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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.

This story was first published July 2018.

Business News

Survey indicates that small businesses are optimistic despite COVID-19

(BUSINESS NEWS) Facebook survey captures tumult of spring 2020 on small and medium business, with a dash of optimism going into the summer.

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This story contains information that probably will not evoke shock and awe by now, but is nonetheless upsetting. Stop now and check to see if you need a news cycle break before ingesting more garbage depressive news about the economy – but if you can wade through it, I promise it ends on a high note!

Though Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is running amuck in the political world like one of those signs at restaurants that say “unattended children will be given ice cream and a puppy,” Facebook continues to effectively build an online community of more than 2.6 billion people worldwide – including more than half of the population in the United States. Given their audience and ease of access to business owners, they decided to use their powers for good for once to survey small and medium businesses.

The survey returned responses from 38,078 business owners and managers, 39,104 employees, and 8,694 personal enterprises in the United States (total of 85,876 respondents). Respondents’ industries spanned manufacturing, retail, services, logistics, hospitality, construction, and agriculture. Thirty-three percent of businesses were urban, forty-two percent were urban, and twenty-five percent were rural.

Here’s where it gets depressing: thirty-one percent of businesses reported closing in the last three months, with 71 percent of those closing since March 1. For personal businesses, 52 percent are closed. Of those businesses still operating, 60 percent reported a reduced workload, and 60 percent also report struggling with finances. Employee wages, bills, and rent were the top areas of financial concern.

So how is this important segment of the economy surviving the crisis? Forty-one percent of business owners and managers said they could pull from personal savings, but 45 percent said zero-interest loans were the most helpful option to subsidize lost business.

Unsurprisingly, 79% of businesses say they have made some change to operations to accommodate their customers and keep things moving, like using digital tools and delivery services.

The survey found some interesting geographical differences, for example, that businesses in the Southeast have made slightly more physical adjustments to business like offering curbside pickup and home delivery. They also found differences in strategy by leadership gender: “Businesses led by women are more likely to be using digital tools, particularly with online advertising (43%) and digital payment tools (40%), compared to just 37% and 34%, respectively, of businesses led by men.” And the differences don’t stop at the strategic level. More women owner-managers (33%) reported that managing life in a pandemic at home was affecting their ability to focus on work than men (25%).

Amongst all the chaos, people are optimistic about the future. In fact, 57% of owner-managers are optimistic or extremely optimistic about the future of business. For employees, the results were surprisingly similar. Even though only 45% of SMB owner-managers and 32% of personal businesses reported that they would rehire the same workers when their businesses reopened, 59% of both the employed and unemployed were at least somewhat optimistic about their future employment.

And now for a quote from President Barack Obama’s 2008 New Hampshire Primary speech amidst our last recession, without a smidge of tacky irony or liberal preaching: “We’ve been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope. But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope. For when we have faced down impossible odds; when we’ve been told we’re not ready, or that we shouldn’t try, or that we can’t, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people: ‘Yes we can.’”

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Business News

Who will get to work from home once COVID-19 stay-home orders are over?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Many large tech firms review and update their work from home policies. This could be presented as THE biggest work perk of 2021.

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The large tech firms that we all know and use frequently are making big announcements on their timing and policies for their employees to work from home as updates on COVID-19 come in.

Square and Twitter have said many employees will work from home indefinitely – even after states begin to open back up. Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have all extended dates on returning to offices. You can read more details here on The Verge.

Let’s break down some pros and cons – especially if this means that working from home will become the hottest recruiting tool in the future. Like ping pong tables and Friday at 4pm beer carts once were.

Some high-level things that contribute to why people love (or tolerate) their W2 jobs:

  • They like the PEOPLE they work with
  • They have a feeling of purpose, and genuinely enjoy the work
  • There are miscellaneous perks (gym membership reimbursement, free cafeterias, personal development workshops, tuition reimbursement, travel opportunities)
  • Their employer helps to pay for healthcare benefits, and makes 401K contributions
  • Their team rotates, and they get to work from home once in a while*

*This is nice to allow some flexibility. Employees can choose to treat their morning how they would like (maybe wake up a little later, or enjoy their coffee at a coffee shop). It allows them to not rush out the door to sit in traffic, or on the bus or train. They can take the day off of wearing real pants, and work in pajamas. Heck, they can even save time on Saturday or Sunday by doing the laundry on their work from home (WFH) day. It could also be a great opportunity to fit in doctor appointments, or have real quality focus time – missing less of the work day.

