Baltimore, MD – Baltimore Mayor Jack Young is urging residents to watch out for white vans being used to kidnap girls for their body parts or human trafficking operations, but the city’s police force said they’ve received no such reports.
"We're getting reports of somebody in a white van trying to snatch up young girls for human trafficking and for selling body parts, I'm told,” Young told WBAL on Monday. “So, we have to really be careful, because there's so much evil going on, not just in the city of Baltimore, but around the country.”
Young said he had not received that information from police, but noted that “citizens” were talking about it on social media.
“It’s all over Facebook,” the mayor told WBAL. “That’s something our police officers are aware of because, you know, it’s been reported.”
The Baltimore Police Department (BPD) said they have seen widely-circulated rumors of alleged abductions on social media, but that no actual kidnappings have been reported, according to WBAL.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also said they have not received any reports of people in white vans abducting women, WBAL reported.
Young urged citizens to be on high alert for the suspicious vans to avoid becoming victims.
"Don't park near a white van,” he instructed during the WBAL interview. “Make sure that you look at your surroundings and make sure you keep your cellphone in case somebody tries to abduct you and call 911 right away.”
Facebook has propelled rumors about men in white vans kidnapping women across the country in recent weeks, but there is no evidence that these alleged abductions have actually been occurring, CNN reported.
The unsubstantiated reports have been shared hundreds of thousands of times on social media, resulting in potentially millions of views, according to CNN.
Baltimore City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, co-chair of the city’s Human Trafficking Collaborative, said that kidnappers rarely abduct victims in the way Young was describing.
"While it's important that we do raise awareness of human trafficking, I would note that rarely are people snatched as you may see in film or may see on social media," Burnett told WBAL. “Traffickers typically use coercive tactics, whether that be relationships or drugs or resources, like housing. They prey on the vulnerabilities of victims."
Burnett noted that Baltimore “is a hotbed of human trafficking,” and said that it is important citizens understand what to look for, CNN reported.
“We need to make sure accurate information is out there,” the councilman added.
"Traffickers have many tactics that may include trying to befriend or date their victims first, offering shelter, money or food to young people not used to kindness,” Burnett told FOX News. “Parents should be aware of their children's social media and cell phone activities, and should pay close attention to older romantic partners or their children having new clothes, hairstyles, tattoos or nails that the parents themselves didn’t pay for.”
Facebook said it employs third-party fact-checkers to help slow the spread of false information, but those efforts cannot correct damage that has already been done, CNN reported.
Young’s spokesperson, Lester Davis, said that the mayor’s comments were intended to encourage people to report suspicious activity, even if they aren’t sure anything criminal occurred, The Baltimore Sun reported.
“When citizens hear about things alleged to have taken place, the mayor wants to encourage them to reach out to the police and let the police do their job, which is to investigate claims,” Davis told the paper.