TikTok users have been sharing a widely-debunked theory that kidnappers tie string to car door handles in an attempt to kidnap vulnerable women.
An American TikToker named Shannon, 20, recently shared a video online after she left a shopping center’s parking lot after noticing two cars that had pieces of string wrapped around the door handles.
Her TikTok video of the incident has gone viral, being viewed over 20 million times — including by a man named Reece who claimed that this was a tactic used by criminals to kidnap vulnerable women.
However the theory has been widely debunked over the years, with authorities branding the claims ‘ridiculous’ in 2019.
TikTok users have been sharing a widely-debunked theory that kidnappers tie string to car door handles in an attempt to kidnap vulnerable women
One clip claiming to show the tactic being used in a supermarket has gained thousands of views online
Shannon’s video was filmed from the front seat of her car, where she noticed that another nearby car had a piece of wire wrapped around the driver’s side door handle.
‘WTF is this a joke? Somebody better not get kidnapped,’ she wrote.
She soon noticed another car with a similar piece of wire, also on the driver’s side door handle.
‘We found a second one. I’m getting out of here,’ she wrote.
Careful! The video left many wondering why this was a clue that danger might be nearby, and fellow TikTok user Reece soon chimed in with his own viral video to explain
Scary: He said that wrapping things around the handles gets people to stop before getting in their car, leaving an opening for criminals
Is tying something onto a car door really a tactic used by criminals?
The idea that criminals and kidnappers tie something around a person’s car door handle in order to distract them and keep them out of their vehicle has long been warned against on social media.
It started in 2015 when Facebook users began warning that sex traffickers would use the trick to kidnap women.
However according to the Poynter Insitute, local police in a Canadian city where the post originated said there had been no reports of sex traffickers using the zip-tie contraption in the post.
Meanwhile the site also reported nonprofit organizations combatting human trafficking said the zip-tie method had not been identified as a trend.
At the time the FBI declined to comment on whether it was a method that they were investigating, or even aware of in the US.
In December 2019, local police departments in Texas and Michigan reassured residents that they had not received any complaints of zip ties being attached to cars, following a host of social media warnings, however neither department confirmed or denied whether the tactic was legitimate.
Celia Williamson, director of the Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute at the University of Toledo in Ohio, called the claims ‘ridiculous’, however no authorities have commented on the wider use of the tactic among other criminal groups.
The video left many wondering why this was a clue that danger might be nearby, and fellow TikTok user Reece soon chimed in with his own viral video to explain.
‘What you see on her car handle right there is wire,’ he says. ‘It can come in all different forms, but the reason people use wire is because it will distract you for longer.
‘It takes you a long time to get it off, and even if you had wire cutters, it’ll still take you a minute,’ he explains.
‘If you ever see this on your car, do not approach your car alone. I cannot stress that enough.
‘The best thing you can do in that situation is go back to wherever you were that was the most populated and grab somebody to escort you to your car. And best case scenario, multiple people.
‘Just know it’s not a good sign and just please stay safe.
‘Tactics like this are being used in the US prominently but in the UK as well, where people will put stuff on your car to distract you for that split second, so they can grab you before you get into your car,’ he says in another video.
He notes that other items can be used as well, including things slipped under windscreen wipers and placed on the hood.
Scary: In a viral TikTok video, Haley West from Cincinnati explained how she walked away and hid from a suspicious man who approached her in a parking lot
That’s strange… When she was sure he was gone, she returned to her car and noticed this water bottle sitting on her hood
Earlier this year, Haley West from Cincinnati, Ohio, shared a TikTok video claiming a potential kidnapper had tried a similar tactic.
In a viral TikTok video, Haley spoke from her car while leaving a supermarket parking lot.
‘I’m literally shaking right now the weirdest s**t just happened to me,’ she said.
‘I’m leaving Fresh Thyme and I’m parked in this big parking lot. This guy was walking like kind of close to me, kind of not, but you could tell he was, like, staring at me while he was walking, and he yells over to me like, ‘Hey what’s your name?”
‘I just ignored him and I kept walking and he just kept following me,’ she went on.
‘This man walks right up to my car and he’s like, ‘Come check out my car, it’s nice, it’s a Lexus, you like it?” Like it’s my car!
‘Though, I didn’t react to that, because that would have given away that it’s my car, although I think he already knows.
‘I just wanted to say be aware of your surroundings at all times, especially if you’re a woman, be careful out there,’ she said
‘I then went across the street to this TJ Maxx,’ she said. ‘I got help, I made sure he wasn’t still out here.’
Back in her car, however, she noticed a water bottle sitting on her hood.
‘I don’t want that to correlate but that’s never happened to me. I just wanted to say be aware of your surroundings at all times, especially if you’re a woman, be careful out there,’ she concluded.
Her video soon went viral, and caught the attention of another TikToker named Elle — who said she had every right to be scared.
‘[Haley] was followed by a man and then when she came back to her vehicle after seeking out help a water bottle was left on the hood of her car,’ Elle said.
‘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,’ she went on.
Creepy: Another TikToker named Elle confirmed that this is a tactic that traffickers use to get people to get out of their cars
‘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,’ she warned.
Elle added that traffickers can also put GPS trackers on the bottom of a person’s car — so anyone feeling ‘extremely threatened’ shouldn’t drive home, but rather to a police station or auto body shop where someone can check for a tracker.
‘Traffickers don’t care how old you are, they don’t care what you’re wearing they don’t care about your size, if they want you, they’ll try to get you,’ she said.
‘Always be aware of your surroundings, try to go shop with a friend I know it’s hard during COVID, keep pepper spray or protective device on you. Please stay safe.’