Dept. of Homeland Security Takes on the Backpage Boom

What a rocky year it has been for Tony Ortega and his sex trafficking pals over at Backpage. In some respects it’s almost difficult to fathom that a year has passed since the CEO of classified ads website Backpage.com, Carl Ferrer, pleaded guilty to federal charges and the site was permanently shut down.

In the meantime, we’ve seen how scores of pimps and accomplices have been taken down and served stiff prison sentences.

But amid the justifiable celebration we’ve seen as these criminals are being brought to justice, we’ve also been reporting also about the dark legacy of the organization Tony Ortega praised and defended as being run by ‘very smart people’.

Now the feds have turned their attention to dismantling Backpage’s successors, and there are no shortage of would-be copycats only too eager to cash in on the business model the ‘very smart people’ behind Backpage cooked up.

Per a report this past Sunday in the Wall Street Journal, U.S. authorities (including the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice) are looking into whether three websites that make money off of escort ads and user-generated prostitution reviews “have engaged in or knowingly enabled human trafficking, prostitution and money-laundering.” It is worth noting that this language is the exact wording used by the government in the charging documents served to Lacey, Larkin, and Carl Ferrer.

Alarmingly the investigation has taken something of an international focus, targeting massage parlor review sites like Rubmaps.ch, escort review site EroticMonkey.ch, and escort advertising service eros.com.

According to the Journal, the three sites in question were among those that most benefited from Backpage’s removal, which allowed them to surge to success.

Among websites in the underground commercial sex economy in the U.S., Eros.com was the most visited ad platform in July, according to an analysis of visitor data compiled by Alexa Internet Inc. Rubmaps and EroticMonkey were the two most visited review sites that month, according to ChildSafe.ai, which performed the analysis and provides data and other tools to help law enforcement combat sex trafficking. Indeed, as Rob Spectre, ChildSafe.ai’s founder and chief executive observed: “All three of those websites benefited substantially from the seizure of Backpage.”

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