Is a "deadly Eastern diamond rattlesnake" actually being found in several locations across the United States that are not known as native habitats for these snakes? No, that's not true: Social media posts that make the claim are repurposing similarly worded posts to carry out a "bait and switch" scam. Social media accounts will make alarming, sensational posts that draw engagement in local Facebook groups. Then, when the posts have gotten enough engagement, they will switch the posts' content to advertise unrelated content that usually involves real estate.
The claim, which was posted and then switched with real estate postings on several groups organized on Facebook, also appeared in a post on Facebook on May 2, 2023. The post, shown in the The New Wichita Falls Trading Post Facebook group, included three images of a large snake, with its head held by someone wearing a black glove in two of the images. The caption of the post read:
⚠️SILVER ALERT ⚠️
A Deadly Eastern Diamond Rattlesnake found in #wichita
Please be watchful of your surroundings, toilets, openings in pipes, doors potted plants etc. Stay safe everyone
SPREAD THE WORD AND SAVE A LIFE!!!
This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed May 3 16:03:39 2023 UTC)
Several comments under the post by other Facebook users identified the post as a scam. Wichita, the largest city by population in Kansas, is not known as a native habitat for Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes. The rattlesnakes are usually found in the southeastern United States.
Lead Stories identified other posts on Facebook that made the same claim. One was posted in a Facebook group called Union County Bargain Swap & Shop, a group based in Ohio. At the time of writing, that post was switched from one making an almost word-for-word claim about the rattlesnake to discussing a rent-to-own property. This change can be observed by clicking on the post's "View Edit History" button. The first screenshot below shows the rattlesnake information the post previously included. The second screenshot below shows what the post looks like after the "bait and switch" was completed.
Another post that made the rattlesnake claim earlier in the year was published in the Facebook group chicago heights thrift shop, a group based in Illinois. At the time of writing, that post was switched from one making a word-for-word claim about the rattlesnake to advertising a rent-to-own property. This change can be observed by clicking on the post's "View Edit History" button. The first screenshot below shows the rattlesnake information the post previously included. The second screenshot below shows what the post looks like after the "bait and switch" was completed.
Real estate scam posts
Real estate scam posts are a tactic used on Facebook by scammers that employ a "bait and switch" content to lure people into a scam. A post's creator will pair an alarming or heart-wrenching claim with a compelling image to catch people's attention -- missing children or aging adults, injured animals, injured people in hospital beds and sex trafficking tactics -- and drive engagement.
Once a post has garnered sufficient attention, the content switches to push a deceptive real estate advertisement. The wording and images of these eye-catching posts, typically seen on local Facebook "yard sale" pages," are frequently identical, even when the offered property is located in different cities, regions of the U.S. or other countries.
The content switch is clearly documented by a post's edit history, which also notes additions or deletions of content. In some instances, time stamps on the posts indicate when the switches were made but on some posts, timestamps don't change even though the content does.
Commonly, such posts use links that lead to landing pages with disclaimers or false promises and contact information requests that can be used to gather personal data, including financial information, from people who follow the trails.
Some links purport to connect people to a U.S. Housing and Urban Development site to help them search for deals on foreclosed homes. Lead Stories found the links lead to new sites that carry disclosures at the bottom of the page that note they are "not affiliated with, endorsed, authorized, or approved by the Federal Government or the US Department of Housing and Urban Development."
Lead Stories has debunked several "bait and switch" real estate scam posts before. Those stories can be found here.
(Editors' Note: Facebook is a client of Lead Stories, which is a third-party fact checker for the social media platform. On our About page, you will find the following information:
Since February 2019 we are actively part of Facebook's partnership with third party fact checkers. Under the terms of this partnership we get access to listings of content that has been flagged as potentially false by Facebook's systems or its users and we can decide independently if we want to fact check it or not. In addition to this we can enter our fact checks into a tool provided by Facebook and Facebook then uses our data to help slow down the spread of false information on its platform. Facebook pays us to perform this service for them but they have no say or influence over what we fact check or what our conclusions are, nor do they want to.)