Help wanted signs lead to human trafficking concerns

Published: Jun. 7, 2017 at 4:22 PM EDT
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(06/07/17) - Signs have popped up all over Mid-Michigan with what appears to be a good job offer.

The signs claim a person can get more than $17 an hour.

A Tuscola County community has taken them all down.

The Vassar Police Department told ABC12 News there is a city ordinance banning them, and they want to investigate if a legitimate business put them up.

As they investigate, they have urged people who saw them, especially teens, to not contact the number given.

Across the country, similar signs have been used by people who are up to no good.

"It is another avenue that traffickers use to recruit people into their world," said Valerie Hoffman, executive director of the Underground Railroad, Inc. in Saginaw Township.

Sex trafficking is a possibility, but Hoffman said more likely it could be labor trafficking.

"What they do is kind of switch it up a little bit. 'Wow, you're doing so great, we think you'd be really good in this other office'. And the goal is to move them into an isolated area where you can literally say, you know, 'You don't get paid until you make 100 sales,'" Hoffman said.

Basically, the traffickers want to create a dependency for their employers.

Martin Chelekis saw the signs around Vassar High School.

"It's always a little weird 'cause they never say who and what you're going to be doing. It just says call this number, get money," he said.

A few years back, when he saw similar signs, he did something very important before he decided whether to call or not.

"I was raised to be kind of skeptical about things and always do your research before jump in," Chelekis said.

What he learned made him decide to pass on the opportunity.

"They tell you to meet in a parking lot of an abandoned place, you know, just really not comfortable," Chelekis said.

The Vassar police officer investigating the signs tells us he's been in contact with the National Human Trafficking Center. The center considers the signs "high risk" and will begin an investigation into them.

While police continue to look into the legitimacy of the company that posted the signs in Vassar, they're asking teens to remember if it's too good to be true, it probably is.

"The reason they're made to seem so interesting and exciting, is because they often have some very nefarious things behind them," Hoffman said.

If you see any more of those signs posted around town, the Vassar Police Department asks that you call them at 989-823-8531.

Click on the link in the 'Related Links' section of this story to learn more about human trafficking warning signs.

Below we have included the press release from the Vassar Police Department with additional information:

"The city of Vassar Police Department is currently conducting an investigation regarding signs placed along the road side near Vassar High school, and the business district of the City. These signs advertise for "Summer Work", and offer a wage "Even with no experience". These signs request that individuals interested text a phone number.

As part of this investigation, the Vassar Police is working with the National Human Trafficking Center (NHTC), who have categorized these types of advertisements or signs as High Risk, and indicate a high potential for human trafficking. Both the NHTC and the City of Vassar Police Department strongly discouraged individuals or persons (especially those under the age of 18) from contacting companies who advertise in this manner.

According to the NHTC, signage of this type has been linked to organizations involved with labor trafficking that occurs in venues such as;

- Agriculture

- Begging Rings

- Traveling Sales Crews

- Landscaping Service

- Hospitality

Companies who employee individuals "under the table", and offer wages and bonuses for unobtainable goals set for the employee. The promised wage or bonus is rarely paid, and employees are left with little or no recourse.

The NHTC further warns of signage that specifically targets minors such as;

- Looking for teenagers for babysitting

- Looking for models

- Farm work

- Work with Carnival or Circus

- Door to door sales crews

- Any signs placed near a school "no experience necessary"

Any signs that may be considered as a dating or soliciting service in disguise, or requesting information via text message or potential fraudulent means."

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