This is NOT an implication that people work less that day, in fact working from home, you usually work more because there are not things that force you to break up the day like the commute, meetings, or lunch with your colleagues.

Some high-level things that might contribute to the desire to be an entrepreneur:

  • Your work is a main piece of your identity – usually being a product or service that YOU created, and it leverages a perfect marriage of your talents, skills, and passions
  • You likely get to be your own boss, and make your own creative decisions
  • You constantly have the opportunity to learn, and this can be great for those who love the constant change and challenges
  • It’s just never really worked out for you to work for someone else, or for a corporation
  • Something drives you to build something of your own
  • Working from home* in all its glory

*A common misconception of the entrepreneurship or freelance lifestyle is that you work from home or a coffee shop, and it’s oh so very sexy and freeing, and you get to do whatever you want whenever you want. While arguably, yes, you do have more control over your schedule, and there are perks to your own business; likely you are working 24/7, and wearing every single hat from the Producer to Customer Services to Finance to the Accounting department. This requires you to be really open to learning or knowing what you don’t know, and possibly hiring experts.

So, moving forward, will the “you can work remotely! From wherever you’d like” become the hottest recruiting trend of 2021? Here’s why we predict that may not be the best way to move forward.

  1. People are social creatures. Working from home sporadically vs 100% of the time are two completely different things. You could possibly lose the momentum with your teams if they no longer know and trust one another. Plus, no doubt there will be turn-over, and when there are numerous parts and teams, it can be helpful for them to have in person experiences together.
  2. Does this make sense for the commercial real estate industry, and the leases that have been signed? It’s unlikely that many large corporations just perfectly timed their leases that align with COVID-19. Many will likely want to bring people back just for that fact.
  3. All of this takes an enormous amount of money, additional tech support, and infrastructure, (not to mention mailing costs for all office equipment, etc.) and it’s not possible that only the most profitable firms will prevail and be able to do this.
  4. How would large cities (read: high cost of living) like the Bay Area be able to retain talent, and/or why would you pay to live there if you can live anywhere. This could drastically shift urban planning and development.

We just don’t see it moving all the way to the extreme of all knowledge workers working from home indefinitely. If you want to see how people are feeling about working from home, you have to check out this Buzzfeed article, “Zoom Fatigue is Real, And You Probably Have It If You Relate to These 16 Tweets.”

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Business News

Weight Watchers lays off 4K employees on a brief Zoom call #cold

(BUSINESS NEWS) WW fires thousands of employees over Zoom, no questions asked or answered. So much for Wellness that Works, live up to your motto.

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WW International, formerly known as Weight Watchers, fired thousands of employees on a 3-minute phone call on Thursday, May 14. The call was muted so participants could not ask questions. Employee emails were closed by the weekend.

It is unclear exactly how many employees were let go, with some reporting up to 4,000. WW has declined to report the number. Laid off employees were both part-time and full-time. Some had been working for WW for more than a decade.

WW has been slowly shifting its services online, including building a comprehensive app for users to track their food. Founded in 1963, the weight loss company has come a long way from paper-and-pencil weight tracking. In 2018, the company changed its name from Weight Watchers to WW, adopting the slogan “Wellness that Works,” in a move to fully embrace the trendy wellness and self-care movements that have gripped younger audiences.

CFO Nick Hotchkin said, “It wasn’t practical to have all of the conversations be one on one.”

WW has staked its claim on empathy. They have cultivated a community of people motivated to lose weight, and support others on the same journey to also live a healthier lifestyle. Many WW employees are former customers who were so committed to the mission they wanted to join the community as a coach or meeting leader. The company offered many part-time roles that fit the schedules of full-time mothers, their primary demographic of clients from its inception.

Firing swaths of employees over Zoom calls is the latest form of cruelty in the employment chaos that the coronavirus pandemic has inflicted on the economy. But companies can make choices – especially international mega-companies that bring in more than a billion dollars in revenue annually.

Has WW no sense of irony? Just two days before this call, WW announced a free, four-week virtual experience led by Oprah Winfrey, a WW investor, client, and champion.

“Now, it’s more important than ever to be and stay well and strong. Together, let’s reset, refocus and find clarity in what matters most,” Oprah said of the program. Apparently, thousands of employees are not considered an asset to the togetherness of this occasion.

Of course, WW like many other companies has a right to let go employees in anticipation of changes in business. But if caring for your employees, and conducting layoffs with empathy, grace, and compassion is not on the list of “what matters most,” then WW is sorely lacking mission alignment. It is severely disappointing to see a company driven by a compassionate mission act in such a callous way.

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