YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The holiday season is a time of celebration but can also bring danger with it.
Major Jeff Allen with the Mahoning County Human Trafficking Task Force says people should be cautious all year long, but there are some things to be especially concerned about during the holidays.
“There’s kids out shopping, you’re talking more online, probably celebrating, posting pictures out shopping, younger children traveling with older people,” he said.
Allen says human trafficking doesn’t look the same everywhere, and in the Mahoning Valley, it’s more likely to involve predators using social media and drugs on their victims.
How social media can be used for human trafficking
Social media is a tool millions of people use around the world. Allen says during the holidays, it’s not uncommon to see people posting more.
“During the holidays, the amount of social media, when it comes to the posting and everything else, the chats and the sending messages, that all increases during the holidays,” Allen said.
Allen says this can be particularly dangerous, as predators will often use social media to target children and teenagers. He says it’s important to be cautious about posting photos of kids with their names, locations and even tagging their social media pages because a predator will then have access to them.
Online chatting is one of the most common ways the Mahoning County Human Trafficking Task Force is able to catch predators. The task force conducts a few human trafficking stings each year, arresting multiple people who have used social media to try to communicate and meet up with juveniles.
Allen said monitoring your kids’ social media is something that should be done, not just during the holidays, but all year long.
How drugs can be used for human trafficking
Oftentimes, human traffickers will target those struggling with drug addiction.
The victim may be lured by traffickers who may be kind to them in the beginning. The trafficker will provide them with basic needs, such as food and shelter. Then, use drugs to control them.
Allen said the holidays may be a time when some people don’t have a family support system or anyone to call. These are the types of people a trafficker will target.
“It’s a very hard investigation because these individuals don’t have anybody and they think a lot of times after this abuse, they think these people are actually there to help them and they’re not,” Allen said.
Being aware of human trafficking during holiday shopping
During the holidays, there is a rise in shopping, and it’s likely many stores and malls will be filled with shoppers. Allen said there are some things to keep in mind while out.
“Kids are shopping in stores, looking for kids for their loved ones, and often if the kids are old enough, they’re out doing their own thing in the mall or looking at gifts themselves, or the parents are distracted,” he sad.
Allen said it’s important to be mindful of your surroundings while out shopping for the holidays. Keep distance between yourself and anyone who may approach you to talk. Sharing your location with a loved one while you’re out can also be beneficial.
There are also some precautions you can take when shopping online. Allowing a delivery driver to leave your package on the porch as opposed to opening the door can be a good safety measure to take, Allen said.