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How A Data-Sleuth Helps Battle Human Trafficking

Josh McAfee chases the bad guys (the really, really bad guys) online.
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Entrepreneurs are often described in heroic terms. But few wear the white hat as well as Josh McAfee. A former law enforcement officer and loss-prevention executive, McAfee is CEO of McAfee Institute, a Peoria, Illinois-based business that trains corporations and law enforcement agencies to battle cybercrime and fraud. He's also tackling something far more ominous. Entrepreneur Josh McAfee told his story to Inc. staff writer Issie Lapowsky.

When we started, we were focused mostly on fraud detection and loss prevention in the e-commerce world. But in 2010, when we launched our social-media investigation course, we had our first human-trafficking case.

In that class, we teach people from law enforcement agencies and the fraud- and loss-prevention units of businesses how to find bad guys on Facebook and Twitter, and then use the information they find to lead to prosecution. We never intended to go after human trafficking, but we started seeing more and more cases coming through.

One story that will always stick with me was this young lady in Florida. During a class, a police officer asked for advice on identifying prostitution online, so the group started looking on Craigslist. They found this girl and solicited her using an undercover identity. When they arrested her, they found out she was being coerced the whole time by her father. It turns out he was a sex offender, and she'd been chained up and forced to prostitute herself to men starting when she was 13. When they found out, investigators tracked down the father and arrested him.

Human trafficking takes all forms. It's not just prostitution. There have been many cases we've closed where people were bought and sold from overseas to do housework. Globally, it's estimated that there are 27 million individuals who are trafficked every year. But we don't know how much is really out there.

On the Case

Josh McAfee's work on cybercrime led to an unexpected place: the dark world of human trafficking.

Human-trafficking detection is a very small piece of what we do, compared with the work we do on online fraud, but it brings me a lot of gratification. Since 2011, our company has helped bring back about 1,900 human-trafficking victims, 1,000 of them kids. And the best part about it is we're not doing it all ourselves. We now teach a course on human trafficking, to an average of 150 to 200 people a month. We're developing leaders in the classroom, so they can go out and utilize our techniques within their organizations. It multiplies our success and enables us to make a huge impact.

Growing up, I always had a passion for law enforcement. I wanted to get out there and fight crime, get the bad guys--you know, help people. That's why I became a law enforcement officer right out of college. To be able to do this kind of work in my business is everything to me. It's what I was born to do.

IMAGES: Peter Hoffman, Peter Hoffman
From the September 2013 issue of Inc. magazine




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