Scammers are targeting members of local Facebook groups with hoax posts including those claiming serial killers are at large or children are missing – here’s how to spot a fake post
- Campaigners have found hundreds of hoax posts in at least 115 areas of the UK
- These are often used to simply cause alarm within local Facebook communities
Hoaxes are swamping local Facebook groups with false claims that serial killers are at large, an investigation has warned.
Campaigners at Full Fact, a charity working to combat misinformation, have urged internet users to be cautious after discovering hundreds of fraudulent posts over 115 areas in the UK.
Deadly snakes on the loose and fake missing posters for dogs and children are among these false alerts, which are sometimes solely designed to stir up panic within communities.
An extreme instance of this kicked off in the UK last year with a post urging people to watch out for a ‘serial killer or abductor’ behind ‘multiple disappearances’.
Full Fact’s investigation was largely centred around Dundee, Scotland, but variations of the warning also spread to Telford, Shropshire and Newbury, Berkshire.
Full Fact campaigners have found hundreds of hoax posts in at least 115 areas of the UK
While Police Scotland confirmed there was ‘no trace of any deaths’ under that information, the man was eventually identified as an individual from Tennessee.
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Investigators revealed that he was being sought by Dickson County Sheriff’s office for leaving an inmate work crew, but not in connection to any murders or attacks.
The exact same post has since been spotted in Canada and even Australia, but Steve Nowottny, Editor at Full Fact, believes this is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’.
‘The sheer scale of these posts is hard to fathom and we are conscious that the 1,200 or so we have identified is likely just the tip of the iceberg,’ he told MailOnline.
‘These posts are all highly emotive and get shared widely because people understandably want to help those in need or warn their neighbours about threats.
‘But that’s where the risk lies – the hoaxers have clearly identified the massive reach these posts can have and local Facebook groups across the world are now becoming overwhelmed with false information.’
Analysts at Africa Check often believe that many Facebook posts of this nature have been written by users based in Zimbabwe.
Changes to Facebook’s rules in 2021 have removed the need for admin approval when joining public groups – making it easier to join if you’re not from a specific local area.
While Mr Nowottny believes that scammers simply seek to ‘sow needless fear and confusion’, this disinformation has also brought risk of cybercrime.
This hoax post was found in numerous Facebook groups urging people to watch out for a ‘serial killer or abductor’ behind ‘multiple disappearances’
Hoaxes are often used to simply cause alarm within local Facebook communities
Jake Moore, a Global Cybersecurity Advisor at ESET warns that clicking on any attached links can be dangerous as scammers may look to ‘scoop up lots of personal information’.
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The career of a fraudulent profile often varies depending on your home country (stock image)
‘We currently live in a time where we have to be extra careful with what we read online and to verify wherever possible,’ he told MailOnline.
‘However, it can often be challenging especially with limited resources such as local news within closed or private groups on social media.
‘Misinformation and disinformation can spread like wildfire and can result in unwanted emotions such as panic and fear – often the type of emotions required to manipulate unbeknown victims of cybercrime further.’
In light of these revelations, Full Fact has urged Facebook users to look out for some key signs of hoaxes online.
Disabled comments are common among fake posts, while scammers may also use a number of red siren emojis cause further alarm.
‘Most people genuinely trying to find a lost family member or pet are seeking information, so would likely want to allow people to comment,’ Full Fact says.
‘This isn’t a guarantee though—people may turn off comments for other reasons, for example if a missing person has been found, and some hoax posts keep the comments open.’
Unfamiliar language can be another sign too, with missing posts in the US often referring to ‘silver alerts’ which aren’t generally used in the UK.
Mr Moore added: ‘The comments section can often help add more information but it is still important to be sure of the authenticity of a post before interacting with it or sharing it wider as the affects can be huge if the original posts are fake.
‘Furthermore, when external links are included, it is vital that users think before they click on such websites as they can easily direct people to sites designed to scoop up lots of personal information including financial details.’
Meta has been working with Full Fact since 2019 in an effort to identify and review false stories, images and videos on its platforms.
In response to Full Fact’s investigation, Meta told MailOnline: ‘We’ve built the largest global fact-checking network of any platform, partnering with more than 90 independent fact-checking organisations including Full Fact, to tackle misinformation online.
‘Fraudulent activity is not allowed on our platforms and we removed the posts Full Fact brought to our attention for violating our Community Standards.
‘While no enforcement is perfect, we continue to invest in new technologies to stop scams and the people behind them. We also introduced new tools last year to help Facebook Group admins prevent the spread of misinformation and manage interactions in their groups.’
HOW TO SPOT A HOAX POST
The comment section is switched off Most people genuinely trying to find a lost family member or pet are seeking information, so would likely want to allow people to comment.
However, this isn’t a guarantee as people may turn off comments for other reasons, for example if a missing person has been found, and some hoax posts keep the comments open.
The caption has been copied and pasted
To check this, highlight some of the text, and copy and paste it into Facebook’s search function at the top of the page.
If posts with identical or almost-identical text appear, even with different images, it’s likely a hoax.
The image has been used elsewhere
Try out a Google reverse image search to see if the image in question has appeared elsewhere.
However, it’s important to note that many hoax posts use images lifted from other Facebook pages, which may not come up here.
It’s posted by a page, not a profile
Watch out for posts uploaded by someone with a newly-created page, rather than a regular profile account, particularly if they’ve not posted anything else.
The image doesn’t look like it’s from the UK
Look out for unfamiliar number plates, cars and landmarks.
Full Fact claims they’ve seen American police cars and petrol stations in posts supposedly about events in the UK.
For instance, any reference to a ‘silver alert’ in a UK Facebook group should trigger an alarm bell.
Silver alerts are used in the US to notify the public about missing people.
There’s a red pin or red siren emoji
Hashtags and specific red emojis, such as sirens and red pins, are often used in hoax posts.
Clicking on the edit history (using the three horizontal dots at the top right of the post) will show you if the original content has been changed.
SOURCE: Full Fact
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