Friday Foofaraw: March 31, 2017

I was digging around Snopes earlier today and found my way into the bizarre world of what they call ‘scarelore’: email forwards and Facebook posts which portray a certain criminal threat and offer handy tips for how to identify or avoid it. The vast majority of these are really alarmist and display a critical lack of awareness as to how actual criminals operate. This is particularly true in ‘near miss’ cases of supposed ‘human trafficking’ which are alleged to occur in big-box stores like Walmart, Target, and Ikea.

There are a ton of these, and for some reason, they seem to follow distinguishable trends; there was an upswing in 2011 and then another big one in 2015. In most of these accounts, nothing ever actually happens; the ‘victim’ (usually a mother, alone with one or more kids) simply notices someone nearby who seems to be looking at her, and proceeds to invent a surprisingly elaborate child-kidnapping scheme based on whatever people and circumstances happen to be around.

The narratives are all quite similar, and they persist despite the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a scrap of truth to any of them. One possible explanation for this is that people are told to be ‘on guard’ whenever they encounter an extremely vaguely defined scenario (that is, “someone acting weird in public”, which I personally observe somewhere around 99-100% of the time I go out in public) and come to believe that they have ‘narrowly avoided’ a dangerous criminal. No matter how many times people hear that this kind of thing (that is, being forcibly kidnapped in broad daylight out of an extremely busy store) is rare to the point of practically just not happening, the broad phrasing means that pretty much everybody will go through a ‘near miss’ (as defined) on, like, a monthly basis, if not more. The cumulative effect, so the theory goes, is that people wind up believing that if they’ve ‘dodged’ a Walmart kidnapping six times this week, it must really be happening to somebody somewhere. Except it isn’t.

(Human trafficking is a real thing, of course, but victims are primarily prostitutes, serious drug addicts, undocumented immigrants and the homeless (people who can drop off the grid without many questions being asked). Traffickers don’t have to risk exposure by devising intricately coordinated plots to abscond from a Target with suburban housewives.)

But enough psycho-babble. Let’s dive into the unseemly and unnecessarily-complicated world of greasy criminals who:

Offer summer jobs to people and then kidnap them when they show up for the interview

Shop near you in a Hobby Lobby and then get in the checkout line behind you but don’t speak to you or approach you in any way

Run up and inject you with an unknown, lethal poison so they can snatch your purse

Accept your freely-offered help in loading their vehicles

Leave hundred-dollar bills hanging on random people’s windshields so they can snatch you when you get out of your car to pick them up

Invite you to sniff a perfume which is actually ether, so that you’ll pass out instantly (because that’s apparently how ether works) and they can then presumably pick up your lifeless body and walk out of the store with you over their shoulder without anybody thinking to notify the authorities

Shop in an Ikea at the same time as you, and perhaps insidiously stand near an exit while doing so

Mistakenly think you have a period stain on your clothes and offer you a sweatshirt to tie around your waist

Be a child, and try to make friends with another child, while appearing nervous around the adult accompanying said child

Try to offer you a free sample of something they’re selling in the store you’re visiting

And there are many, many more. I’m not sure what the takeaway is from this, aside from a series of object lessons in the 21st century’s generalized, unfounded paranoia and fear of the other, which will eventually demolish human civilization as we increasingly come to regard every single interaction we have with strangers as an attempted crime. Enjoy your weekend!

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