• Lee Donahue

TellFinder Image Search Shows the Missing Link in UK Trafficking Trial



Using TellFinder software, UK investigators connected small details in images from across the web to identify, investigate, and prosecute a Romanian trafficking operation in England, resulting in the convictions of eight perpetrators. Investigating officers had narrowed in on a suspect, but needed hard evidence of a networked operation in multiple locales. Using TellFinder’s advanced image analytics, prosecutors collected the evidence they needed: hard data demonstrating the connections between, and the movement of, victims from across the UK.


In January 2020, UK investigators obtained an image of one of the victims, which seemed like a breakthrough in the case. However, the image alone was insufficient evidence of trafficking, which in the UK, requires proof that the victim was moved against their will. Faced with thousands of potential online avenues that the traffickers could have used to advertise their victims, collecting any useful evidence connecting the victim’s image to the suspect would be almost impossible using manual methods. Setting aside the challenges of reviewing the evidence from the huge amount of online data, the team faced another hurdle — by the time they received the victim’s image, most of the advertisements using that image had already been taken down by the people who posted them in order to evade law enforcement detection.


Investigators were able to solve these challenges using TellFinder, a web-based software platform for human trafficking investigations that uses advanced technologies to search deep web content and discover hidden connections in data. Sifting through millions of posts, TellFinder uncovered several advertisements showing the victim — most notably, advertisements that were no longer live online, and thus inaccessible without a tool like TellFinder. TellFinder then identified matches on other features in the images to uncover additional advertisements linked to the suspect. Those advertisements were located in multiple cities in the UK — the crucial evidence needed to prosecute the suspect for trafficking.


Use of new technologies like TellFinder is absolutely essential in the fight against human trafficking, which takes place across thousands of online forums and is beyond the scope of any human investigator’s capacity. With TellFinder’s sophisticated search and analytic capabilities, investigators were able to quickly review the full scope of online data available for this case, match components in the images, and access advertisements that were no longer live online.


The police evidence, including TellFinder’s information, clearly demonstrated that the women were moved and controlled for the purposes of prostitution. All eight suspects of the organised crime group were successfully prosecuted and have now been convicted.