Selling A Better Life: Fraud in Human Trafficking

Who hasn’t dreamed of escaping their current circumstances for a better life?

Who hasn’t wondered how much their life and the lives of their loved ones could be improved with more money, a different job, or a home in a different country? (If you’ve ever bought lottery tickets, you can identify.)

Unfortunately, many traffickers use fraud to take advantage of this human desire—and often desperation—for change, knocking on doors disguised as Opportunity, then leading unsuspecting victims down a path of exploitation in human trafficking.fraud in human trafficking

Defining the Terms: Fraud in Human Trafficking

Drawing from language used in the UN’s Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, the U.S. State Department’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report defines human trafficking as “recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.”

Fraud, one of the three primary means through which traffickers exploit their victims, usually involves false promises about job opportunities. It can take the form of lies about the type of work, the location of the work, the wages, the benefits, the conditions, and—in the majority of cases of human trafficking—the lack of freedom to quit without the threat of adverse consequences, such as violence, arrest, or deportation.

What It Looks Like

Traffickers frequently use fraud to take advantage of those seeking a better life for themselves, whether in another country or in their own hometowns. They prey on people’s vulnerabilities, promising employment and the ability to support loved ones to those living in poverty, then subjecting them to forced labor or sex.

Some of these traffickers are acquaintances of their victims, pretending to help them find a new job. Some work with dishonest recruiting agencies or as individual labor brokers. Others post deceptive job ads in print or online, or even broadcast them on television or the radio.

Some traffickers offer to transport people fleeing from poverty or persecution across international borders, then sell them into slavery instead. Others advertise entry-level jobs in places like retail shops or restaurants and promise ample opportunity for advancement. Many call for nannies or amateur models and actresses to lure young women into sex trafficking. Some even set up fraudulent businesses and hire only illegal immigrants whom they can exploit.


Once they have tricked their victims, traffickers often employ various forceful or coercive tactics—such as physical or legal threats—to prevent them from escaping.

Yes, This Happens in the U.S.

Many people in the United States and other developed countries think such situations can only occur elsewhere, but human trafficking happens in every country in the world and in every state in the U.S., even in the places with the strictest labor laws. Traffickers are deceptive, and most people don’t recognize them for what they are until it’s too late.

"Economía informal, venta de CD´s en la calle en la ciudad de Guatemala" by Gabriela81286
“Economía informal, venta de CD´s en la calle en la ciudad de Guatemala” by Gabriela81286

For example, Maria,* a Central American woman, heard a radio advertisement for a job in Miami, Florida that offered decent pay, as well as housing and food. She decided to sign up so that she could send money back to her family.

Throughout the process of getting to America, the recruiting agency kept adding exorbitant travel and documentation fees, assuring Maria that she could pay them off with her new job. Then they took her, along with dozens of others who had answered the radio ad, to Atlanta, Georgia. There, the migrants were trapped in a small trailer with little to eat or drink, forced to work as agricultural laborers, and required to put all of the money they earned toward paying off their “debts” to their traffickers.

"Hand picking blueberries" by Gordana Adamovic-Mladenovic
“Hand picking blueberries” by Gordana Adamovic-Mladenovic

The debt bondage Maria experienced is a common form of human trafficking throughout the world, often perpetrated in conjunction with fraud. Traffickers not only withhold information about travel expenses, but they withhold their victims’ wages and travel documents as well, leaving them with little to no money for even basic needs such as food and clothing and no means to travel back home.

Fortunately, Maria managed to escape slavery in Georgia and find help through Beautiful Dream Society’s non-residential programs in Oklahoma City. BDS provided her with the resources she needed and connected her with a loving community.

Maria’s experience disproves the widely held belief that slavery no longer happens in the U.S. since the institution was outlawed 150 years ago. In fact, slavery has merely evolved to thrive outside of the law, and 21st Century traffickers often take advantage of new technologies to grow this multi-billion-dollar industry.

Social Media and Teens’ Vulnerability to Human Trafficking

Several traffickers post fraudulent job ads on the internet to trap people of all ages, but young individuals are especially vulnerable to online scams. Many traffickers contact potential victims on social media, chatting with teenagers on social networks and apps, often pretending to be talent scouts or gaining trust by feigning interest and love.

Traffickers can learn about some teens’ interests, hobbies, frustrations, and aspirations by looking at their social media. They then use this information to lure them into relationships. After gaining intelligence on a teen and winning his or her trust, traffickers choose the optimal time and technique to “sell the dream” of a better life that caters to the teen’s hopes and desires.

YOU Can Help!

Traffickers won’t stop using fraud until it is no longer an effective strategy for recruiting victims. Caring for survivors of human trafficking like Maria is an integral part of what we do at Beautiful Dream Society, but we work for the day when there will no longer be a need for such services. The first step to eliminating human trafficking is increasing awareness. The more aware people are of the issue, the less likely they are to fall for traffickers’ scams, so please share this post to help spread the word about human trafficking and fraud!

If you see any suspicious advertisements or anything that seems like it could be human trafficking (click here for common signs that someone is a trafficking victim), alert the authorities immediately. Call your local police, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888, or the Beautiful Dream Society Human Trafficking Help Line at 1 (405) 717-1221.

*Name changed for her protection

Heidi Babin, Senior Intern for Beautiful Dream Society

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