want to help you.
If you go to that house for “help,” you’ll likely end up victimized.
Red flag #5 – money flows oddly
This red flag is applicable to a number of scams, not just human sex trafficking. If you are required to pay money up front before getting a job (for tools, training, or inventory), you’re either joining a scam, a MLM scheme, or being stolen from. That’s not normal for a traditional full time opportunity.
On the other end of the spectrum, traffickers that are Promisers try to gain your trust, so without meeting you, they may mail you a check as a sign on bonus (you were smart enough to reject giving them your bank account information for direct deposit which is a common way to scam people out of money).
You’ll put the check in the bank, it’ll sit there for a few days while it clears, but meanwhile they’ve gained your trust and start working toward meeting you in person and fast forwarding the trafficking process.
The check isn’t going to clear, but now they have your home address, likely your phone number, name, and if you were tricked into filling out an application, they have your Social Security Number.
Your identity could be stolen and sold, or worse, it could be used to track you down and find you in person, knowing how vulnerable you are since you missed all of the previous red flags.
Red flag #6 – the company is a mystery
So maybe you’re a really smart person and you’ve avoided all of the red flags.
Maybe you just saw a simple Craigslist ad that didn’t provide a company name, but the opportunity sounds legit, so you email through their relay system to avoid giving your real email address. You ask for details. Smart.
In most cases, they’re smaller businesses avoiding being bombarded by desperate third party recruiting firms, so they keep their name off of the ad. Those folks will tell you their website, who they are, and any information you’re seeking.
Do your homework. Find them on Glassdoor, Google around.
If they don’t have a website, maybe they’re just getting started, but the founders should at least be on LinkedIn and have real people they’re connected to (which is still no guarantee of legitimacy. If there’s no mention of them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or even Google, ask for more information.
If someone gets angry at your inquiries, or refuses to answer, they’re either illegitimate, or they’re looking for victims. Either way, it’s not worth it, stay away.
Red flag #7 – your gut says it’s dangerous
Although it should be number one, the final red flag is that if your gut tells you any part of the process is off, trust your intuition.
We’ve experienced it
We operate a very large Facebook Group called Austin Digital Jobs and we’ve worked with the Austin Police Department (APD) to report sex trafficking posts online that appear legitimate, but are far from it.
Two instances have happened in this very well known, reputable group (both of which were immediately spotted by members, publicly declared as sex trafficking and scams), but it shows you these traffickers can blend in and go anywhere.
One instance gave no details, but they were looking for an assistant and only offered a phone number. Some of our members texted for more details and within minutes of the posting, shared publicly that they were asking female candidates to “interview” at a scary looking house in a bad part of town. The post was screenshot, removed within minutes, and APD was immediately notified – they were familiar with the address and took action.
Separately, a link to a Craigslist ad for a personal assistant at a “consulting firm” for $50/hr was posted in our Facebook group, insisting that only attractive females apply, and a picture of them was required (and that they’d have to be “comfortable using [their] body”). It was immediately removed and reported to Facebook, Craigslist, and APD. Some would have believed it to be real because the description of interacting with clients sounded standard, but there were too many red flags (the police agreed).
It can happen anywhere to anyone, male or female. Even the major job search sites have to battle the evolving tricks of human sex traffickers, but the bottom line is that if no info is offered and it sounds too good to be true, it is.
We beg beg beg you to heed these red flags and share them with people you care about – we don’t want any of you to be beaten, raped, or even killed. And above all, trust your gut when it tells you a situation is dangerous.
Even if you feel like you’re losing an opportunity, it’s better to be poor than dead.
This story was first published July 2018.
Age discrimination lawsuits are coming due to the pandemic – don’t add to the mess
(BUSINESS NEWS) Age discrimination is spreading despite intentions to help, and employers need to know how to proceed in this unprecedented era.
A 2015 survey found that 75% of older workers found age an obstacle in job hunting. COVID-19 made the situation much worse.
Not only do older workers deal with discrimination, but they are at a higher risk of developing serious complications from the virus. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, older workers were hit the hardest by job loss during the pandemic, which is unusual during a recession. As offices reopen, employers need to be careful to avoid age discrimination in rehiring.
Lawyers expect age discrimination lawsuits to increase.
Last September, Harris Meyer published an article in the ABA Journal that predicted a “flood of age discrimination lawsuits” from the pandemic. Employers who have good intentions by keeping older employees out of the workplace to protect their health are still guilty of age discrimination.
What can employers do to avoid age discrimination?
It may be fine line between making sure you don’t discriminate based on age while offering ADA accommodations. The first thing employers should do is to know what laws apply based on their location. Some states exempt employees over 65 from returning to the workplace out of safety fears, meaning that those employees can still get unemployment. Other states are cutting benefits if employees don’t return to work, regardless of age.
There are some jurisdictions that have passed legislation about which workers have the right to be recalled. Next, review your own policies and agreements with laid off and terminated employees. You may want to consult legal counsel to make sure you’re covering your bases.
As you rehire, whether you’re bringing back former employees or hiring new team members, do not make hiring decisions based on age. Keep good documentation about your decisions to terminate certain employees. If you are citing poor performance, make sure to have a record of that. Don’t terminate older employees who have bigger salaries just because of lower sales. Monitor your words (and that of your hiring team) to avoid bias in hiring and firing.
Provide accommodations or not?
According to the SHRM, “Workers age 40 and older are protected from bias by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; however, that law doesn’t require employers to make accommodations for safety concerns.”
Still, employers can provide flexibility for workers, but it largely depends on the type of job. Reaching an accommodation for an office worker will be much easier than accommodating a sanitation worker.
