Web Stings

Web-based reverse stings involve police posting online decoy ads and setting up a reverse sting operation at a hotel or apartment. Those who arrive at the agreed-upon time and location and demonstrate the intent to complete the illegal transaction are arrested and charged with soliciting prostitution. This method has been employed in more than 1,610 cities and counties in the U.S. since 1995.

Over the past decade, and increasing number of web-based reverse stings target offenders seeking to pay to sexually abuse minors. The decoy ads is those stings state or imply that the person being sold is young, and during communications with suspects responding to those ads, investigators clearly state an age below legal limits. When individuals arrive to complete those transactions, they are arrested and charged with felony-level offenses, such as sex trafficking or “soliciting prostitution from a minor,” with the specific charges depending on state laws and the circumstances of the crime.

Another variation of web-based reverse sting involves police responding to real online advertising, rather than placing their own fictitious ads. When they arrest the people who had posted the ads offering paid sex, they seize their phones or other devices, and replaces the pimps and prostituted persons with police operatives, and continue taking calls and messages from sex buyers responding to the original ads. Another  alternative form of a web-based reverse sting involves women police decoys responding to online ads placed by sex buyers, and arrested the ones to arrive to complete the trade of money for sex.

To learn more about this type of intervention and how it has been implemented, please see our Tactic Summary document (March, 2023). You may also locate where in the United States that this tactic has been used by visiting Demand Forum’s mapping or listing functions, and selecting from the list of tactics. By clicking on each of the cities and counties listed or mapped, you may access brief summaries of the implementation of each tactic in that community, and links to source documentation.

 Examples of News Reports on Web-Based Reverse Stings

Articles on 2018 “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” (FOSTA) and Related Action Against Internet Advertisers of Commercial Sex

Articles and Reports on Web-Based Prostitution

News Reports on Internet-Facilitated Prostitution & Sex Trafficking

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