July 13, 2020 / 6:45 PM / 10 days ago

Fact check: No evidence linking Wayfair to human trafficking operation

Correction July 23, 2020: An earlier version of this check stated that according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, nearly 800,000 children are reported missing each year. This estimated figure was actually from National Incident Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, or Thrownaway Children and related to 1999 data. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children states that 421,394 missing person records for under 18s were entered into the NCIC database in 2019. This figure replaces 800,000 in paragraph 11.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

Viral images and posts circulated by social media users make a series of extreme claims linking Wayfair, an e-shopping home retailer to an alleged human trafficking operation. These claims are false and fueled by conspiracy theories.

The theory went viral after it emerged on the r/conspiracy section of Reddit on July 9 ( here ), with an allegation that the very high prices of several furniture items listed on Wayfair’s marketplace and their peculiar names were the evidence of a child trafficking operation. By Friday July 10, the topic was trending on Twitter in the U.S.

One post on Twitter, for example, said that social media users were suspecting that Wayfair was selling people in cabinets, given the price range and the fact that the items had “all female names”, some of them matching the names of reportedly missing persons ( here ). Other examples of the claim are visible here , here and here .

ITEM PRICING

In most iterations of this claim, the very high price of Wayfair’s items provided social media users with reason for suspicion. The posts point to a series of items, including cabinets and pillows, listed for sale in a range of ten to fifteen thousand dollars.

Wayfair provided Reuters with the following statement, denying the allegations levied against the company and clarifying some of the reasons behind their pricing: “There is, of course, no truth to these claims. The products in question are industrial grade cabinets that are accurately priced. Recognizing that the photos and descriptions provided by the supplier did not adequately explain the high price point, we have temporarily removed the products from site to rename them and to provide a more in-depth description and photos that accurately depict the product to clarify the price point.”

While this price range is unusual for Wayfair’s home use items, the company also sells larger items for business and commercial use. Wayfair told Reuters by phone that the higher pricing reflects the larger sizing for these items as well as the shipping costs associated for items this big (designed for restaurants, industrial plants, etc).

NAMES

Many instances of the post made the claim that the names of the cabinets coincided with the name of children that had gone missing.

One social media post, for example, suggested that an apparent news report about a missing teenager named Samiyah Mumin was linked to a cabinet named “Samiyah”, with a listed price of $12,899.99 ( here ).

On Facebook, Mumin herself denounced the conspiracy theories for taking attention away from children who are actually missing. “Y’all know how many people is actually missing? Y’all know how many people’s families are out there looking for them?” ( here ) Mumin says in her video she never went missing to begin with.

A spokesperson for Wayfair told Reuters that the company uses an algorithm to name its products. The algorithm uses “first names, geographic locations and common words for naming purposes.”

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) reports on the number of missing children in the U.S. According to NCIC, FBI data shows 421,394 missing person records for under 18s were entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database in 2019. NCMEC told Reuters via email that, “the vast majority of all missing children are recovered quickly and safely.” More information on NCMEC’s work and these statistics is visible here .

It is not uncommon for furniture retailers to name their items with human names ( here ; here ; here ; here ).

ITEM NUMBER SEARCH

Some posts allege that a query into Wayfair’s stock keeping numbers, preceded by the letters SRC USA, on the Russian search engine Yandex ( yandex.com/ ) returned images of young female children in swimsuits.

This appears to be true but, as Newsweek first reported, the search results are always the same with any random string of numbers, disproving a hint to conspiracy ( here ).

Reuters attempts to search for the numbers in the claims as well as random numbers on Friday confirmed Newsweek’s conclusion. As of Monday July 13, Yandex’ algorithm appeared to have filtered out some of these search results showing more random photographs and no longer appearing to show children. Yandex did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment.

VERDICT

False. There is no evidence linking Wayfair to a human trafficking operation.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here

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