Employers should assume that workers aged 40 and older can return to work. When the need for help is raised by the employee, enter negotiations for accommodations. Don’t initiate the conversation, and absolutely avoid any references to age.
Know that the environment may change as the pandemic continues to affect workers.
Be thoughtful about your hiring practices moving forward to avoid costly litigation from age discrimination.
Missing office culture while working remotely? This tool tries to recreate it
(BUSINESS NEWS) This startup just released new software to help you reproduce the best parts of in-person office interactions while you work from home.
Are you over working from home? Feeling disconnected from your co-workers? Well look no further: The startup Loop Team just released a tool that reproduces the office culture experience virtually.
“We’ve looked at a lot of the interactions that happen when you’re physically in an office — the visual communication, the background conversations, the hallway chatter,” said Loop Team’s founder and CEO Raj Singh in an interview with TechCrunch. “[W]e built an experience that effectively is a virtual office. And so it tries to represent the best parts of what a physical office experience might be like, but in a virtual form.”
Singh’s company, founded pre-COVID, is posed as a solution to feeling “out of the loop” while working remotely. During the pandemic, where virtually all of us are working from home, this technology is needed more than ever.
How it works is by essentially recreating an office experience on a virtual platform. Somewhere between Zoom and Slack with some added features, Loop Team lets you know who’s free to chat, who’s in meetings, and allows you to have private discussions using audio, video, and screen share. It’s ideal for working on projects together.
Loop’s layout is unique in the sense that it is designed to show you conversations in a clear, direct way – exposing relevant items and hiding the rest. Also, employees who miss meetings have the ability to review what they missed, making it perfect for companies that hire across time zones.
The platform was made available December 1st free of charge, but Singh is hoping to introduce a paid version next year. Pricing will likely reflect team size and should remain free for teams of 10 or less.
I’m a big fan of software that allows you to feel closer and more connected to your co-workers. Do I think anything will ever compare to a true, in-person office experience? Definitely not. That being said, I value this kind of progress, especially since I don’t think office culture en mass will make a return any time soon, regardless of vaccinations.
What’s DMT and why are techies and entrepreneurs secretly taking the drug?
(BUSINESS) The tech world and entrepreneur world are quietly taking a psychadellic in increasing numbers – they make a compelling case, but it’s not without risks.
Move over tortured artists and festival-goers, psychedelics aren’t just for you anymore. An increasing number of professionals in Silicon Valley swear by “microdosing” psychedelic substances such as lysergic acid diethylamide(LSD) in efforts to heighten creativity and drive innovative efforts.
This probably isn’t a shock to anyone following trends in tech and startups, particularly the glorification of the 8-trillion hour workweek (#hustle). But business owners, entrepreneurs, and technologists are also turning to other hallucinogens to awaken higher levels of consciousness in hopes of influencing favorable business results.
Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is growing in popularity as business leaders and creatives flock to Peru or mastermind retreats to ingest the drug. It exists in the human body as well as other animals and plants. In his book DMT: The Spirit Molecule, Dr. Rick Strassman says “this ‘spirit’ molecule provides our consciousness access to the most amazing and unexpected visions, thoughts and feelings. It throws open the door to worlds beyond our imagination.”
The substance is commonly synthesized in a lab and smoked, with short-lived effects (between five to 45 minutes, however, some say it lasts for hours).
Traditionally, however, it is extracted from various Amazonian plant species and snuffed or consumed as a tea (called ayahuasca or yage). The effects of DMT when consumed in this manner can last as long as ten hours. Entrepreneurs are attracted to the “ayahuasca experience” for its touted ability to provide clarity, vision and inventiveness.
Physical effects are said to include an increase in blood pressure and a raised heart rate. Users report gastrointestinal effects when taken orally, commonly referred to as the “purge.” The purging can include vomiting or diarrhea, which makes for interesting conversation at the next company whiteboarding session.
Users are subject to dizziness, difficulty regulating body temperature, and muscular incoordination. Users also risk seizures, respiratory failure, or falling into a coma.
DMT can interfere with medications or foods, a reason why many indigenous tribes that work with it also follow specific dietary guidelines prior to ingestion. Not paying attention to diet or prescription medication prior to consuming ayahuasca or DMT can lead to the opposite of the intended effect, potentially even causing trauma or death.
So why the hell are people putting themselves through this ordeal?
Many claim profound mental effects, often experiencing a transformative occurrence that provides clarity and healing. Auditory and visual hallucinations are common, with reports of geometric shapes and sharp, bold colors. Many report intense out-of-body experiences, an altered sense of time and space or ego dissolution (“ego death”).
Studies have indicated long-term effects in people who use DMT. Some report a reduction in symptoms of depression or anxiety.
Subjects in an observational study showed significant reductions in stress after participating in an ayahuasca ceremony, with effects lasting through the 4-week follow-up period.
Subjects also showed improvements in convergent thinking that were still evident at the 4-week follow up. People who consume DMT generally chronicle improvements in their overall satisfaction of life, and claim they are more mindful and aware after the experience.
It’s important to note that dying from ayahuasca is rarely reported, but that doesn’t rule out the risk. It’s also illegal in the states, explaining why groups flock to Peru to visit licensed ayahuasca retreats or why technologists buy DMT on the dark web to avoid detection.
For those considering a DMT journey (and we don’t recommend it based on the illegal nature and health risks), it’s critical to gain a full understanding of the potential risks prior to consumption.
For more reading:
- A full (and long) history of DMT
- The documented effects of DMT
- What it’s like to take DMT (according to users)
This story was first published here in June, 2019.
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