Stranger Danger: Moms report creepy trend of shoppers showing interest in their children

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SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) — A creepy trend has been scaring mothers across Sarasota County who say strangers are approaching women in stores and parking lots, asking intrusive questions about their children.

This has so many people panicked on social media, the sheriff’s office had to step in.

Earlier this month, Aron Owens was shopping at Target with her daughter, Blue, when she says two pretend shoppers approached them in the toy aisle.

Aron Owens with her daughter, Blue.

“They weren’t looking at the shelves, they just stopped at the end and looked at us,” Owens recalled.

Owens said one woman asked strange religious questions while the other was fixated on her daughter.

“She was just like really watching her and then she would text something and then look at her again and then text something,” she said. “The way she was looking at her, it made me feel like she was telling someone else, giving someone a description…it had alarm bells going off in my head.”

Owens said it got creepier when they began asking direct questions about Blue’s looks and features.

“Where did she get her curls, do you have curly hair? It was these very pointed very specific questions about her looks and it was really weird,” said Owens. “It just made me even more afraid that they were going to try to grab either just my daughter or both of us.”

Owens left and alerted security. She was later contacted by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. Turns out, there were numerous similar reports made by women in the area.

The agency is investigating these reports, but feels nothing illegal was done.

They released the following statement regarding the matter:

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office is fully aware of the recent social media conversation regarding individuals approaching families and children in public places. Our agency has reviewed the reports related to these interactions however, NONE have been determined to be any sort of illegal activity. The discussion on social media has included terms such as “human trafficking” and “abduction”. It is important to fully understand the magnitude of such crimes and rest assured that law enforcement officials investigating crimes of that caliber would be urgently notifying the public of such.”

Owens doesn’t want others to be alarmed by her story. Instead, she learned a valuable lesson she’s sharing with others.

“I need to be more present and not be distracted and need to be aware of my surroundings,” she said.

“This was just an eye opener that I probably, I need to be a lot more aware because had they actually tried to grab her and had I been distracted, it would’ve gone really badly,” Owens added.

Officials told Owens this was a religious group with unusual recruiting tactics. But nevertheless, the agency is using this as a reminder to be very cautious in public.

“Go about your business. Do your shopping, play with your kids, do what you always did before, just keep your eyes open, that’s all,” said Owens.

And if you spot unusual activity, call the authorities.

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.

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