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Discount Diva: No, that person following you at Walmart is not a sex trafficker

The latest encounter burning up Facebook happened at Walmart in North Tonawanda. A mom was shopping when two strange women invited her to come outside with them for a free Bible. When she declined, they followed her around the store without buying anything. She was “saved” by a friend who walked her out to her car and waited until she, her family and her groceries were locked safely inside.

“She had asked me if I had Facebook and seen anything about the human trafficking going on in our Buffalo Niagara area this last week and I said no," the mom said. "I was then informed women have been going to Walmart, Tops, Wegmans, etc. offering ‘Bible Study Sessions’ in our area for some time and wait until you go to your car to put you in their van and go.”

OK, no.

First of all, that’s not how sex trafficking works. People don’t track you down at the store and lure you into their car. Human trafficking is a grim and evil reality here, according to the Western District of New York Human Trafficking Task Force and Alliance. But its victims are lured, groomed and exploited behind closed doors, not at the supermarket.

Second, if people were regularly being snatched from stores across Buffalo Niagara and thrown into vans to be sold into human slavery, don’t you think you might have heard about it? Read it in the news? Seen some missing persons reports? Something?

I’m not picking on this poor woman from NT. I believe she was approached and I believe she was scared.

But for some reason, every time someone has a creepy encounter while they’re shopping, it gets mixed in with this persistent urban legend and winds up on Facebook as, “I narrowly escaped the snares of human trafficking!” then shared 100 times.

This time it was someone offering free Bibles. Last time it was someone following a woman around the Target store on Walden Avenue without buying anything, then getting in line behind her. Before that, it was someone at Tops asking a woman too many questions, and a guy hanging out by the bicycles at Toys R Us in Amherst.

Listen, I’m not dismissing anyone who has felt threatened or was genuinely in danger. Always trust your gut.

And I’m not saying there aren’t creeps and weirdos hanging out in the toothpaste aisle, some of whom might even want to harm you.

But there simply is no cabal of traffickers targeting local shoppers in stores. I’ve asked the FBI, local law enforcement, Walmart, Tops, Wegmans – just about anyone who might be able to confirm it. It’s just not true.

I didn’t talk to the latest mom, but I’ve tracked down people behind these posts before. They themselves have said no one in law enforcement ever mentioned trafficking. Some have admitted they might have blown things out of proportion.

So can we please stop now?

People share these posts, warning others not to shop alone, saying it’s better to be safe than sorry. But these “warnings” do more harm than good. They spread misinformation, smear the reputations of local stores, and incite fear that distracts consumers from real threats.

I’m all for spreading awareness on social media, but let's just stick to the facts.

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