LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- Holiday deals and sales are in full swing. The last thing on shoppers’ minds may be human trafficking.
But it’s a growing problem in the Las Vegas Valley. And local experts said holiday shopping is a prime time for traffickers to find their targets.
According to the state Attorney General’s office, last year Metro police found 107 children victimized by human traffickers.
It can happen anywhere -- at malls, the movies or in parking lots. With more crowds and sales to distract you, a local advocate explained how easy it is to become a victim.
“It's crazy, it's crowded especially during the holidays,” Awareness is Prevention president Lena Walther said.
Amid that craziness, while you’re focused on window shopping, human traffickers are doing some shopping of their own.
“You’re not even noticing. You're here to shop, you're looking in windows, you're looking at stuff,” Walther said. “You're in a rush. You're not even noticing what goes on around you.”
Walter’s non-profit is focused on teaching parents and children about human trafficking.
“Vegas is one of the hubs. It's one of the worst ones,” she said.
She said holiday shopping is a prime time for traffickers to target children at malls.
“Especially if they see a group of girls, they will approach the ones that don't seem to have self-confidence, a little shy,” Walther said.
And to parents, it could start as something seemingly innocent.
“There’s going to be a lot of young men, approaching young girls, offering maybe buying them things, modeling, saying they're pretty,” Walther said. “They're going to try anything they can.”
And if that keeps going, children can be tricked, then forced into sex crimes online or in-person.
“Unfortunately, even inside the stores, during the holidays even the store personnel don't have time to look for things. They're busy,” Walther said.
“Don’t be afraid to scream, run, swing whatever you have to if something happens,” parent Jasmine Mills said.
Parents said they know holiday shopping can be overwhelming. That’s why they’re reminding their kids of the basics.
“And I have a teenage daughter, so just don't talk to people you don't know,” Mills said. “If you feel uncomfortable, you probably should get out of the situation and get where people are around.”
Walther plans to reach out to valley malls to offer employee training on how to spot possible signs of human trafficking.