Beware of Missing Persons Scams on Social Media

Beware of Missing Persons Scams on Social Media

Social media has become a main communication channel of the 21st century. Approximately 83% of all internet users engage in social media and the average time spent there is 2 hours and 24 minutes per day.

With so many people using platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, it makes it a prime spot for scammers and those with nefarious purposes. 

A single post can spread like wildfire on social media. One person shares something with their followers and friends, then they share with their followers, and so on. This can both help spread funny memes across the world, as well as more dangerous scam posts.

One type of dangerous scam going around are missing persons posts. These can be related to “missing” children or trying to find a “long lost” family member. They play on someone’s emotions to want to help and they’ll often urge people to “please share this post” or “please retweet,” which helps them spread.

Most people looking at a post about a lost child, wouldn’t think it could possibly be a scam, so they’ll share it without even thinking or knowing the person that originally posted it. 

The thing about social media is that it can get past most computer protections like antivirus. If you willingly share a post, that contains a link to malware or a dangerous form, it may be outside the realm of normal device security

Read on to find out how this missing person scam works and the things you can do to vet a post before you click or share.

Examples of Missing Persons Social Scams

One reason that people don’t think twice before sharing a missing person social post is because they can’t fathom how this could be a scam. But imagine if the person posting about a “missing sister” isn’t actually the person’s brother, but rather a violent estranged spouse.

People trying to find someone can be doing it for all types of reasons that could put the person in the photo in danger. It can also be used as a prank that’s not very funny to the person whose photo was stolen and used.

Some of the forms this person-tracking scam takes are:

  • Missing child
  • Help finding long lost relative
  • Find this person that stole my (phone/car/dog, etc.)

Missing Sister Scam

One example of a missing person scam happened in April of 2019, and included an emotional message claiming that the person’s 10-year old sister went missing outside after school after arguing with a classmate.

The scam provided a link (presumably to a fake or malicious site). But astute users caught on to the scam when it was noted that the date that the post gave for the sister going missing after school was a holiday, and schools were closed that day.

“Alice” Isn’t Really Missing

Another popular missing child scam states something along the lines of “Alice from (place) was kidnapped! Anyone saw her? Please help us find her.”

This post has been seen mostly in the UK, but the internet is borderless, so it can travel anywhere. It’s reported to appear to be from a Polish domain and is a scam designed to steal login credentials.

Not only is the post a scam, some of the comments that show up under the post are scams as well, designed to add validity.

If a person clicks the link inside the post, they’re taking to a page that asks them to watch a fake video and that attempts to steal their Facebook password.

How to Avoid Being Fooled by Social Media Scams

“How can sharing a post hurt anything?” is often what goes through someone’s mind when they share a scam missing person’s post. But, even if you don’t click a malicious link, one of your friends that you share the post with might.

Here are some ways you can avoid falling for this type of scam, as well as others.

Look at the Profile of the Post Originator

Often these scam posts will be from “bot” accounts that are set up for the distinct purpose of spreading a scam. 

If you see that the post originator has a profile without the usual personal posts and was just set up recently, these are both signs that it may be a fake account sending scam posts.

You may have to click into a thread a few times to find the post originator. For example, if a friend shared a post that was shared by someone else that wasn’t the post originator.

Review the Post with a Critical Eye

Are any facts or language in the post a bit off? For example, if the post is claiming a person went missing from the U.S., does the post use slang from a different country? (Like calling it a petrol station instead of a gas station).

Some of these missing person scams are caught because the details in the post don’t line up with the facts (like school being closed on a day the poster said a child went missing after school).

Read Comments and Search Details Online

While some of these posts have fake comments at the top of the post, often real users will also comment and warn others that this is a scam. 

Read through the comment, just understanding that some early ones may be fake, to see if there are any warnings. You can also search the key details in the post on social media on Google, such as “Alice has gone missing from school scam” and see if any warnings about a scam come up.

Is Your Computer Protected from Malicious Websites?

RCOR’s North Carolina computer experts can help you stay safe from online scams through protections like DNS filtering that block malicious websites.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation. Call 919-263-5570 or contact us online.