HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - The holidays are a time when most people are in a generous spirit, but it can also be a dangerous time.
Authorities are warning how those behind sex trafficking rings can use the spirit of the season to lure victims into sexual slavery. A few social media posts have been circulating warning people of suspicious activity and law enforcement is reminding everyone to practice personal safety on a daily basis.
Officials with the Horry County Sherriff’s Office said human trafficking happens every day and can happen almost everywhere. In most cases, it’s hidden.
According to the HCSO, they’re always on the lookout for human trafficking, especially during big events and the holidays.
Advocacy group leaders said the holidays are a time when traffickers are looking for victims at crowded places like malls or wherever young people hang out.
HCSO Lt. Sherri Smith said what can seemingly start as a harmless conversation about making some extra cash or simply giving a gift could quickly turn into a dangerous situation. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“Young people can be approached by older women or some guy asking if they want to model for instance or if they want to earn some extra money, so they might fall victim. And that way, it could be a human trafficking thing," Smith said. “It could be some other kind of scam but we just need to make our young people aware that people like that are not up for anything good.”
Officials with the U.S. Department of State said human trafficking is the second-largest criminal industry in the world. In 2018, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 156 human trafficking cases in South Carolina.
Authorities said anyone can become a victim and stress being aware of your surroundings at all times. The HCSO has a few safety tips to keep in mind while out holiday shopping, such as not carrying too many bags, making sure your keys are in your hand, and keeping purses closed so others can’t see what’s inside. Also, be sure to park in a well-lit area.
If you’re approached by a stranger for some reason or notice any suspicious activity, the Horry County Sheriff’s Office wants you to reach out to local law enforcement immediately.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline is a 24/7, confidential, multilingual hotline for victims, survivors, and witnesses of human trafficking.
The hotline can be reached: