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7 ways to tell if a job posting is actually a human sex trafficker

(CAREER) It may be hard to spot a job post from a sex trafficker because it can blend in, but there are 7 red flags to avoid when job hunting to avoid becoming a victim of human sex trafficking – it can happen to anyone.

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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.

You’re wrong.

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…

human sex trafficking scam disguised as a job

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).

Safety first.

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.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Business News

5 ways employers can avoid age discrimination when hiring

(BUSINESS) Sometimes intentional, sometimes not, age discrimination is costing businesses big these days – make sure you’re hiring fairly and not taking unnecessary risks.

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The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 makes it illegal to discriminate against employees aged 40 and up. Federal law applies to employers with 20 or more employees.

In Texas, for example, it’s illegal for private employers with 15 or more employees to discriminate based on age. A Federal Court has ruled that age discrimination is only illegal against employees, but AARP has asked the Supreme Court to weigh in.

The EEOC received over 16,000 age discrimination complaints in 2018, which is lower than previous years, but it’s not something your business wants to deal with. Age discrimination just cost one Texas employer more than $85K for casting off an older worker. Avoid costly claims and fines by making sure that your workplace is discrimination-free.

1. Watch how you describe jobs.

Identifying a position for a “young” tech-savvy college student could be misconstrued as age discrimination. Avoid using terminology that makes indicates that a person must be younger to fit into your culture. Rather than try to find the right words to fit the person you’re looking for, describe the job itself.

2. What information do you really need on a job application?

It’s not illegal to ask a person’s age or when they graduated high school, but it is illegal to use that information in determining whether you’d hire them or not. Asking for that information could be used as evidence that age influenced a hiring decision. Choose questions carefully on your company’s job application. Talk to a good recruiting specialist or lawyer to help you stay out of trouble.

3. Watch what you say during interviews.

Collecting information about someone’s age during an interview could also get you into hot water. Don’t bring up children or grandchildren. It seems innocuous enough, but if the person makes a complaint to the EEOC, it could come up again.

Make sure interviewers know what types of questions could be inappropriate. Have a structured interview guide that provides consistency across applicants, regardless of age. It is also a good idea to keep good records about how decisions were made.

4. Be aware of diversity and implicit biases in the hiring process.

There’s plenty of research that demonstrates implicit bias in hiring. Implicit bias describes the attitudes we have toward others that we’re not really conscious about. This could include stereotypes about retirement or that an older person might be uncomfortable working for a younger manager. Implicit bias is what makes you choose someone based on a similarity to yourself, rather on their skills. Look around your office and see if you have a diverse workplace.

5. Avoiding age discrimination isn’t about quotas.

To fight age discrimination, you can’t just focus on how many people you employ of a certain age group. You have to really look at the overall culture of your organization. Telling hiring managers to hire someone over the age of 65 doesn’t change attitudes.

Educate your managers about age discrimination. Encourage your team to interact with people of all ages, whether through volunteerism, classes at the local college or book clubs. Eliminate biases that cause age discrimination by widening your social circles. Seniors bring a lot of experience and soft skills to the workplace that can benefit your business.

Bottom line: Don’t discount someone based on age.

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Business News

Mystery: Who is Henry Hawksberry, ghost author of ‘Is WeWork a Fraud?’

(BUSINESS NEWS) WeWork has been a hot mess lately, and the public got involved after a list of egregious infractions was published on Medium, but the author is a ghost and no one has noticed. Who the hell is Henry Hawksberry!?

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Who exactly is Henry Hawksberry? Are you ready for a good conspiracy theory? Oh good, me too – put on your tinfoil hat and buckle up, because it’s about that time!

Yesterday, in our real estate section, I broke down how the wild WeWork IPO withdrawal could impact the residential real estate industry. Part of that breakdown was referencing the WeWork drama involving made-up accounting practices, tax ducking, wild spending from deep pockets, shady business dealings, and a fleecing of historic proportions.

By now, we all know a lot of what happened, thanks to Henry Hawksberry who penned the viral “Is WeWork a Fraud?” scathing blog post illustrating point-by-point the “ponzi scheme.”

