Congress should look closer at dating app threat #nigeria | #nigeriascams | #lovescams

According to an FBI report, sex traffickers “exploit” dating apps “to recruit— and later advertise — sex trafficking victims.” (Photo Metro Creative Services)

CBS News recently ran a weeklong series titled “Anything for Love,” focusing on romance scams on dating sites and dating apps that turn users into victims of human trafficking.

Laura Kowal, a 57-year-old widow in Galena, Illinois, was targeted on a dating site by a trafficker who coerced her into giving him money and laundering the funds of other victims for his benefit. Kowal later went missing and was found dead.

According to the FBI, trafficking on dating apps goes far beyond romance scams. In March 2020, the FBI issued a warning that dating apps are being exploited by sex traffickers to target vulnerable people, including children. That followed a series of news reports that popular dating apps refuse to take minimal preventive measures to protect users from predators and criminals.

Human trafficking is a serious concern. As chairman of the Parliamentary Intelligence-Security Forum, I’ve hosted dozens of meetings globally with lawmakers and policy experts on security issues who report that human trafficking is an important profit source for terrorism and transnational criminal activity. We have helped formulate action areas on human trafficking for parliaments in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and brought together human trafficking experts and U.S. policymakers as part of a security briefing in Washington last December.

An estimated 27.3 million people being trafficked globally are generating as much as $150 billion in income annually, which is contingent on the constant obtaining of new victims. Thanks to their lax security measures, dating apps have made this criminal work easier and cheaper in the U.S. Sex traffickers “exploit” dating apps “to recruit— and later advertise — sex trafficking victims,” the FBI alert said.

The stories seem to be endless. In 2019, a Baltimore man was convicted of targeting and forcing minors into prostitution by using a dating app. In Florida, police arrested 23 men accused of using dating apps to target and traffic minors.

ProPublica reported in 2019 that dating app companies like Match Group know their customers include minors and registered sex offenders, but they won’t take effective steps to keep them off the services. A partnership to introduce background checks announced by Match Group amid the furor over those news reports fell apart in 2023. Its spurned non-profit partner told The Wall Street Journal that “most tech companies just see trust and safety as good PR.”

Just before the FBI warning was issued, Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Annie Kuster, D-N.H., sent a letter asking Match Group to disclose the actions they take to vet known predators and prevent sexual violence and trafficking. Similarly, then-House Subcommittee Chair Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., sent letters to the four leading dating app companies demanding information about how they prevent minors from using their services.

Those were important steps in spotlighting this problem, and it should interest many in Congress who focus on a broad spectrum of policy areas affected by it. Having members of Congress raise the alarm is encouraging. This is a bipartisan issue.

The dating app companies must take responsibility for the safety of their customers, given the horrifying cases of violence and human trafficking being facilitated by their products. If they continue to resist taking minimal preventive actions, Congress should begin work to enact sensible regulations and intervene on behalf of the growing list of innocent victims.

Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2013 to 2019. He is the founder and chairman of The Parliamentary Intelligence-Security Forum. /InsideSources

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