High Tech Cyber-Sleuths at Work, Pippa Greenberg
By Mitzi Perdue
You may know that cyber-sleuths are working to find traffickers. But have you ever wondered how they do it?
Pippa Greenberg, founder of www.nxtmachine.co is an excellent guide. When she isn’t helping Fortune 200 companies make use of massive amounts of data, she uses her information technology skills to help find sex traffickers and help law enforcement prosecute them.
For a case study in how this works, take a look at how she and her associates handled a recent human trafficking situation in a local Florida spa. It began when she received an anonymous tip about a guy who frequented a local massage parlor every day for months. The tipster suspected something really bad.
“From the details of the trip, we had a good idea about who the trafficker might be,” begins Greenberg. “We knew his home residence because it was in the public record and we were able to map what spas he frequented and how often.”
“His travel pattern told us,” continues Greenberg, “that he had a second residence, one that wasn’t on his tax records.”
The fact that there was a residence that wasn’t on the tax records magnified Greenberg’s suspicions. “Once we knew about the second residence, we figured out from his phone records that each morning, he’d take six women from the second residence and drop them off at the spa and then every evening, he’d return them back to the second house.”
At this point, it would be easy to assume that members of local law enforcement could take over, interview the six women, and send the suspected trafficker to jail for a long time. After all, couldn’t law enforcement just ask the women who were being trafficked?
Unfortunately, interviewing the women who worked at the spa was likely to reveal nothing.
“Trafficked individuals are forced, defrauded, or coerced into trafficking,” says Greenberg. “Perpetrators use fear tactics to force their victims into silence. The traffickers prey on their vulnerability to control them.”
Given the Florida county where this was taking place, Greenberg suspected that their trafficker was an MS-13 gang member. It was MS-13 territory.
Greenberg knew that, if they were controlled by MS-13, she could be all but certain that the women would be too terrified to talk. Their trafficker would have told them that if they talked, he’d kill their children.
Greenberg and her colleagues knew that the authorities would have to arrest the trafficker before trying to rescue the women. So how do you arrest the trafficker if his victims would be too terrified to talk about their situation?
Knowing that interviewing the women in the massage parlor was apt to be fruitless, she and her colleagues needed a different approach. “Instead, we utilized our technology platform which searches, analyzes and seizes publicly accessed data on the world wide web 24/7 and 365 days of the year.”
Greenberg and her colleagues were able to take this information and match it against keystrokes and other data sets on social media, including facial recognition data. This led to finding patterns and trends that provided law enforcement with empirical evidence to take to the courts.
As a result, the trafficker is in jail and the six Chinese women are no longer enduring the modern-day equivalent of slavery. This outcome wouldn’t have happened without the capabilities of modern-day cyber-sleuths.
About The Author
Mitzi Perdue is a businesswoman, author, and Founder of Win This Fight, Stop Human Trafficking Now. She holds a B.A. degree with honors from Harvard University and a Master's from George Washington University. She's a past president of the 40,000 member American Agri-Women, and she was a U.S. Delegate to the United Nations Conference on Women in Nairobi. She was also a Commissioner for the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. Her Scripps Howard column, The Environment and You, was for years the most widely syndicated environmental column in the U.S.
She is the founder and president of “Win This Fight! Stop Human Trafficking Now,” an organization that raises funds and awareness for other anti-trafficking initiatives.