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Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman November 15, 2019

No, sex traffickers aren’t using zip ties to mark victims or abduct women

Viral posts on Facebook are warning women to be wary if they find a zip tie attached to their vehicles. 

The posts – like this one – claim that sex traffickers are leaving zip ties on cars (and sometimes mailboxes and fences) to either mark targets or to distract and kidnap women when they try to remove the ties.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

While human trafficking is a very real threat that impacts millions of people around the world – and it’s possible someone has anecdotal evidence of a sex trafficker leaving zip ties – this is not a widespread tactic to mark or kidnap victims.

The hoax appears to have originated in October 2018 after social media posts said the method was being used by traffickers in San Angelo, Texas.

Local news outlets reported that the San Angelo Police Department started to receive several phone calls about the rumor after posts on social media went viral. 

The agency addressed the posts in a news release and noted the department hadn’t received any reports of "human trafficking, kidnappings or attempted kidnappings relating to human trafficking." The release also stated there were no reports of zip ties being used as a means to mark a target of any type of crime.

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They added that the women who made the original post was not the owner of the vehicle in the photo, and that she simply used the image and copied and pasted the warning to alert other women.

When we searched news archives for any reports of zip ties being used by sex traffickers, we found numerous instances in which law enforcement reported such ties had been employed by perpetrators to bind victims. But we did not locate any legitimate mentions of the zip ties being used as a way to target or distract people. 

Ayan Ahmed is a spokesperson with the Polaris Project, a nonprofit organization that works to combat and prevent modern-day slavery and human trafficking. She provided PolitiFact with a statement from the organization that read that most human traffickers lure victims using psychological means such as tricking, defrauding, manipulating or threatening. Survivors often report being trafficked by people they know. Stranger abduction is less common, the statement said.

Polaris encourages people to educate themselves and others about the realities of human trafficking. But the organization’s advocates "strongly caution against spreading stories with potentially misleading information about human trafficking recruitment tactics as they may ultimately cause more harm than good." 

Polaris recommends anyone who wants to report or seek services related to a case of human trafficking, to contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or email [email protected].

It’s important that people remain vigilant and aware of their surroundings, but this post amounts to an unverified, alarmist warning.

We rate it False. 

Our Sources

Facebook post, Sept. 24, 2019 

Facebook post, Nov. 12, 2019

International Labour Organization, Forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking, September 2017

The Polaris Project, Sex Trafficking, Accessed Nov. 13, 2019

Go San Angelo, Zip ties on cars not linked to sex trafficking, police said, Oct. 15, 2018

Snopes, Are Sex Traffickers Leaving Zip Ties on Cars, Mailboxes of Potential Victims?, July 29, 2019

Toledo Blade, Fact check: Sex traffickers are not using zip ties to mark victims, Oct. 2, 2019

San Angelo Police Department news release, Oct. 15, 2018 

Email interview, Ayan Ahmed spokesperson at the Polaris Project, Nov. 13-14, 2019

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No, sex traffickers aren’t using zip ties to mark victims or abduct women

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