- Misinformation on social media convinced many users that a text scam claiming to be from the United States Postal Service (USPS) was related to human trafficking.
- Polaris, the agency that operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline, said that there is no evidence linking the phishing scam to human trafficking.
- The Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau also reported that the texts were part of a phishing scheme to gather personal information.
- Polaris said that misinformation about sex trafficking does "more harm than good."
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As a massive phishing text scam went viral — purporting to be from the United States Postal Service (USPS) — some people on social media falsely claimed it was linked to human sex trafficking.
But the text messages have nothing to do with human sex trafficking, according to Polaris, the non-governmental agency that operates the US National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Americans were warned about the phishing scheme by the FTC and Better Business Bureau
The Better Business Bureau and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have also warned Americans about the phishing scheme.
Victims of the scam receive a text message notifying them to click on a link related to a package. The link leads recipients to fill out a customer satisfaction survey which asks for a credit card number, the FTC said. The domain name of the current iteration of this scam is based outside the US, according to the fraud prevention site Scam Detector.
Phishing scams are fraudulent schemes meant to gather personal information by sending messages that seem legitimate through private channels like email or text. They often involve collecting credit card numbers and using links that include malware to infect the recipient's device.
There is no proof that the scam is linked to human trafficking
At press time, Insider could not identify the original source of the theory, but Polaris said in an August 27 statement that the agency had received several reports about the text scam.
The agency confirmed that "none of this information came from anyone who claimed to have actual knowledge of this scheme, or to be concerned about a particular missing person."
Instagram user @gialure, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, posted about the scam on September 1. The post, which has more than 68,000 likes and 3,700 comments as of Monday morning, claimed that this phishing scam is a "sex trafficking method," and that opening the link in the text message allows the sender to track your location.
View this post on Instagram
LADIES PLEASE READ AND SHARE THIS IMPORTANT MESSAGE!!!! i have never really posted about stuff like this on social media before, but i felt the need to share some recent information i have learned about a very serious issue. i hope using my voice to speak up and share my experience will encourage others to do as well!!! sex trafficking is a very scary act. many people, especially females of all ages are targeted toward this issue. sex offenders use methods and strategies to lure innocent people into serious dangers that can cause them to lose their life in the blink of an eye. there is a new sex trafficking method where you will receive a text message saying that there was an issue with a package that you have purchased. whether the “problem” is your packaged has been lost,damaged,etc. the message will send you to a link to “track your package”, and apparently once you open the link your location will begin to be immediately tracked. this morning i received a text message from an unknown number saying something exactly like what i just explained. *swipe to see the text message* if you receive a message similar to this please delete it IMMEDIATELY and DO NOT CLICK ON THE LINK! the craziest part is i was sitting at the dinner table with my mom LAST NIGHT talking about this new sex trafficking method. if i had not known about this i most likely would have clicked on that link unknowing i could’ve potentially put myself in serious danger. LADIES!!! whatever you do PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE BE CAREFUL! each and every one of you are SO loved and SO worthy! you deserve the world and don’t let one little text potentially risk your life you are so worth living. PLEASE SHARE AND SPREAD THE WORD! 💖💖 #sextrafficking #sextraffickingawareness
In the two weeks since that Instagram post, several Facebook and Instagram users have continued to post screenshots of the USPS phishing texts and repeated the false claim that they're part of a sex trafficking scheme.
Misinformation about sex trafficking does 'more harm than good'
In its statement debunking the conspiracy theory, Polaris said that misinformation about sex trafficking does "more harm than good," and included resources for how people can better identify real issues related to sex trafficking.
"Handling a surge of concern over viral social media posts makes it far more difficult for the Trafficking Hotline to handle other reports in a timely manner and might result in wait times for people who have a limited window of opportunity to reach out safely," the agency said.
The theory echoes the debunked Wayfair conspiracy theory, which spread to seemingly every corner of the internet in July, falsely alleging that the furniture retailer Wayfair was selling human children under the guise of furniture and decor on their website.
The Wayfair theory became so widespread that Polaris said the deluge of calls about Wayfair clogged up the National Human Trafficking Hotline and made the agency's work more difficult.
Despite its spread within mainstream Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram communities, the theory originated with a follower of the QAnon conspiracy theory.
QAnon is centered on the notion that an evil cabal of elite figures secretly control the government, the media, and other sectors of the country, and President Trump is working to defeat this cabal. Originally based on the 2016 Pizzagate conspiracy theory, QAnon devotees believe that this so-called cabal is involved with child sex trafficking.
As QAnon becomes increasingly mainstream, unfounded fears of sex trafficking are spreading like wildfire on social media.
QAnon followers have spread numerous false theories and some have been the subject of criminal allegations, including two killings and an attempted kidnapping.
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