“Oh my God, there’s Black Friday too on kids sold on Vinted. It’s shameful, I don’t even have the words anymore,” we can read in a message circulating on TikTok. Since mid-November, a rumor has been circulating according to which the second-hand sales platform hosts classified ads of a pedophile nature.

At the center of this accusation, objects sold at apparently too high prices, associated with mentions of sizes and ages. A section of suspicious Internet users thus interpreted the announcements of the sale of a jacket for 29,000 euros, dolls for 14,000 euros or even a set of figurines for 111,111 euros as being encrypted messages for traffic in child. Many Internet users take as proof the mentions “premature”, “10 years” or even “140 cm” on the advertisements – which correspond to pre-filled clothing sizes, Vinted being originally an online thrift store.

While the recent release in France of the film Sound of Freedom drew attention to the existence of organized pedophile networks as much as it gave rise to caricatured representations of child trafficking, the rumor spread quickly about X, TikTok or YouTube.

American conspiracy theory

The origin of these speculations is to be found in the United States: it is the copy of a conspiracy theory dating back to July 2020, in the midst of the explosion of the QAnon conspiracy movement, which saw in Donald Trump the ally of a mysterious omniscient secret agent fighting against the forces of evil. Many Internet users were then convinced that Wayfair, an American mail-order site for home goods, was selling children behind advertisements for furniture with names and prices considered suspicious.

Amateur investigators surmised that a cushion named Duplessis, on sale for $9,999 (9,140 euros), was a code name for Sara Dupleissis, a missing 13-year-old teenager. The followers of this theory seemed to be unaware that she had been found two days after her escape, safe and sound.

As for the high prices, they can be explained differently. As Fortune detailed, innocuous objects can fetch seemingly aberrant prices. Some platforms like Amazon allow sellers to set prices automatically based on competing offers. This is how in 2011, a book ended up fetching more than $20,000, two owners having checked the automated bidding option. Displaying your product at a prohibitive amount is also a strategy for managing stock shortages without delisting the item.

Three years after the rumor about Wayfair, despite the total absence of evidence, the French-speaking conspiracy leaders remain convinced of child trafficking on the furniture site, and analyze other sites with the same suspicious prism: ” We had been following the Wayfair affair. I tell myself: I’m going to sell my clothes, but first I’m going to see how it goes. It was the first time I went [on Vinted]. (…) It started from there. I started digging with the spirit of investigation that we have now,” explains Aline, who manages the Quantum Leap Translation account on X, a relay for English-speaking conspiracy content, in an audio conversation on expert in radical communities Tristan Mendès France.

On November 11, the account called Vinted on X: “Say @vinted, what are these prices? Not so long ago, other sites were charging these kinds of exorbitant prices, but what people were buying wasn’t the items advertised…” The allusion to Wayfair is supported. The parallel is taken up by the conspiracy channel ADNM (formerly Les DéQodors, one of the main French-speaking QAnon communities). The rumor is gone. It has since spread across most social networks, well beyond the QAnon spheres from which it originates, conveying an unrealistic vision of child trafficking.

Bad jokes, mistakes or misunderstandings

Are these allegations credible? The British association for the fight against online child crime Internet Watch Foundation assures that it has “never heard of nor seen evidence” of such processes.

The other advertisements at prices of several thousand euros corresponded to luxury or collectible items, lot sales, open auctions or entry errors. Some little-known collectors’ markets may have caused misunderstandings, such as a Pokémon card priced at 30,000 euros, which is the rarest and most sought-after card of all. Some offers at sky-high prices may also correspond to fraudulent “false ads”, which is why Vinted has removed them.

Generally speaking, the “evidence” is more a matter of sometimes acrobatic speculation. “Following our current research, we do not believe that [the advertisements in question] are linked to criminal activity,” Vinted defended in a statement to Le Monde, assuring that “trust and security are an absolute priority.” .

Its French competitor Leboncoin was also questioned on X for an allegedly suspicious ad, with the mention of the rumor of child trafficking. Contacted, the company did not respond to requests from Le Monde.

News about minors offered on the Internet

However, illegal classified ads do exist. And many platforms have had to explain the illegal activities of their clients – Craigslist in the United States or Vivastreet in France, to name a few. But these advertisements did not resemble those for the sale of clothing, toys or even furniture sold on second-hand platforms, contrary to what the rumor targeting Vinted claims.

In 2013, a Reuters investigation uncovered an adopted child exchange network on Facebook and Yahoo!, aimed at foster families wishing to “replace” their child with another. Many Internet users sharing the rumor of trafficking on Vinted cite as proof the case of a magistrate who offered his contacts on a swingers site sexual relations with his 12-year-old daughter, without however taking action. He was sentenced in 2022 to two years of suspended prison sentence and compulsory treatment. The affair took place on a specialized site, in the form of an explicit announcement.

Other cases of online child sales have hit the headlines, but they were apparently jokes, such as the case of an “adorable” 2-year-old girl put up for sale in 2011 by a Michigan mother. − “just a joke,” she laments. In 2014, a father from Rouen put his baby up for sale for 1,000 euros on Leboncoin because he was “born a redhead while [he] wanted a blond one”. In 2018, a little girl was put on a price of 1,000 euros. The mother had mentioned a hoax by her daughter, “devastated” that it had grown so much.

Vinted may have been faced with similar situations. “We cannot always say that a case is simply a bad joke or truly linked to illegal activity,” explains the platform, while emphasizing that for each suspicious announcement, it removes it and collaborates with the authorities “as soon as necessary.”

Several press investigations have shown that pedophiles are diverting their vocation from mainstream online platforms to seek out their prey. But in this case, they use dating sites for teenagers instead.