Why the Story of ’12 Years a Slave’ is Still Relevant Today
It’s 1841. Two conmen trick a free black man from New York into leaving his home and family only to be sold into slavery in Louisiana for 12 grueling years. The movie “12 Years a Slave,” based on the memoir of Solomon Northup, won a well-deserved Oscar, among 93 other awards. We can breathe a sigh of relief that things like that don’t happen anymore, right? It was the 1840s, after all …
Not so fast. Every year, 600,000 people go missing in the U.S. Tens of thousands never return. And around the world, 25 million people are forced to live and work in oppressive conditions. The sad fact is that slavery and the kinds of fraudulent, deceitful activity that perpetuate it, not only exist but have been honed to a fine art. As long as there are vulnerable people, there will be those who try to prosper from them.
Vulnerable people doesn’t necessarily mean people with challenging living situations. It might mean someone who doesn’t know the difference between a spammer and a scammer, why there is sometimes a padlock in the address bar or why you should never click a link in an email that looks suspicious. If you are unaware of potential threats offline and online, you are vulnerable.
Modern Slavery, aka Human Trafficking
Human trafficking is the illegal exploitation and trade of people who are forced to work as laborers or sex workers. They are normally recruited via scams or abducted forcefully. Those who profit from modern slavery perpetuate the machine with promises and lies that tend to lead to physical and/or psychological mistreatment.
Some of the tactics used by those who profit from modern slavery are similar to those used by other fraudsters and scammers; the practice of spamming, for example—the sending of unsolicited, indiscriminate communications in the hope of “catching” some users with offers, many of which are spurious.
It’s been almost 200 years since the story of 12 Years a Slave. These years have changed our world in major ways. One is the rise of technology; it has connected people all over the planet with each other and made us closer to each other. But at the same time, it has given more opportunities for conmen to find victims.
How Modern Slavery Scammers Operate
Scammers such as the perpetrators of modern slavery have typical ways of operating. People can help keep themselves and their loved ones safe by familiarizing themselves with the following signs.
- Lie about potential financial rewards.
- Withhold important documentation that the person requires, such as passports and visas.
- Use surveillance techniques to keep track of their victims and insist they talk to nobody without supervision.
- Demand repayment of a significant debt, which may or may not be real.
- Force the victim to work for pay below the national minimum wage, if anything at all.
- Use physical violence.
- Force the victims to live in poor conditions, such as small rooms shared by many people or rooms without heat or water.
Those who do not know or spot the signs, in desperate situations or simply searching for a better life, can become victims of predators like these. And modern slavery is not limited to isolated incidents. According to data from the US National Human Trafficking Hotline, more than 10,000 situations of trafficking were identified in 2020. U.S. victims numbered well over 16,000.
The chances of being a victim of fraud, not limited to trafficking, are high. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), it received 2.2 million fraud reports, and consumers reported the loss of $3.3 billion to fraud in 2020 alone. Imposter scams were rife. In these scams, the fraudster poses as an individual or business, such as the IRS, to trick the victim into sending money. The FTC reported that these scams caused the loss of almost $1.2 billion in the U.S. in 2019.
How to Avoid Being a Victim of Fraud
Post-Covid-19, the internet became the top recruitment location for trafficking, with notable increases in this activity on Facebook and Instagram. It’s more important than ever to be savvy about potential predators—offline and online.
Keep Personal Information Safe
Be wary of sharing personally-identifying information online with someone you do not know well. Personally-identifying information includes your full name, street address, telephone number or an account number.
A padlock in the address bar signals that communications between you and that website are encrypted. While this doesn’t mean the site is 100 percent trustworthy, it’s a good sign to be aware of.
Beware of Urgent Demands
Look out for high-pressure tactics. Being asked to do something urgently or risk missing out is a staple of many fraudulent messages that wish to illicit action without too much thought.
Understand Imposter Scams
Imposter scams are the most commonly reported kind of fraud reported to the FTC. Covid and the consequent lockdowns impacted fraudulent activity in the realm of online shopping, with an increase in impersonators involving supposed prizes to be claimed, internet services to be rendered and telephone and mobile services to be checked.
Trust Your Gut
Your intuition will be key in keeping you and your loved ones safe from scammers. If you don’t feel comfortable with another person, whether online or in-person, reserve your right to end the communication. If you receive a link in an email or instant message and you are uncertain of its provenance and validity, do not click it. It’s better to report and/or delete the email than to take a chance on a suspicious-looking link.
In addition to intuition, technological resources have your back. Nuwber is an extensive database of U.S. citizens. Whenever you want to verify that someone is who they claim to be, you can use Nuwber to verify their details, such as their contacts and occupation.
Note that many perpetrators of human trafficking know their victims. They often pose as family members or friends. In this case, Nuwber can be used to verify the details of potential opportunities and contacts offered.
Before embarking on any proposition, even if it seems genuine, it’s wise to tell someone you trust. Make sure that at least one person knows where you are going, who with and why.
Too many people fall prey to scams because they don’t want anyone to know about the “opportunity” until they secure it. If it goes wrong, they may not wish to admit it due to feeling humiliated. Silence, however, only perpetuates the problem. Where possible, sharing experiences before, during and after can help people stay safe and prevent others from becoming victims.
Anyone can be scammed. Even though the story of Solomon Northup happened many years ago, slavery is not that far in our past. You can reduce the risks for yourself and others with good practices. Help make the world, online and offline, a safer place.