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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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human sex trafficking

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.

This story was first published July 2018.

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

9-to-5 workdays are no longer the norm: Flexibility brings productivity

(BUSINESS) Doing away with 9-to-5 workdays in a cubicle can work wonders for a team’s productivity. This is no longer a dream, but today’s reality.

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productivity outside of the challenging the norm of 9-to-5 workdays

As we’ve seen in recent years, many of the old concepts about work have been turned on their heads. Many offices allow a more casual dress as compared to the suit and tie standard, and more and more teams have the option of working remotely. One of these concepts that have been in flux for a bit is challenging the norm of 9-to-5 workdays. Offices are giving more options of flex hours and remote work, with the understanding that the work must be completed effectively and efficiently with these flexibilities.

Recently, I got sucked into one of those quick-cut Facebook videos about a company that decided to test out the method of a four-day workweek. This gave employees the option of what day they would like to take off, or, it gave employees the option to work all five days of the week, but with flex hours.

Despite the decrease in hours worked, employees were still paid for a 40-hour workweek which continued their incentive to get the same amount of work done in a more flexible manner. With this shift in time use, the results found that employees wasted less time around the office with mindless chit-chat, as they understood there was less time to waste.

The boss in this office had each team explain how they were going to deliver the same level of productivity. The video did not share the explanations, but it could be assumed that the incentive of a day off would encourage employees to continue their level of productivity, if not increase it.

This was done with the goal of working smarter, rather than harder. Finding ways to manage time better (like finishing up a task before starting another one) helps to stay efficient.

During the trial, it was found that productivity, team engagement, and morale all increased, while stress levels decreased. Having time for yourself (an extra day off) and not overworking yourself are important keys to being balanced and engaged.

There is such a stigma about the way you have to operate in order to be successful (e.g. getting up early, using every hour at your disposal, and using free time to meditate).

Let’s get real – we all need a little free time to check back in with ourselves by doing something mindless (like a good old-fashioned Game of Thrones binge). If not, we’ll go bonkers.

Flex hours and remote working are not all about having time to do morning yoga and read best-seller after best-seller. Flex hours give us the time to take our kids to and from school and comfortably wear our parenting caps without fear of getting fired for not showing up to work precisely at 9 AM.

9-to-5 workdays are becoming dated and I’m glad to see that happen. So many people run themselves ragged within this frame and it’s impossible to find that happy work-life balance. Using flex options can help people manage every aspect of their lives in a positive way.

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Business News

Corporate-franchise relationships: How has COVID affected them?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Being a part of a franchise has made sense for a long time for both the corporation and the franchisee, but the long stretch of COVID is adding complications.

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A franchise cup on a wooden table.

Americans love a franchise. We love knowing that every Dunkin Donuts iced coffee will taste the same as it did 3 states away – and every McDonald’s snack wrap will meet our expectations.

Franchises rose in popularity after World War II, and the corporate-franchise relationship since has generally been a happy one – that is, until COVID-19.

What’s their relationship?

Franchises are easier to start than a small business from scratch. You receive a business playbook and brand loyalty from corporate – if the business at large is doing well, chances are your franchise will mirror that. No need for independent advertising!

From the franchises, corporate gets an upfront fee and ongoing royalties. (For a McDonalds franchise, that’s $45k and 4% of monthly gross sales, respectively.)

Basically, it’s win-win. Both parties are happy.

Pandemic strain

The pandemic has shrunk margins across most industries, and the chain hotels, restaurants and services have been hit hard. As a result, corporate is adding more costs for franchisees, such as big cleaning bills and promotional discounts to bring back some revenue during COVID.

However, with corporate still taking the same amount from the franchises every month, these newly instated policies threaten to drive some stores into the ground – and franchisees are fighting back.

“I get that franchising isn’t a democracy,” said a Subway franchisee, who objected to the unprofitable “2-Subs-for-$10” promotion that corporate was pushing for. “But at the same time, it’s not a dictatorship.”

What I see here is corporate greed at work; they need to keep their margins up in a sinking economy, so they’re looking to the pockets of their franchisees to make up for that lost dough.

