State police warn about sex trafficking misinformation online

 Photo of viral false warning shared on Twitter and Facebook
Photo of viral false warning shared on Twitter and Facebook (WILX)
Published: Sep. 25, 2019 at 6:02 PM EDT
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Michigan State Police are warning about misinformation on social media. You may have seen the viral post warning about a zip tie sex trafficking trap.

It all started with a photo of a car on Facebook with a zip tie around the side mirror.

“It's essentially like an urban legend or a scare-lore. The whole idea of the intent is just to scare people,” said Lt. Brian Oleksyk.

Oleksyk says sex traffickers are not leaving zip ties on cars.

“There’ve been other hoaxes that have been proven false like a flannel shirt on a windshield of a car or a specific parking lot of a shopping mall is grounds for sex-trafficking,” said Oleksyk.

Oleksyk says sex traffickers aren’t warning victims at all.

“Sex trafficking is a major threat here in Michigan and in the Mid-Michigan area but this is not how it’s done. Most of the time for traffickers they are using a computer online or it’s somebody they already know from a previous relationship or a peer to peer. Very rare is it for them to prey on a stranger,” said Oleksyk.

He says misinformation posts like these are so dangerous because they make finding actual criminals harder.

“It slows us down from investigating real crimes. We have to prove that it’s a false hoax and its got no material to it,” said Oleksyk.

It also makes it harder to help survivors of sex trafficking and harder to inform the public.

“It’s frustrating because then the message gets really muddy and then we go back to almost square one trying to educate the public on what really is happening out there and what you really should look for,” said Shari Montgomery, Founder and Executive Director of The House of Promise.

Montgomery says her organization has already helped 16 survivors.

“Go to the source of people who have the knowledge of what these girls are going through,” said Montgomery. “We have the experience. That’s your best way. Don’t always just believe things that you’re seeing on Facebook or because it is-it gets way blown out of proportion.”

Before sharing warnings on social media, police suggest verifying the information is true and checking the source.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline estimates there have been 1,504 reported cases of human trafficking in Michigan from 2007 to 2018, the majority of them were sex trafficking.

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