Fact Check: Many Posts About Copperhead Snakes Smelling Like Cucumbers Are Part Of Bait And Switch Scam

Fact Check

  • by: Sarah Thompson
Fact Check: Many Posts About Copperhead Snakes Smelling Like Cucumbers Are Part Of Bait And Switch Scam Bait & Switch

Is a post about the danger of copperhead snakes that can be detected by their cucumber-like scent a legitimate warning to a community? No, that's not true: This post is part of a well-known scam that functions to trick concerned people to share it. After some time passes, the snake post will be edited to become a real estate scam. Snake experts told Lead Stories that copperhead snakes are indeed venomous but they don't smell like cucumbers and their bites are rarely fatal.

The claim appeared in a post (archived here) on Facebook by "Glen moron" in an Eagle Pass, Texas, buy and sell group on March 19, 2024. Originally, the caption was:

Heads up⚠️#Eagle Pass
Looks like a copperhead party..
If you smell cucumber in the backyard STOP! And slowly back out of the area Copperhead near-by and surely deadly... my daughter was lucky to survive the bite 🥺🥺🥺 Please warn others to save lives..

Currently the post appears to be a real estate advertisement with photos of a home and this caption:

ISO: The rent for this house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms is $610 per month.
This freshly renovated home is ready for immediate occupancy. stainless steel appliances, fresh flooring, and remodelled bathrooms and kitchens. There is no deposit required, pets are permitted, and section 8 is accepted!
To apply and find out more, click this link:>> https://bit.ly/Hudhomesrealstater

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:


(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Tue Mar 26 14:16:22 2024 UTC)

This post was edited on March 20, 2024, and the edit was not merely to correct a spelling error. The entire subject of the post was changed, the original photos were removed and a new set of photos added, turning a warning about snakes into a real estate scam. The edit history (pictured below left) can be seen by clicking on the three dots in the upper right corner of a post. Although the edit history shows changes to the caption, the original photos are not displayed.

Outlined in blue (below right) is another post that is part of the same scam. This post by "Ashley M. Banks" was posted in a Shreveport, Louisiana, Online Garage Sale group on March 19, 2024. The post by Banks below is representative of what the original post by Glen moron looked like before it was edited (black arrow). The caption of these copperhead posts was customized to feature the name of the community where the post was planted, but otherwise the text is identical. Glen moron and Ashley M. Banks are not real Facebook profiles; they are Facebook pages designed to look like a profile Originally Glen moron's post read:

Heads up⚠️#Eagle Pass
Looks like a copperhead party..
If you smell cucumber in the backyard STOP! And slowly back out of the area Copperhead near-by and surely deadly... my daughter was lucky to survive the bite 🥺🥺🥺 Please warn others to save lives..


(Source: Lead Stories composite image with Facebook screenshots taken on Tue Mar 26 17:38:33 2024 UTC)

Copperhead snakes

Lead Stories reached out to snake experts on March 26, 2024, to sort out if the information in this post about snakes is reliable. We corresponded through Facebook Messenger with Adam Freedman, animal keeper at the Reptile Discovery Center of the Smithsonian National Zoo. We also reached out by email to the Greater Cincinnati Herpetological Society, which put us in contact with their former president, Matthew Fille, who has worked professionally with North American venomous snakes. To start, Freedman verified that the snakes pictured are indeed copperheads. We asked if the bite of a copperhead is "surely deadly," as stated in the caption. Freedman replied:

Copperhead bites are almost never fatal, in fact, they rarely result in permanent damage. Medical intervention should always be immediately sought in case of a bite. Often antivenin isn't necessary only medical observation, but the antivenin is readily available and extremely effective.

Fille responded:

North American Copperhead bites are rarely fatal. In extreme cases the issue is the anaphylactic reaction to the venom similar to how some people experience severe reactions to a bee sting.

When asked if copperheads smell like cucumbers. Fille answered:

Copperheads do NOT smell like cucumbers. This is an old wives tale. The only smell that a snake would emit when they feel threatened is a musk from their cloaca. This is pretty pungent but does not smell like cucumbers.

Lead Stories asked Freedman for the best advice for someone who encounters a copperhead:

If you see a copperhead, leave it alone. If you give them space you'll always be safe. If you need a copperhead moved or removed, call a wildlife professional. They eat mice and bugs so they are good to have around. Clearing your property of ground cover and rubbish will reduce the amount of snakes.

The bait and switch scam

In the summer of 2022 Lead Stories began to see a new scam on Facebook. The Better Business Bureau described it this way:

After you share the post, a scammer changes the original post to a deceptive rental ad or sometimes to a link pointing to a survey that 'guarantees' a cash prize. Now, your friends think you have recommended that content. These bait-and-switch ads aim to either get a deposit for a rental property before the user gets a chance to see the home- or get your personal information, which could lead to identity theft.

This scheme has many variations, but the commonality is the emotionality or urgency of the message that encourages concerned people to share the news with their friends.

The core feature of this scam was for posts with a topic of seemingly local interest to be seeded into small groups with the place name inserted in the post. Identical copies of the posts were spread into groups all over the country. The posts, with a wide variety of narratives -- from dangerous criminals on the loose, children or grandparents who had gone missing, dogs with no microchip who were found injured to noxious weeds or venomous snakes -- would come with a request to spread the word by sharing.

After people in the community share, these posts would be edited to look like something else, usually a rent-to-own real estate ad. These ads would feature offers too good to be true and recycled photos of homes that were not on the market and were also not in the named location. The complex ruse is a way to get people to give their personal information or subscribe to services at an untrustworthy website.

Many of the posts co-opted for use in this scam came originally from people with genuine concerns and no connection to the scam. In 2022 and 2023 posts circulated on Facebook with the myth about the purported cucumber smell (here and here). Although incorrect, these posts are not part of the aforementioned scam.

Additional Lead Stories fact checks on a variety of claims used in this scam can be found here.

Want to inform others about the accuracy of this story?

See who is sharing it (it might even be your friends...) and leave the link in the comments.:

  Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson lives with her family and pets on a small farm in Indiana. She founded a Facebook page and a blog called “Exploiting the Niche” in 2017 to help others learn about manipulative tactics and avoid scams on social media. Since then she has collaborated with journalists in the USA, Canada and Australia and since December 2019 she works as a Social Media Authenticity Analyst at Lead Stories.


Read more about or contact Sarah Thompson

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