TAMPA (WFLA) – January is Human Trafficking Awareness month. According to the U.S. State Department, there are 24.9 million trafficking victims nationwide.

It’s not something that only occurs in dark alleys around the world, but mostly in plain sight.

Here are some 8 On Your Side tips to help you and your loved ones from becoming a victim.

Sexual exploitation and forced labor are the most common forms of human trafficking. Recruiting can happen anywhere like online or in crowds at events.

Dr. Stacey Scheckner helps victims of trauma with prevention, management and recovery. She says awareness is critically important in preventing human trafficking incidents.

“I think there should be a discussion about your head is in here (looking at your phone), but who is around you?” she says. “So not only when we drive do we put our phones away for safety, when we’re walking around and interacting with people we should put our phones away for safety.”

Dr. Scheckner says, as parents, it’s important for us to talk to our kids about the technology they use.

It’s important to have limits and help them understand how people can reach out to them online.

And offline?

“I think you always need to be in groups,” she says. “I think you always need to have check-in points with parents like you need to call them or text them at a certain time.”

Dr. Scheckner is seeing kids who don’t necessarily want to tell their parents everything. So instead, they have a friend – who is not attending the same event – who they can check in with early and often.

And if there’s trouble, helplines are always available.

“They are very effective, like the crisis hotline in Tampa (Dial 211),” she says.

“I’ll tell you why a lot of people I’ve worked with in the last 15 years have not used it? Embarrassment.”

Dr. Scheckner says you should never blame yourself in a situation like this.

There is help if you are ever concerned about a situation you may not be comfortable with.

Call 211 for the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

Or you can contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline with the following information:
• By phone: 1-888-373-7888
• By email: help@humantraffickinghotline.org
• By text: text HELP to 233733 (BEFREE)
• Online chat: www.humantraffickinghotline.org