On or around 7 March 2016, warnings began circulating in Collin County, Texas about purported “serial kidnappings” that were occurring at local Target and Walmart locations. According to one version of the rumor, the kidnappers first photographed child victims before then loading them into vehicles and shipping them off to other countries:
there has been a serial kidnapping at walmarts and targets in Collin county. These people are taking pictures of your kids and then having a vehicle pull up and kidnap them, then send them to another country.
Rumors of “serial kidnappings” in Collin County were one of several localized trafficking claims to circulate on social media (without much in the way of facts to back them) in 2015 and 2016.
In May 2015, a Facebook user caused a stir with a subsequently viral claim of kidnappers in an Oklahoma Hobby Lobby store; in June 2015, Twitter users circulated tales of sex slavery rings targeting college kids during summer job interviews; in the same month, an old theme park abduction urban legend resurfaced; later that summer, a harrowing tale of purported teenaged assailants drugging teens in the bathroom of a Denton, Texas, Dillards department store proliferated on social sites; then a Hickory, North Carolina woman claimed human trafficking rings were menacing the parking lots of Walmarts in search of new victims; finally, a Long Island Target was briefly cited as the stomping grounds of similar kidnappers in August 2015.
We contacted the Collin County Sheriff’s Office and spoke to several people there, none of whom were aware of even one such kidnapping in the jurisdiction.
As with the prior claims, the rumors were inconsistent with legitimate reports and law enforcement understanding of the mechanics of human trafficking. While users often maintained they were “better safe than sorry,” the warnings often served to spread misinformation about public safety issues, causing unnecessary worry for people in the regions that the rumors were circulating.