CBS News recently ran a week-long series of reports entitled “Anything for Love” focusing on romance scams over dating sites and dating apps that turn users into victims of human trafficking. Laura Kowal, a 57 year-old widow in Galena, Illinois, was targeted over a dating site by a trafficker who coerced her into giving him her money and to launder the funds of other victims for his benefit. Kowal later went missing and was found dead.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, trafficking on dating apps goes far beyond romance scams. In March 2020, the FBI issued a warning that dating apps are being exploited by human sex traffickers to target vulnerable people, including children. That followed a series of investigative news reports that popular dating apps are refusing to take minimal prevention measures to protect users from sexual predators and criminals.

Human trafficking is a serious global concern. As chairman of the Parliamentary Intelligence-Security Forum, I’ve hosted dozens of meetings around the world with lawmakers and policy experts on global security issues who report that human trafficking is an important profit source for terrorism and transnational criminal activity. We have helped formulate action areas on human trafficking for parliaments in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and brought together human trafficking experts and U.S. policymakers as part of a security briefing in Washington, D.C., last December.

An estimated 27.3 million people currently being trafficked globally are generating as much as $150 billion in annual income which is contingent on the constant obtaining of new victims. Thanks to their lax security measures, dating apps have made this criminal work easier and cheaper to carry out on a large scale here in the United States. Sex traffickers “exploit” dating apps “to recruit – and later advertise – sex trafficking victims,” the FBI alert said.

The stories seem to be endless. In 2019, a Baltimore man was convicted of targeting and forcing minors into prostitution by use of a dating app while Florida police arrested 23 men accused of using dating apps to target and traffic minors. In November 2023, a Wisconsin man was convicted in federal court for using dating apps to traffic women across multiple states and force them into prostitution.

ProPublica reported in 2019 that dating app companies like Match Group know their customers include minors and registered sex offenders but they won’t take effective steps to keep them off the services. A partnership to introduce background checks announced by Match Group amidst the furor over those news reports fell apart in 2023. Its spurned non-profit partner told The Wall Street Journal that “most tech companies just see trust and safety as good PR.”

Shortly before the FBI warning was issued, my former House colleagues Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Annie Kuster (D-N.H.) sent a letter asking Match Group to disclose the actions they take to vet known predators and prevent sexual violence and trafficking. Similarly, then-House Subcommittee Chair Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) sent letters to the four leading dating app companies demanding information about how they prevent minors from using their services.

Those were important steps to spotlight this problem, and it should interest many in Congress who focus on a broad spectrum of policy areas affected by it. I am encouraged by my former congressional colleagues raising the alarm, and I’m confident this is a bipartisan issue of concern.

The dating app companies must take responsibility for the safety of their customers, given the horrifying cases of violence and human trafficking being facilitated by their products. If they continue to resist taking minimal preventive actions, Congress should begin work to enact sensible regulations and intervene on behalf of the growing list of innocent victims.