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FBI seizes section of Backpage.com

FBI seizes Backpage.com (WPEC)

If you went to the dating section of Backpage.com on Friday, you would have seen a message that federal officials have seized that section of the site. If you returned later in the afternoon, you would have found the entire site had been taken down. The message read:

backpage.com and affiliated websites have been seized as part of an enforcement action by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, with analytical assistance from the Joint Regional Intelligence Center.

Backpage.com has found itself under the microscope for years when it comes to their dating section which experts tell CBS12 is nothing more than a place where one can find ads for sex. Experts say many of the so-called dates are actually women, many of them underage, forced into the world of human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a huge problem not only nationwide, but here in Florida as well. The state ranks third in the nation with nearly 2,100 young girls and women in Palm Beach County alone considered victims of the trade.

"I was shocked,” John Rodes of Global Children Rescue, a nonprofit organization that will conduct missing children and human trafficking investigations.

Rodes, a seasoned investigator with 24 years of experience as a law enforcement official in South Florida, has spent the last three years working to get women and underage girls off Backpage.com in South Florida.

"All of a sudden it came up and it was closed," Rodes said.

The website is known for its classifieds. Most of the revenue comes from prostitution ads.

As CBS12 News Investigates has reported, more and more cases are not only happening around the world, but also right here at home.

As investigators like Rhodes answer phony ads, the mission is to at least put a dent in human trafficking and the site is under fire for facilitating child sex trafficking.

"Backpage.com and other companies like this must be held accountable for what they have created," Yvonne Ambrose said as she testified before Congress last fall telling lawmakers how her 16-year-old daughter became a victim of prostitution on Backpage.com. Then two years ago, a man her daughter met online beat and choked her before cutting her throat.

"If there were stricter rules in place for postings on these websites, then my child would still be alive with me today," Ambrose said with tears in her eyes.

So now many want to know if this will have any effect on human trafficking just like when officials shut down the escort service on Craigslist?

"I think it's going to be a big dent. However, I think that if people are still looking for this, they'll go online and they'll find other ways to get what they want,” Rodes said.

Other agencies that took part in the investigation include the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona and Central District of California, the Office of the California Attorney General, the office of the Texas Attorney General and the Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section.

Owners of Backpage.com have denied their site facilities either prostitution or human trafficking. They call these types of investigations a witch hunt.

CBS12 received word from the Department of Justice on Friday night that a court ruling would prevent them from releasing any information, as the case has now been sealed.

For more information on Global Childrens Rescue, which relies on public donations, you can find out more by heading to their website.

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