Target 11 investigates fake friends

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Facebook and other social media websites have seemingly taken over our lives. What would we do without them? But there is a darker, more sinister side to social media that we don’t hear much about.

Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle looks into that and he has a warning all parents need to see. 

One of the oldest professions is now turning to some new technology. Pimps are taking to the Internet using Facebook and other social media websites to lure young girls into prostitution. 

“It’s happening right here in Pittsburgh. Somebody in Pittsburgh can control these victims from multiple cities around the world,” said Internet security expert Rick Wallace, whose company works with the FBI to track down online criminals. 

Investigators said Justin Strom controlled as many as 14 teenagers while operating a prostitution ring just outside of Washington, D.C. Strom and a handful of gang members recruited high school girls on Facebook. 

It all started with simple, seemingly innocent messages like this one: “Thanks for adding me ur very pretty would u be interested in a job making easy money?”

Investigators said it ended with Strom and the others getting the teens hooked on drugs and forcing them to participate in prostitution. Strom was recently sentenced to 40 years in prison. 

“Backpage, Facebook, Craigslist, things like that (are used), to find young girls and to pull them into commercial sex trafficking,” said Dr. Mary Burke, who runs the Southwestern Pennsylvania Anti-human Trafficking Coalition.  

The FBI estimates that nearly 300,000 American teenagers are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation. 

Several months ago, investigators in Pittsburgh arrested 37-year old William Miller in connection with the alleged sex trafficking of a teenage girl. Investigators said Miller, who lived in an apartment on Fifth Avenue in the Hill District, recruited the girl and even made explicit videos of her.

“The sale of weaponry or sale of drugs is a one-time thing. Human beings unfortunately to criminals are seen as a residual income,” said FBI spokesperson Kelly Kochamba.

Facebook has said it takes this issue very seriously and aggressively moves to take down sites with exploitative content.