The pandemic has not been easy on any business (with the exception, of course, of Amazon, Facebook, and Tesla, which is a whole other story). However, that’s the draw of being connected to corporate – you are tied to something bigger than your individual store, and will thus stay afloat as long as they do. It’s a big reason why many opt for starting a franchise as opposed to starting their own, independent small business.

I’m glad to see individuals fighting back against corporate policies that don’t benefit them. They held up their side of the bargain – let’s see if corporate can continue to hold up theirs.

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Business News

What to do if you think you have been wrongfully terminated

(BUSINESS NEWS) Being fired hurts, but especially if you were wrongfully terminated. Here is what you can do if you need to take action.

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Stressed man staring at computer after being wrongfully terminated.

While there are plenty of ways an employer can legally fire an employee, there’s also a long list of unethical and illegal methods. If you suspect you’ve been wrongfully terminated from your job, it’s imperative that you fight back.

Common Signs of Wrongful Termination

Research shows that around 150,000 people are unjustly fired every year in the United States. That’s more than 410 people per day – roughly 17 people per hour. Here are some common signs that you’re a victim:

  • Violation of written rules or promises. The vast majority of employment is known as “at-will” employment. This means you may be fired at any time for any reason (so long as the reason is not illegal). However, if there’s a written statement or contract that implies job security, then you’re probably not an at-will employee. Review all of your employment documents to see what sort of language exists around the topic of termination.
  • Discrimination. It doesn’t matter if you’re an at-will employee or not, employers can never fire someone based on discrimination. It’s illegal – point blank, period. If you suspect you’ve been fired because of your color, race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion, or pregnancy, discrimination could be to blame.
  • Breach of good faith. Employers are known to breach good faith when they do things like mislead employees regarding their chances for promotions; fabricate reasons for firing; transfer or fire an employee to prevent the collection of sales commissions; and other similar situations.

Every situation is different, but these three signs are clear indicators that you have a potential wrongful termination claim. How you proceed will determine what happens next.

How to Respond to a Wrongful Termination

Emotions tend to run high when you’re fired from a job. Whether you loved the job or not, it’s totally normal to run a little hot under the collar upon being wrongfully terminated. But how you handle the first several hours and days will determine a lot about how this situation unfolds. Now is not the time to fly off the handle and say or do something you’ll regret. Instead, take a diplomatic response that includes steps like:

1. Gather Evidence

Wrongful termination cases are usually more complicated than they first appear on the surface. It’s important that you focus on gathering as much evidence as you possibly can. Any information or documentation you collect will increase your chances for a successful outcome. This may include emails, screenshots, written contracts and documentation, voicemails, text messages, and/or statements from coworkers.

On a related note, remember that your former employer will be doing the same thing (if a claim is brought). Be on your best behavior and don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Avoid venting to coworkers or firing off short, snappy emails to your former boss. As the saying goes, anything you say or do can and will be used against you.

2. Hire an Attorney

Don’t try to handle your wrongful termination case on your own. Hire an experienced lawyer who specializes in situations like yours. This will give you a much better chance of obtaining a successful outcome.

3. Get Legal Funding

If you’re like most victims of wrongful termination, you find yourself with no immediate source of income. This can make it difficult to pay your bills and stay financially solvent in the short term. An employment lawsuit loan could help bridge the gap.

As Upfit Legal Funding explains, “Wrongful termination lawsuit loans provide the necessary financial assistance they need to reach a settlement. This funding helps cover basic living costs until the plaintiff is able to get assistance from their settlement.”

The best thing about these loans is that you only have to repay them if there’s a successful outcome. In other words, if the claim gets thrown out or denied, you owe nothing.

4. File the Proper Paperwork

Work closely with your attorney to make sure that your complaints and claims are filed with the appropriate regulatory agencies (and that you meet the required deadlines). Depending on the type of claim, there are different groups that oversee the complaint and can help you move in the proper direction.

Adding it All Up

Getting fired is serious business. And while there are plenty of legal reasons for being terminated from a job, it’s worth exploring what’s actually going on behind the scenes. If it’s found that your employer stepped out of line, you’ll be compensated in an appropriate manner. This won’t typically help you get your job back, but it can provide some financial rectification.

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