Every so often, bizarre but oddly believable scams do the rounds on Facebook.
And so we have the latest: A tragic tale of a lost baby left outside the gate of someone’s house.
The abandoned baby Facebook hoax springs into action
A post made to Facebook December 1st by someone claiming to be in the UK made the following post alongside a photograph of a baby:
"Baby dumped at the gate of our house in
I can’t find her parents & my neighbors have no idea how she got here, please assist me in locating her parents"
There is an Elmwood Park in the UK, but the US spelling of “neighbors” immediately leaps out. It could just be a typo, but what are the chances of that happening? Yes, it could be someone from the US living in the UK making the post. On the other hand, USA Today’s sterling work rounding up multiple posts using the same photograph puts paid to this being remotely genuine. Either this baby is having a spectacular run of bad luck, or it's not real.
The lost baby advert switcheroo
There’s an interesting switch around happening on a few of these posts. People report that in some instances, the lost and found baby posts are turning into adverts of one kind or another. Are these compromised accounts luring people in with lost babies (of all things) before switching to ads? Were they sock puppet accounts designed with the express intention of moving to advertising after a short period of time?
USA Today notes that something similar happened back in October in relation to a supposedly injured dog, something which itself has been bouncing around the internet for some years now.
Avoiding the copy paste scams
No matter which corner of the internet you lurk on, you’ll eventually see the odd fake post or two. Subjects vary, but these are some of the key warning signs:
Emotive subjects are a driving force for these scams, fake outs, troll posts, whatever they may happen to be at the time. Missing children, injured pets, accidents, sentimental objects going missing, muggings, car crashes…the list is endless.
If you see one of the above on a post with the replies turned off, this can be a major warning flag. If you’re asking for help or giving a warning, why limit the number of people who can reply?
If there’s a photograph, try performing a reverse image search. This is where you try to deduce the origin of the image. These scams are lazy; image reuse is rife, often going back many years. There are dedicated sites for this, such as TinEye. There, you either upload an image or provide a URL and TinEye will find any matches from across the internet. Most search engines also offer some reverse image search functionality, though quality of results will inevitably vary. It’s worth noting that sometimes scammers will flip an image (from left to right or vice versa) to try and fool reverse image searches. Deepfaked images will also typically not produce results.
Take the text of the suspicious post and search for that, too. You may well find a whole raft of cut and paste efforts across multiple social media portals.
If the site the message or photo is posted to displays details about the person who posted it, see if it’ll let you observe things like account creation date or if the name on the account has been altered. A new account with no other content is definitely going to hit some suspicion markers.
By keeping the above steps in mind when coming across potentially suspicious posts, you should be in a good position to steer clear of being sucked into a scam or furthering dubious content. Trolls and scammers are entirely reliant on us pushing their content in front of others, so it's important to make sure we do some fact checking before making bogus claims go viral.
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