Human traffickers zip-tie windscreen wipers to abduct women? No, ‘trick’ – if it exists – more likely used by thieves

Human traffickers zip-tie windscreen wipers as a “trick” to abduct women, claims a post shared on Facebook in South Africa.

“My windshield wipers were zip tied together while I was shopping,” the text reads. “Law enforcement let me know that this is a trick human traffickers use and when women struggle trying to remove the ties they are abducted.”

It shows two photos of car windscreen wipers bound together with zip ties, also known as cable ties.

“Be aware of your surroundings and drive somewhere safe with a lot of people around before trying to remove them if this happens to you,” the meme warns.

Human trafficking is the illegal sale of people – like slavery. It’s a trade in people, who are held against their will.

Is this really a human traffickers’ trick that is well known to law enforcement?

No reports, but still remain vigilant

Africa Check asked Brig Vishnu Naidoo, spokesperson for South Africa’s national police commissioner, about the claim.

“No, we have never heard such reports,” he said.

“There are a lot of fake warnings. They prove to be done with malice.”

He added: “All we can say is that people must be very vigilant at all times. But this, what you are saying to me, I have never heard of – never.”

Claim’s origins in Texas, US

The claim seems to have first surfaced in San Angelo, a city in the US state of Texas, in October 2018.

The city’s media and the local police were quick to respond.

On 15 October 2018 the San Angelo Police Department published a statement on viral social media reports on the human trafficking “trick”.

The department, it said, had “not received any reports of human trafficking, kidnappings or attempted kidnappings relating to human trafficking nor have we received any reports of black zip ties being used as a means to mark a target of any type of crime”. 

Distraction used by thieves

In 2019, a similar claim resurfaced, again in Texas, but this time in College Station

On 26 November 2019 this city’s police department also issued a statement on the claim.

“It is extremely unlikely,” they said, that the “trick” was used by human traffickers. If it happened, it was more likely a way for thieves to distract people.

And on 2 December 2019, the Houston-based Texas news station KHOU published an article debunking the claim. 

For more, see US-based fact-checker PolitiFact’s examination of the claim. – Eileen Jahn and Taryn Willows


 

For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false

A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”. What should you do? First, don't delete!

Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.

Publishers guide

Africa Check teams up with Facebook

Africa Check is a partner in Facebook’s third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.

The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.

You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.

Fighting coronavirus misinformation

Africa Check is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers fighting misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic.

Learn more about the alliance here.

© Copyright Africa Check 2020. Read our republishing guidelines. You may reproduce this piece or content from it for the purpose of reporting and/or discussing news and current events. This is subject to: Crediting Africa Check in the byline, keeping all hyperlinks to the sources used and adding this sentence at the end of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website", with a link back to this page.