Fact Check

Does a Water Bottle on Your Car Hood Mean You Are in Danger?

Traffickers are too smart to try to snatch unwitting victims from grocery store parking lots and city parks.

Published Feb. 15, 2021

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Finding a water bottle on the hood of your car indicates you are in danger of abduction.

In February 2021, Omaha radio station KFAB posted an article headlined "If You Find a Water Bottle on Your Car, Drive Away -- You Might Be in Danger." That article warned readers that a motorist's discovering a water bottle on a car's hood was a potential indicator the driver was being targeted by abductors:

This is a tactic used by traffickers and kidnappers to get you to exit your vehicle and take whatever is on top of the car off. If you have this happen and something is on the hood of your car when you come back to it, leave it there, drive away it'll fall off on its own.

As usual with rumors of this ilk, no evidence was offered that the presented scenario had ever occurred at all, much less was a common form of crime. The entire report was based on a TikTok video by a woman who said she had a random encounter with a stranger acting oddly around her car in a mall parking lot, later found a water bottle on the hood of her vehicle, and posited (based on nothing) that these two things were somehow related in a way that should be concerning to viewers:

Like so many other examples of spurious crime warnings we've examined over the years, this one postulates an inefficient and implausible scheme for abductions perpetrated by kidnappers and human traffickers.

For starters, the would-be malefactor would need to case public parking lots, wait for a car driven by a single female to park, place a water bottle on the car hood after the driver was out of sight, furtively stake out the area and wait for the driver to return to her vehicle (without having any idea when that might happen), and then hope that the putative victim both didn't notice the bottle until after entering her car and promptly exited her car again to remove the container from her hood before driving off. Not a terribly efficient procedure.

As well, this approach makes little sense as a stratagem for carrying out abductions. If a criminal wanted to snatch a person from a parking lot, they would gain no advantage in allowing that person to enter her vehicle and then luring her back out again. Far better to grab the victim before she can unlock her car door, before she can start the engine, before she can release the vehicle's parking brake, before she can put the car in gear, before she can pull out her cell phone, and before she can do anything else that might help her escape. Trying to trick someone into getting out of their vehicle after they've had the opportunity to take one or more of these actions would only be useful if the criminal's intent were to make off with the car itself rather than its driver. (And even if stealing the vehicle were the real motive, car thefts tend to be much more crimes of opportunity than of the type of patient plotting outlined here.)

Moreover, as we frequently note about related warnings, the plot described above isn't representative of how human traffickers generally work. Rather than indiscriminately grabbing victims from public places, they employ other means for luring or coercing their targets into their fold. According to the Montgomery Advertiser:

[E]xperts say these stories — young girls snatched from their mothers in broad daylight, stalked in crowded supermarkets and kidnapped across the U.S. border — aren’t true.

And worse, spreading them can hurt, not help, efforts to dismantle human trafficking.

Traffickers are too smart to try to snatch unwitting victims from grocery store parking lots and city parks, authorities say, despite urban legends that continue to circulate on social media. Though there are some cases of kidnapping in human trafficking operations, they are relatively rare. Some victims are coerced or forced into trafficking through familial or romantic relationships ... Tuscaloosa Police Department Lt. Darren Beams said he's encountered victims who were promised money for college from a part-time job, only to become trapped in a trafficking ring. Victims most at risk [are] those without familial or community resources to turn to, or those fearful of authorities.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994 as a creative outgrowth of his wide-ranging interests in a variety of subjects (particularly folklo ... read more