A few clicks on sites like backpage.com prove how easy it is to find massages in South Florida – and also how easy it is to find a parlor that will provide extra services.
And experts say places that promise exotic Asian or “Oriental” body rubs could be holding victims against their will.
“Those are places that are actually being checked for human trafficking, things like that, where they actually pull people in actually, and a lot of those places are not licensed,” said John Romano, who teaches massage therapy classes at Everest University.
That is why Romano got together with other members of the Florida State Massage Therapy Association to help put the bad operators away, working with Fort Lauderdale Police by reporting parlors they suspect are being run illegally. They have even teamed up with the FBI, helping it investigate more serious cases.
The local committee has already reported 60 potential phony parlors and helped bust a few.
“For those of us who actually are licensed, they give us a bad reputation,” Romano said.
But it is not just the sleazy massage parlors that pose a threat to licensed massage therapists.
"There's a lot of unlicensed people that think if I just give them a body rub that's OK, because that's just as illegal as the prostitution,” Romano said, but one wrong move in many sensitive areas of the body could be fatal, he noted.
Florida requires massage therapists to earn at least 500 hours of experience and to take a national board examination before applying for a license. Becoming certified could cost up between $10,000 and $20,000, so there is a lot at stake.
"(For those) that are legitimately trying to make a living out there, it’s taking away from their livelihood, and what they can actually do to help people,” Romano said.
A few tips for spotting phonies: Massage parlors are required by law to post their establishment number on the front of their shops. If you spot one, make sure to plug the license number into the Florida Department of Health’s license verification link. That way you can check to make sure the license is current and if there are any complaints.