Online store Wayfair received viral internet attention after a July 9 2020 Reddit r/conspiracy thread, which posited that bizarrely-priced, boring utility cabinets on the site were not just overpriced furniture or some kind of error, but instead evidence that the company is actually a child trafficking front:
On Reddit’s r/conspiracy
In a thread titled “Is it possible Wayfair involved in Human trafficking with their WFX Utility collection? Or are these just extremely overpriced cabinets? (Note the names of the cabinets) this makes me sick to my stomach if it’s true :(,” u/PrincessPeach1987 shared an iPhone screenshot of four Wayfair items, all utility cabinets.
The listings were as follows:
- Neriah Storage Cabinet by WFX Utility™, $14,499.99;
- Yaritza Storage Cabinet by WFX Utility™, $13,799.99;
- Alyvia Storage Cabinet by WFX Utility™, $12,699.99;
- Samiyah 5 -Shelf Storage cabinet by WFX Utility™, $12,899.99.
On Facebook, Twitter, and 4Chan
That post included information from various sources as the rumors spread, in the form of 25 screenshots. The first screenshot was a tweet by @UnicornPlushy, a user who tweeted at length as more social readers became interested in the conspiracy theory. The tweet was published at 11:24 AM on July 9 2020:
Another comment on the thread initially said that Wayfair’s Canadian site had no such offerings, later replying that they had spoken “too soon” and appending a screen recording of a number of similar, very expensive utility cabinets:
Still more people quickly began archiving the strange product pages, in the event that Wayfair deleted the listings:
And others chimed in with screenshots of another strangely expensive set of items — throw pillows, typically priced under $50, which bore feminine names and five-digit price tags. Another found a vase that cost as much as a house:
A listing for the vase priced at $196,999.99 with a SKU of RXK10587 was live on July 10 2020; we have archived it here. Some commenters were skeptical of the claim, querying whether human traffickers would ship children to random people shopping on the internet:
Accounts across Twitter shared images of purported listings for items that shared two traits — a feminine name for the object, and what appeared to be an inexplicably high price tag on exceedingly ordinary merchandise:
Yet another screen recording shared by podcaster @TommyG proved popular. It included a claim that the uniquely named cabinets matched the names of some children who had disappeared in the previous year:
Threads on 4Chan’s notoriously offensive /pol/ (here and here, archived here and here) involved discourse regarding the general subject of human trafficking, alongside a slightly less salacious explanation from a few anonymous users — general money laundering (or money laundering in the process of human trafficking):
Money laundering. Perhaps they are selling drugs but it’s unlikely.
they probably make arrangements outside of the website and thats just where they show their wares and launder the payments
However as anon said above, $10k for a child is actually low compared to what we know the blackmarket value roughly is. It’s probably just a way to help launder the money. There will probably be other hidden items on the internet somewhere, and the purchaser will have to “buy” say 5 of these items. If 50k goes straight into a bank account randomly, that will alert the bank staff.
Newsweek explained a part of the rumors, which involved using the Russian search engine Yandex, searching the items SKUs and purportedly locating images of minor children:
Supporters of the theory have also urged skeptics to use a Russian search engine to search for the stock keeping unit number (SKU) associated with various Wayfair products, which returns image results full of children in bathing suits. However, none of the SKU searches return images of a single child, which would seem to run counter to the implication that the Wayfair SKUs secretly provide data regarding the specific child to be purchased. In addition: following the search engine instructions with any random string of numbers returns the exact same results.
Meme encyclopedia KnowYourMeme maintains an evolving entry on the rumors.
u/PrincessPeach1987 Explains Their Motivation
Newsweek contacted u/PrincessPeach1987 about the viral rumor, who provided some background:
In chat conversations with Newsweek, PrincessPeach1987 described seeking out garage storage with their husband when they came across the expensive cabinet listings. While they at first surmised that they may have stumbled across unlisted drop shipping sales, Facebook posts also suspicious of the pricey listings made them more inclined to listen to their suspicions that there may be something more to the listings.
PrincessPeach1987, who declined to reveal their non-redditor identity, described themselves as “involved in a local organization that helps victims of human trafficking,” which has led her to be “suspicious most of the time now.” They characterized their Reddit post as less of a direct accusation and more of an effort to “see if anyone else had more details.”
An Earlier Iteration
The previous month, in June 2020, a QAnon supporter shared a nascent version of the conspiracy on Twitter; that iteration was shared several hundred times but did not take off in the manner that the r/conspiracy version did nearly a month later:
Wayfair Acknowledges the Listings in a Statement
Just after 2PM on July 10 2020, a Fox reporter shared a statement obtained from Wayfair, which addressed the incongruous pricing as well as the removal of some of the listings:
In July 2020, a post on r/conspiracy posited that a series of often identical and bizarrely priced items sold by Wayfair represented an out-in-the-open child trafficking scheme; some commenters posited that the incongruous price tags possibly alluded to generalized money laundering. Wayfair issued a statement maintaining that there was “no truth” to the claims, and added that the cabinets were accurately priced. The company added, however, that they had “temporarily removed the products” from their site, because the cabinets’ supplier “did not adequately explain the high price point.” Although users maintained an investigation of some sort had been initiated, we found no evidence that any official agencies were investigating Wayfair over the conspiracy theory and associate rumors.
Update, July 23 2020, 3:11 PM: On July 20 2020, the Polaris Project (a non-profit aimed at ending human trafficking) issued a statement about the Wayfair trafficking conspiracy, and how the viral claim disrupted the group’s ongoing efforts:
The statement read:
WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 20, 2020) – Over the past several days [in mid-July 2020,] the National Human Trafficking Hotline has received hundreds of reports that reference a series of viral posts claiming online retailer Wayfair has been involved in a complex scheme involving sex trafficking of children. While Polaris treats all calls to the Trafficking Hotline seriously, the extreme volume of these contacts has made it more difficult for the Trafficking Hotline to provide support and attention to others who are in need of help.
The Trafficking Hotline connects victims and survivors of sex and labor trafficking to services and supports that allow them to get help and stay safe. The Trafficking Hotline is not a law enforcement agency but does collaborate with law enforcement as appropriate. Our role in situations like this is to provide information for potential investigation to other agencies as warranted.
All contact with the Trafficking Hotline is confidential. What we can say is that none of the reports we have received involving Wayfair contained any information beyond what has been widely shared online. Nor have any of these reports been made by someone who has a specific connection to any alleged missing children.
We deeply appreciate those members of the public who have contacted the Trafficking Hotline out of heartfelt concern. In the vast majority of situations, the people in the best position to identify trafficking are victims and survivors themselves and the people who know them. This may be friends or family members, teachers, but may also be people who have some information but are not necessarily close to the situation.
We strongly encourage everyone to learn more about what human trafficking really looks like in most situations, and about how you can help fight trafficking in your own community.
For more information or questions please contact [email protected]. People can be connected to help or report a tip of suspected human trafficking by calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, texting “BeFree” (233733), or chatting at humantraffickinghotline.org.
In the statement, Polaris explained that viral interest overburdened the group’s resources, and “made it more difficult” to identify and assist individuals “who are in need of help.” Polaris also urged those concerned about trafficking to take a moment and read their page titled “Recognizing Human Trafficking.”