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BSA/AML Hot topics: National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

By Naomi Glass, BSA/AML/OFAC Compliance Manager

On December 28, 2016, former President Barack Obama proclaimed January 2017 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Although this is not the first Solutions article to touch on the topic of human trafficking, it is important that we continue the conversation to bring attention to its prevalence and its devastating impact to victims both here in the U.S. and around the world.

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Reviewing definitions, noticing red flags

Human trafficking is the trade of humans, most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labor, or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others. It is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to more than 20 million people globally.

And no matter where you live, chances are it is happening nearby. Just weeks ago, an Uber driver in Sacramento, California made headlines for helping to save a 16-year-old-girl from child sex trafficking. The driver was taking two women and a teenage girl to a Holiday Inn and noticed something was askew. First, the teen wore a very short skirt and looked to be only 12 years of age. Then, the conversation between the passengers began to raise red flags. For example, one of the women started coaching the teen on safety precautions (for the upcoming sexual encounter). The driver overheard this woman say to the teen, “Before you go in, check for weapons. When you hug them and touch them, pat them down.'” There was also talk related to payment.

The driver suspected a sex-trafficking situation and notified the authorities after dropping the passengers off at the hotel. The police arrested the women who have since been charged with pimping and threatening a minor.

Identifying/combatting suspected human trafficking

This story is an important reminder that all of us play a role in identifying and combatting human trafficking. Financial institutions are in an even better position to be able to accomplish this objective.

For instance, credit unions should be monitoring members’ transactions to identify and report suspicious activity indicative of human trafficking. For years, one example of such activity was high volumes of $5 credit-card charges to Backpage.com. For those of you not familiar with the site, Backpage is like Craigslist for sex trafficking. It was widely known that traffickers would purchase classified ads (at $5 each) to facilitate online child sex trafficking on the "adult" section of its website.

According to a Senate subcommittee report published on January 9, Backpage knowingly facilitated the trafficking by filtering the text of advertisements to screen out words like "rape," "schoolgirl," and "lolita" before posting them to conceal the intent of the ads. Backpage also did not remove these advertisements or report them to law enforcement. The Senate subcommittee was scheduled to question Backpage’s CEO, owners, general counsel, and COO on January 10; however, the executives refused to testify. The day before that hearing, the website closed its "adult" section in the U.S.

Reporting a situation, tips for your credit union

Fortunately, there is help out there for the victims of human trafficking. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice provided more than $60 million to community-based organizations and task forces to assist human trafficking victims in 2016 alone.

To report information about a potential human trafficking situation, please call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

And for more tips on how to identify human trafficking and details on what your credit union should do if you suspect a member of such activity, please check out these recent Solutions articles:

Timely anti-money laundering red flags: Human trafficking, human smuggling and tax-refund fraud

Scams and hot topics in money laundering