BILLINGS — A Montana State University graduate is gamifying the hunt for sex traffickers, officially launching the non-profit Skull Games this year and inviting veterans, law enforcement and intelligence analysts from across the United States to help catch predators.
“My name is Jeff Tiegs. I'm a retired special forces Lt. Colonel and a counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism and now a counter-trafficking expert,” says Tiegs, creator and president of Skull Games, Inc.
Before that, Tiegs was running track and field in Bozeman and getting his degree at MSU in psychology, so it’s perhaps no surprise he’s found a way to turn his passion for catching criminals into a mind sport that gets the community involved.
“This crime sits on the open internet, girls are being sold online like you’d order a pizza. It's right there in front of your eyes if you look for it,” says Tiegs.
So far, nearly 200 volunteers are looking for traffickers on a quarterly basis while participating in Skull Games.
Participants meet in person and virtually and get points for digging up info on bad guys or victims.
“A lot of times we’re left with just a phone number and an alias, but using open source intelligence a lot of times we can identify her, and then the next step is to try to identify a person of interest that is most likely trafficking her or even other victims that she’s associated with,” says Skull Games volunteer and Billings resident Dallas Knight.
Knight is one of those volunteers. She's also a veteran, retired law enforcement, and intelligence expert. She and others work off leads provided by full-time Skull Games staff who scour the darkest depths of the internet. Tiegs says each day in America there are 150,000 new escort ads and 3 million ads selling girls online constantly.
“The gap that our team fills with Skull Games is the lack of resources that law enforcement has to put in the front end work, the investigative work to try to identify pro-actively who’s being exploited,” says Tiegs.
They say the partnership works, packaging up intel and handing it over to local law enforcement.
“Actually, just in the last six months I was able to coordinate with Montana law enforcement and bring those two partnerships together, and we successfully fed them three to five leads that Montana was able to act on,” says Knight.
The mission of Skull Games is to bring predators to justice and return girls and children to freedom.
"I’m completely humbled by it,” says Tiegs. “Everybody shows up and they are working so hard purely out of the goodness of their own hearts.”
Tiegs currently lives in Bend, Ore. He hosts Skull Games in major cities across the United States. Knight has attended Skull Games in Tampa, New Jersey and is headed to New Orleans on Oct. 14 and 15 for the next games.