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Banking on Putting an End to Human Trafficking

It’s the third largest global crime, generating some $150 billion in revenue each year. It’s human trafficking and it’s believed to have impacted more than 20 million men, women, and children around the world with many unidentified victims too afraid to come forward.

Often referred to as “modern day slavery,” human trafficking involves using force, fraud, and coercion to get people to perform sexual or labor-related acts. Though sex trafficking is part of human trafficking, and is believed to account for $99 billion of the $150 billion generated annually from the trade, it’s not the only part. Human trafficking also involves forcing individuals to do labor on farms…or in manufacturing plants…or even in people’s homes for little or no pay.

The misconceptions about human trafficking

Though human trafficking stories are frequently played out on television, there are still a lot of misconceptions about the crime. One is that it impacts only young girls, when in truth, victims can be of any gender, race, or age. Another misconception is that it does not occur in this country. In actuality, the United States is among the world leaders in human trafficking crime.

To help combat this serious and growing problem in this country, law enforcement agencies and the Department of Homeland Security have sought help from a unique source – financial institutions.

Since human traffickers need the banking system to move money, financial institutions have been instrumental in not only helping identify traffickers, but also supporting victims. Often victims are in plain sight, but due to fear of traffickers, manipulation, or a misguided sense of loyalty, they fail to get help.

One place both traffickers and victims are likely to visit is bank branches, which provides an opportunity for staff to identity potential victims.

Avidia is ready to help them.

“Our staff is trained to know their customers and to pay attention to behaviors that may seem out of the ordinary, such as an individual being accompanied by another person as they approach the teller line. Or someone who is dressed shabbily or inappropriately,” shares Liz Owen, vice president and officer of Avidia’s BSA Department, a department created as part of federal legislation to prevent, detect, and report financial crimes facilitated through financial institutions.

The bank also has software in place to search for certain types of transactions, such as frequent hotel and fast food purchases, which are common among traffickers, as well as ad purchases on erotic websites.

One thing is very clear, Avidia, like many banks, has made human trafficking prevention a priority.  “We’ve really seen more and more attention paid to the financial aspects of trafficking,” says Owen. “If we can help identify victims and collaborate with law enforcement, we can help stop this terrible crime,” she adds.