TikToker @goldencoral.ee posted a scary story of an interaction she and a female friend had with two strangers while at a Fry's Supermarket in Peoria, Ariz.. She suspects that the couple were employing not-so-subtle signals to try and flag the women as potential human trafficking targets. In this particular instance, the "Marco-Polo" strategy was used, which has been outed on social media in the past.
It's a common method of folks trying to find each other in a store if they're separated; however, @goldencoral.ee's fears criminals are also using it to single out victims.
According to Azag.gov, "Based on data gathered by the U.S. State Department, Arizona is a prime transit and destination area for both sex and labor trafficking in the United States. The Department of Justice has identified Phoenix as one of the top human trafficking jurisdictions in the country."
In a caption for her viral post, @goldencoral.ee said: "Just wanted to get the word out, it may have been nothing but better safe than sorry. If you have a gut feeling, TRUST IT." She also hashtagged #arizona, #phoenix, #peoria to try and get the word out and it seems her cautionary tale is gaining traction: her clip currently has been shared nearly 50,000 times and has garnered well over 580,000 likes.
The TikToker says in the clip, "If you are in Arizona, please be aware...paying attention to your surroundings and listen up," specifying that her warning was especially for residents of the North Peoria area. She says the incident occurred at around 11 a.m. at a local grocery store with a Starbucks inside of it and she was with her best friend when it happened.
After she placed her order, she was hanging out near a railing that led to a bathroom. "I distinctly — and I don't know what this means as far as I know from human trafficking they send each other signals, right? I heard someone distinctly say, 'Marco' two times while walking towards my best friend and I."
"My best at this point was still ordering her drink. I like I said am waiting over by the railing and this girl comes over and is like walking towards the bathroom and then stops distinctly to talk to me and says, 'hi.' And I'm like, 'hi,' and she's like, 'I like your tattoo. What does it mean.' I just you know, explain it."
The TikToker went on to say the girl lingered around her while she attempted to cut the conversation short, but the strange woman attempted to keep the conversation going. "'So, what kind of drink did you order? Is it good?'" @goldencoral.ee said at this point she distinctly felt like the conversation felt off.
"We don't have conversations like this in grocery stores, you just don't like randomly start walking up to someone that you don't know and just like having a random conversation. So I'm like oh I got this drink that's pretty good whatever, right? And then she goes, 'you're really pretty,' and I'm like, 'thanks'. Normally I don't think it's weird but like the pre-conversation was...a little bit weird, right?"
"As she turns away from me, to go to the bathroom, she screams 'Marco' again. And that's just when I'm like, 'OK this situation's off, I just feel like...something's off." My gut is telling me that like this is off. What is she signaling? Why does she keep saying 'Marco'? What's going on?"
"My best friend finally finishes up her order, so I like bolt over to where you wait for your drinks like on the Starbucks area and I start telling my best friend, 'Dude, there's something off, there's something weird, like, I just don't feel right right now.' So said lady comes back out of the bathroom and is like hovering where my best friend and I are."
"And then after she hovers for like another minute, she comes up to both of us and is trying to start a conversation again, asking us how far away Lake Pleasant is and these random questions. And then all of a sudden there is a guy and he starts walking towards us and they're clearly together and I'm like, ;oh hell no.'"
"So then finally my best friend's drink is ready at the Starbucks and I'm like, 'let's go, let's go, let's go,' so we book it to the other side of the grocery store, I'm looking up all the aisles trying to make sure they're not following us, like zig-zagging through the store kind of like cutting the store up, right?"
The TikToker described the couple she encountered: "The lady was pretty short, she had dark hair, dark eyes, she was a little bit darker complected, um she was really short—I'd say literally like 4'11. Gentleman was also dark haired, dark eyes, darker complected and had tattoos on his neck and stuff. So that's just obviously a description and the situation that happened."
In a follow-up video, the TikToker responded to a comment left by a fellow user on the platform who said that they had visited the same exact Fry's supermarket and encountered a couple matching that description.
If you suspect anyone of human trafficking, or believe anyone is a potential victim of this crime, please contact the National Human Trafficking hotline: 1 (888) 373-7888. You can also text the following number: 233733 with the words "HELP" or "INFO".