Sex Trafficking Scams

Summer jobs and text messages – what do they have in common? They’re both human trafficking scams. Except, when they’re not.

Sex trafficking is a huge point of concern among everyone, frankly. We’ve all been taught to check the back of our cars at night and to treat our keys like weapons. The threat is real but it doesn’t necessarily come in the form of a text or job interview. Stories involving social apps that can make you a target are frightening, but thankfully false.  

(Image: National Human Trafficking Hotline)

The rumor in question surrounds the IRL app, a social media platform that “aims to solve technology addiction by bringing people together in real life,” as stated by their website. However, people without the app have been getting text messages from an unknown number using their full name saying, “someone complimented you!” Slightly creepy? Sure – but not a credible threat. I remember getting the text myself, forgetting about it for a couple of weeks at first and chalking it up to spam. Upon seeing a tweet about it’s supposed link to sex trafficking, I was immediately terrified that I could be next. In a panic, I turned to the rest of the internet for answers. When I found out it was false, I realized I had fallen victim to fake news.

A warning image that was posted to Snapchat. (Image: That’s Nonsense)


The claim started on social media through tweets and posts, quickly gaining traction and continuing to spread. Tweets described that if you click on the link to join the app, personal information and location can be accessed. It’s easily believable – sex trafficking isn’t something to be taken lightly. However, a simple google search shows that the messages are harmless. IRL has responded to some of the claims by saying that there has been no correlation between the app and sex trafficking, nor is it possible to acquire personal information through the link. One of the many tweets was posted by user ‘sarah,’ wracking up 370K retweets and 192K likes.

Under the tweet, there are countless responses. Some shared pictures of messages they’ve received while others sent links to sources disproving the claim. The user continued to explain herself despite the false claims, crafting 140 word responses about sex trafficking scams she has seen in her own community and saying how she was only trying to look out for people. While admirable, spreading completely false information that appeals to basic fear is just fake news. Asking for evidence isn’t going to be the first reaction to a sex trafficking threat, but why further worry the already paranoid with information that just simply isn’t true?

This isn’t the only case, however. Letters and signs advertising summer work to teens and college students promising a high salary have been rumored to also be ways to traffic students. A particular testimony from someone who had been offered a job had heard that girls getting these offers showed up for interviews were drugged and kidnapped. Once again, terrifying. The post ends with, “so basically if y’all get a phone call offering you a job, hang up and report them.” While the Polaris Project, an anti-trafficking organization, cites a job offer as a possible tactic, invitation based trafficking isn’t likely.

(Image: WNEM 5 News)


This all boils down to the most basic internet rule: don’t believe everything you see. The process of retweeting and sharing misinformation is detrimental to companies, strangers and your own well being. While your first reaction to seeing a possible trafficking scheme isn’t to ask about the evidence, it might stop your adrenaline in its tracks. It’s not to say sex trafficking doesn’t exist, or that you shouldn’t take all necessary precautions, it’s just not feasible for it come as a text.


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