But something bugged me.

Who IS Henry Hawksberry? I started digging and no one has picked up on the fact that it’s a ghost. A shadow. A phantom. A specter. Yet this one blog post has been republished dozens of times, and referenced thousands of times.

Let’s dig into these breadcrumbs:

1. Henry Hawksberry’s original Medium post (which is what everyone linked to, retweeted, and republished) has been deleted. By Henry Hawksberry.

2. But not just the story, the entire Medium account that posted the one blog post has been deleted. No one seems to have noticed, given that it has been republished so widely.

So, I went to the Wayback Machine, and there is only one instance of that account ever being captured – on September 20th, there was one blog post, a profile picture of someone skiing, they followed one person (which is not clickable, so that doesn’t yield any clues) and were followed by 70 (no surprise there since his post was already viral by the 20th).

3. You are prompted to set up a Medium account with a Google or Facebook account, so we dug for both looking for “Henry Hawksberry,” yielding zero results. Same with LinkedIn. And Reddit.

And, although his name is mentioned on Twitter endlessly, every single instance (yes, I read every. single. tweet.) is in reference to this one blog post. There is no account under the name “Henry Hawksberry.”

4. But Twitter is where it gets slightly interesting. There are three tweets that noticed this person is a ghost.

One British fella took issue with Herny calling WeWork out for lack of transparency, but is non-transparent, one guy posits that it’s a pen name, and an Irish fella questions his identity but immediately moves on.

The very first perked ear was from Peter Yang:

Note that this tweet has two retweets and 7 likes. In case anyone unlikes it, here is a screenshot of all Likes:

Note that one of the likes is from @ProfGalloway himself. More on that soon…

“Motorman” has a quick conversation asking who Henry is, but mainly to point out that Henry criticizes WeWork’s refusal to be transparent while ironically, Henry is doing the same. But the topic dies quickly and no one else gets involved.

Here we go – finally someone saying the very thing that I’ve been digging into. But the conversation dies and no one else on the planet ever picks it back up. Bizarre.

5. So I emailed Professor Galloway, who in the first tweet above, was referenced as the potential ghost. He liked the tweet but didn’t comment or retweet. Scott Galloway did write a blog post that same day, entitled “WeWTF, Part Deux,” referencing Henry Hawksberry as a “pen name, I think.”

Last night, I emailed his NYU Stern address: “I *have* to know – are YOU Henry Hawksberry? Is it a pen name? I saw someone ask (potentially in jest) if you were Henry, and no one responded or noticed, but you were one of the 7 ‘Likes.’ Is it you? If not, any theories?”

He responded, minutes later, “Who is Henry Hawksberry?” and nothing more.

I wrote back, “LOL okay… He penned the original “Is WeWork a Fraud?” (republished here) and you referenced him in your “WeWTF” blog post…” and he went silent.

This is still of interest, so keep this point fresh in your mind, I’ll circle back to it.

6. An entrepreneur in Zurich calls Henry out on Medium for being potential fake news, asking who Henry is, and it has 33 “claps” which are similar to “Likes” on Facebook, but zero comments. It went nowhere.

7. Oddly enough, RealClearMarkets has a blank profile page. The site is a product of RealClearPolitics, which is an actual trusted publication, so that’s a strange question mark. They have not responded to our request for comment.

8. Google has indexed 0 incidents of the name “Henry Hawksberry” aside from this one story and references to it – I reviewed every single instance of his name as indexed by Google. Dead end.

9. No comments by “Henry Hawksberry” were found anywhere at all which is usually the giveaway. Even when using a pen name, people will accidentally say something in a forum under that name years ago, but not this ghost.

10. I had hoped that perhaps I could piece together the relevance of his name – maybe it’s a nod to a famous historical figure in tech or business that would unlock this person’s true identity or goals, but I didn’t get anywhere with that either.

Hawksberry is a place in Australia, maybe a body of water in Brooklyn, but other than that, it’s a mystery.

So who is Henry Hawksberry?

