When 19-year-old Ashley Hardacre left a late shift at the mall Saturday night, she expected a routine walk out into the parking lot with her co-workers to stay safe and then a quiet drive home.
But when the Michigan woman got to her car, she found what she feared was a trap.
“I got to my car and locked the doors behind me immediately as I always do and noticed that there was a blue flannel shirt on my windshield,” she wrote later that night on Facebook. “There were two cars near me and one was running so I immediately felt uneasy and knew I couldn't get out to get it off.
“I had seen posts lately about people finding things under their windshield wipers in the burton/Flint area as an attempt to get girls out of their cars and distracted,” she continued. “Luckily I knew better than to remove the shirt with cars around me so I drove over to a place where I was safe and quickly rolled down my window and got the shirt off.”
Hardacre wrote that she planned to inform security at the mall about what had happened, and speculated that the way the shirt had been attached to her wiper was intentional.
“It definitely frightened me a bit,” she added.
Several news stories noted Hardacre’s post, which quickly went viral. But it’s not the first time people have suspected strange items left under their windshield wipers. In July last year, a Wisconsin woman wrote that her mother had discovered a fancy jeweled ring on her windshield right after her car was approached by another in an otherwise empty parking lot.
“This is exactly how human trafficking and abductions take place,” Savannah Nguyen wrote in the now-removed post. “They probably watched her get out of her car and placed it on her window and waited for her to come back.”
The local police department wrote shortly afterward that they were investigating the post and that “it is possible the person responsible had ill intents,” though the police chief told WLUK that the department had no evidence linking the ring to a sex trafficking attempt.
According to Snopes, the tactic of leaving items on people’s windshields also “makes little sense in this context,” noting that “human traffickers are far more likely to recruit victims by attempting to establish relationships” rather than abducting them from parking lots.
The rumor-debunking site also noted that the narratives of items left on windshields presented “more risk and smaller chances of success for opportunistic criminals,” calling them more likely “garden variety scams.”
In Hardacre’s case, Flint Township Police Detective Sergeant Brad Wangler told CBS News that the local police department is investigating, but that there was little precedent in the area for such a trap.
“Nothing like this has ever happened before,” Wangler told the network. “There have been no other incidences like this. It’s kind of unknown as to what or why or who [did this].”
Wangler added that people should contact law enforcement if they suspect any similar attempts. “We need to know about this stuff when it happened,” he said.