A year ago, Carl Ferrer, CEO of the classified ad site Backpage.com, pleaded guilty in federal court and the site was shut down. Now, the feds are turning their attention to the platforms that have somehow succeeded Backpage.com.
According to Wall Street Journal report published on Sunday September 15, US authorities, including the DHS or Department of Homeland Security and the DOJ or Department of Justice, are investigating three websites. The latter are said to be earning money with advertisements on escort services and user opinions on prostitution. The agencies are therefore investigating whether these platforms also work in human trafficking, prostitution or even money laundering.
In addition, the investigation aims to reveal the link that the three sites have with David Azzato, a Swiss businessman.
Three sites in the crosshairs of the authorities
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Rubmaps.ch sites, which specialize in reviews of massage parlors, EroticMonkey.ch, which collects reviews of escort services, and Eros.com, an advertising site for services are among those who took advantage of the closure of Backpage.com. According to an analysis of visitor data compiled by Alexa Internet Inc., Eros.com was the most visited platform in July among the sites working in the underground sexual economy in the United States.
Rubmaps and EroticMonkey were the two most visited user review sites in the same month, as reported by ChildSafe.ai, which analyzed and provided data and other tools to help law enforcement to combat sex trafficking.
Rob Specter, the founder and CEO of ChildSafe.ai said that these three websites have benefited greatly from the closure of Backpage.
David Azzato in the crosshairs
Regarding the case of David Azzato, the latter said that he had no connection with the three sites. However, a source familiar with the investigation said that authorities believe he is actively involved.
Bassem Banafa, the forensic accountant who participated in the investigation on Backpage also said that critical parts of the intellectual property and payment and network infrastructure of these three sites are related to Azzato.
The Wall Street Journal also reported that Azzato’s name appears in registration information, email addresses and records linked to some of these sites. In response, a spokesperson for Switzerland said that his name was used fraudulently as a contact for the EroticMonkey site.
In any case, the investigation continues and we will know soon enough the conclusions which will or will not condemn the three sites involved.
Updates: September 2021