Is a woman with Down syndrome currently missing, as a viral Facebook post says? No, that's not true: The woman in the photograph was reported missing on December 15, 2023, and found the same day, according to the police department in Bellingham, Washington. Her image is being used as part of a bait-and-switch scam on social media that uses purposefully crafted emotional content that will grab the reader's attention and encourage them to share the information in an attempt to sell them something, make them provide their personal details or scam them out of their money.
🚨🚨🚨 HELP! MISSING PERSON 🚨🚨🚨
Eva C. Johnson, 18, is missing. She was last seen at approximately 3:45pm in tunica She didn't go home today. Eva does have Down Syndrome but is very high functioning and usually navigates the downtown area well.
She is 4' 10", weighing 110 lbs. Her hair is brown and she has blue eyes. She wears glasses and hearing aides.
She was last seen wearing a black Northface jacket with a black hoodie underneath, black and white leggings, and sporting a pink, floral patterned backpack.
PLEASE HELP! Bump this post and get her home
This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed Dec 20 21:31:03 2023 UTC)
According to the Bellingham, Washington, Police Department Facebook page (archived here), a woman named Eva C. Johnson, who has Down syndrome, was reported missing on December 15, 2023, but an update revealed that she had been found safe and sound:
Several other posts on Facebook in community groups across the globe contained the same information, all posted purportedly by different people. Here is a list of examples of posts showing the woman missing but the city has been changed to various other places, supposedly cities and towns with names ranging from Glasgow and Peterborough to Edson, and others.
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed Dec 20 22:53:39 2023 UTC)
Bait-and-switch real estate scam posts
Outside of this specific instance of the "Eva C. Johnson" post, other posts that make such claims are using a bait-and-switch scam to entice other users to share the information. Such posts are a tactic used on Facebook by spammers that employ a "bait-and-switch" 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 or 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 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.
Here (archived here) is an example of a bait-and-switch of the "Eva C.Johnson" post. Although the post advertises a way to get "extra bucks" at the time of the writing of this fact check, a look at the post's edit history shows that it previously discussed "Eva C. Johnson." Screenshot showing the switched post and the edit history that proves this bait-and-switch tactic below:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed Dec 20 21:35:16 2023 UTC)
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed Dec 20 21:39:32 2023 UTC)
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.
Other Lead Stories fact checks
Lead Stories previously debunked a bait-and-switch claim that used the same pictures and premise as this "Jackson Simmons" and "Cami" claim. Other fact checks of bait-and-switch scams can be found here.