In keeping with its disinformation roots, a chain email attributed to several law enforcement agencies about a gang plot targeting motorists has been repurposed to further whip up fears over “trafficking.”
Some iterations of the email, which has also spread as a “copypasta” meme on social media, are framed as a first-person account of a faked grisly scene:
While driving on a rural end of the roadway on Thursday morning, I saw an infant car seat on the side of the road with a blanket draped over it. For whatever reason, I did not stop, even though I had all kinds of thoughts running through my head. But when I got to my destination, I called the Police and they were going to check it out. But, this is what the Police advised even before they went out there to check….
“There are several things to be aware of … gangs and thieves are now plotting different ways to get a person (mostly women)to stop their vehicle and get out of the car.
“There is a gang initiation reported by the local Police where gangs are placing a car seat by the road…with a fake baby in it…waiting for a woman, of course, to stop and check on the abandoned baby.
“Note that the location of this car seat is usually beside a wooded or grassy (field) area and the person — woman — will be dragged into the woods, beaten and raped, and usually left for dead. If it’s a man, they’re usually beaten and robbed and maybe left for dead, too.
Some versions include both a lengthier caps-locked rant as part of the warning — “DO NOT STOP FOR ANY REASON!!! DIAL 911 and REPORT WHAT YOU SAW, BUT DON’T EVEN SLOW DOWN” — as well as a photograph purportedly showing one of the traps:
The message and the warning are, of course, designed to gin up fear among the public at large; it is not based on any actual “gang-related” incident. As with similar scams, in the course of being circulated online it has been presented as a message from several different agencies, whether the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, or police departments in locations including Dubuque, Iowa, Walla Walla, Washington, and the Tennessee Department of Corrections, among others. Other variations on the scam have placed the “threat” in Australia and the United Kingdom, showing how malleable these types of hoaxes often are.
They are also often long-lasting; Rolling Stone reported in October 2021 that TikTok creator Paige Marie Parker, who has more than 122,000 followers, posted a video regurgitating the hoax, which by 2021 had evolved into a warning against “sex traffickers”:
“Let’s talk about that right now,” she says. “Because that’s not an ordinary car seat. … That’s actually a trap.” The woman goes on to say it’s a “sex trafficking car seat,” that is being placed as bait by sex traffickers to kidnap and enslave unsuspecting victims.
“If you see a random car seat, please call somebody and please call the hotline and let them know,” the woman concludes, flashing the number for a sex trafficking hotline. “No parent will ever leave a random car seat out there just to be out there. They want you to go up to the car seat and look around while they snatch you really quick.” In a follow-up video, she claimed to have seen the same car seat on the side of the road in her own town, although the car seat in her second video does not look like the car seat in the picture shown in the first.
Parker said she posted the video after spotting “two abandoned car seats” on the side of the road not long after reading a friend’s Facebook re-circulating the original hoax. In her video, she showed a post from police in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, to support her take. But in reality the police were refuting the claim that the seats were being used to target drivers.
“Two customers walked out of Wal-Mart after purchasing a new child car seat,” the department said. “An older seat was removed from their car and placed on the ground and the new child seat was installed. The customers then left the parking lot leaving the old child seat behind on the ground. At no time was this incident deemed to be involved in any criminal activity.”
Despite her claim being debunked and refuted, Parker refused to take the video down.
“I still feel that there is something going on in our society,” she told the magazine. “And because the post went viral, I believe that many people feel the same way. There are other videos and pictures of strange activities that have been posted on Facebook and TikTok. It’s not just me who believes that.”
And as recently as June 2022, yet another version of the story was framed as “a message from the Office of the Attorney General [of the] state of Michigan,” Dana Nessel.
“To be clear, the information contained in the post did not come from the Department of Attorney General,” Nessel said in a statement. “This is a reminder that you should scrutinize posts you see on social media before sharing them to your networks.”
Update 9/14/2022, 2:05 p.m. PST: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here. — ag