Reading this, you’ll imagine that it’s Professor Galloway, and there’s a fine possibility of this, given the immediate silence.

However, my instinct is that the person who penned the blog post in question is close to WeWork, likely a former employee. Not a receptionist or event coordinator or someone at that level, but someone with real insider knowledge, likely at a Director level. Higher than that, and there would probably be too much at risk with stock options.

The author is also extremely well informed and had a firm grasp on the historical context of the timeline, and the writer’s diction level indicates they’re likely well educated.

A tech insider opined to me privately that it could be someone that has had full access to everything at WeWork, like a sysadmin who is acting like some sort of whistleblower.

That could be possible, but it seems more likely to me that it’s someone who removed their original blog post (without anyone noticing), knowing that it could potentially be used to identify them by leadership at WeWork, which would again, put them probably below VP status, and probably not currently with the company.

I’ve been obsessed with the WeWork melodrama, and I’ve had plenty of private conversations about it. But this Henry Hawksberry is the part that has really gotten under my skin. I’ve tested my gut against others that I trust, and we all agree that this is a real head scratcher.

It could be Gwyneth Paltrow for all we know (if you read the original blog post, you’d get the relevance of this jab).

Perhaps the fact that this person left no breadcrumbs IS a clue in and of itself.

Feel free to share any insights in the comments – maybe you have the key to solving this mystery??

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Price-predictable subscription to legal help for startups

(BUSINESS) Startups in growth mode need extra help, and legal services is not where successful companies cut corners. Check out this subscription option for your growing company.

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If you’re running your own business or are planning to start one, legal help is probably low on your list.

Most of us have access to free resources from your local Chamber of Commerce or state website, or may have a “friend” who can help you with the forms and other things.

For a lot of things, a DIY attitude won’t cost you much. You could float your own drywall for example. But when it comes to the law, you must trust an expert. Trying to cut corners on legal expenses can cost you a lot in terms of liability or lead to a few headaches, disputes, and litigations. And even if it didn’t cost money, it will cost you time.

Fortunately, you may not have to pay a lawyer directly, as there are several online solutions, including LegalZoom or LegalShield that can help you with forms, provide advice or help you get your business started. Legal advice could cost you hundreds per hour, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Although online legal services are available, one thing that may be challenging for startups is that it can be difficult to budget for: cost transparency isn’t always available and it may be contingent on demand, time and resources.

Atrium is legal firm specifically designed for startups. This firm was founded by Twitch founder Justin Kan, and Silicon Valley lawyer, Augie Rakow in response to what his needs were as a startup: fast, reliable, and transparent services.

To date, Atrium boasts 890 completed startup deals; $5B raised by companies, and 10 companies started by it’s members. Atrium breaks down its services into four areas:

Atrium Counsel – which provides standard day to day legal processes, including board meetings, NDS, contract/personnel review, etc. – this is available as a subscription service or if you have unique needs, there are special projects available.
Atrium Financing – to help work with venture capital transactions and help explain the deal and it’s process, including upfront price estimates for advice with pitches.
Atrium Contracts – to help with contract review and form generations.
Atrium Blockchain – to help provide legal advice on the many regulatory issues involving blockchain issues.

Atrium’s major competitive advantage is the end of the billable hour paradigm and the focus on subscription models. This is great for a startup in growth mode because you can get a lot of value for a fixed price.

That said, Vitality CEO, Jamie Davidson said, “Just had a call with these folks. You pay a minimum of $1K a month (based on your company size) to be able to ask them questions. You then pay above-market prices for actual legal needs, like privacy policy/TOS generation ($5K), GDPR ($10+K), etc. Our current lawyer does not charge me to ask him questions, but he does charge for actual legal work.”

Others have noted Atrium’s technological advantage and expertise, so mileage could vary.

If you find that community resources aren’t available or not meeting your needs, Atrium could be the service that helps take you to the next level. If you’re considering shopping for legal services, check out Atrium’s site, get to know their team, and see if it’s the right fit for you. The bottom line is that there are a lot of places to cut corners for your growing business, but legal services are not one of them.

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