Fact Check: Posts Warning Of Catalytic Converter Thieves Are NOT Authentic -- Part Of A Spamming Ruse

Fact Check

  • by: Sarah Thompson
Fact Check: Posts Warning Of Catalytic Converter Thieves Are NOT Authentic -- Part Of A Spamming Ruse Bait & Switch

Do photos circulating on social media show a catalytic-converter thief caught in the act in Saint Joseph, Missouri? No, that's not true: These photos were taken in Oldham, on the outskirts of Manchester, England. A Facebook account that tries to recover stolen vehicles in the United Kingdom first posted the photos in 2020 to identify people allegedly stealing catalytic converters from cars. Since then, the pictures have been misappropriated and mislabeled as showing various towns in North America -- a standard ruse known as bait-and-switch, which plays on emotions to build an audience and, ultimately, secure their personal data.

The photos were posted by Amanda Stone in the Facebook group Saint Joseph Swap & Shop on April 25, 2024. Their caption read:

Dude's back again let's make him famous he's cutting catalytic converters in saint Joseph

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

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Fri Apr 26 14:48:26 2024 UTC)

These photos originally appeared (archived here) in an August 13, 2020, post by the Facebook page Stolen Vehicles Recovery UK (pictured below). After the photos spread through social media, the post was revised with an update on September 23, 2022. This gives an indication how long spammers have been using these photos in a different context. The 2022 revision read:

UPDATE: This crime took place in the UK in 2020, we have been informed that the photos are being shared in the USA relating to a 'scam'.


(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Fri Apr 26 20:16:16 2024 UTC)

How a bait-and-switch works

As of April 26, 2024, Facebook user Amanda Stone had turned off the commenting on her Saint Joseph, Missouri, post about these photos. This is one of several red flags commonly seen in a complex spamming ruse.

As people become familiar with the scam, they might warn others in the group. Turning off the commenting prevents that.

Clicking on Amanda Stone's name shows that posts from this account in the Saint Joseph Swap & Shop group feature sensational claims interspersed with supposed real estate ads: a found baby boy, a found Saint Bernard dog, a warning about copperhead snakes, two different men with dementia who have gone missing with their dogs, and three different injured dogs found on the side of the road. The other posts are rent-to-own ads for attractively priced real estate.

Lead Stories used part of the post's caption without the town name ("Dude's back again let's make him famous he's cutting catalytic converters") to search Facebook for additional posts of these photos. They have been placed in community groups in Pasadena, California; Lake Anna and Suffolk, Virginia; Reno and Sparks, Nevada; Osage County, Missouri; Macomb and Lansing, Michigan; and Moore, Oklahoma. All the photos posted in these groups have revised captions that include the names of the respective towns.

Here is a composite photo of the posts in the groups above. Clicking on the photo will let it open larger in a new window.


(Source: Lead Stories composite image with Facebook screenshots taken on Fri Apr 26 21:48:41 2024 UTC)

One post returned in this search did not have photos of the catalytic converters supposedly being stolen, but, instead, showed photos of a modest home exterior and interior. This example was posted in the Tennessee Facebook group Mt. Juliet-Lebanon Trading Post. As with the other post, the commenting had been turned off.

A reverse image search, however, revealed that the image of the house featured in the Facebook group had been flipped horizontally. The actual house is located in Arlington, Texas, and has already been sold.

The caption for the flipped photo read:

Rent to Own
3-bedrooms, 2-Bath rooms, Recently painted house with new appliances and upgrades! ready for a new owner.
-Located near shopping center
-Parking Space Available!
- All Pets allowed
For more information kindly visit >>>>➡️🌐 cutt.ly/Ww6sfXWb
and fill in the application to set an appointment!

In the upper right corner of the house post, the drop-down menu includes an option to view the post's edit history (pictured below). This shows that the three images from the original post are no longer there, and that the caption is nearly identical to what was posted on the account of Facebook user Amanda Stone:

Dude's back again let's make him famous he's cutting catalytic converters in Mt Juliet


(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Fri Apr 26 15:48:48 2024 UTC)

The link included in the edited post goes to a GoDaddy website, renttoownhomes329.godaddysites.com. The website opens with an invitation to find in the viewer's area houses "low income" and "government owned" residences. The search button redirects to a new site, searchhudforeclosures.com, and asks for the user's ZIP code. It then requires that the user register to access the listings.

This fact check does not follow this ruse to its culmination. Posts of the original photos from the U.K. may not all end with the same scam.

But one Sacramento, California, realtor, Steve Heard, did follow a similar scam to its end. He volunteered to investigate a too-good-to-be-true ad for rent-to-own real estate.

In an August 10, 2023, blog post titled, "I Fell For An Online Rent-To-Own-Scam (So You Don't Have To)," Heard described how he had landed at a site called renttoownclub.com. When he registered, he was given a hard sell for a seven-day free membership trial, followed by a monthly subscription of $49.50 to view the site's listings. Heard followed the trail from a different Facebook post to another website, viewHUDforeclosures.com, where he encountered an agreement stating that viewHUDforeclosures.com and its affiliates could contact him even if his number was on a Do Not Call List. He reports:

That took me to yet another page, this one saying that 'We Highly Recommend Checking Your Credit Score', and offering to do it for free! They just needed my name, date of birth, and social security number. I couldn't go any further, since my fake name doesn't have a social security account. I thought that since I hadn't gone any further, it was over. Boy, was I wrong!

I have since received hundreds of emails and robocalls from their 'affiliates' with offers of credit repair, solar energy, Caribbean cruises, and the American Police Officers Alliance.

Additional Lead Stories fact checks of deceptive posts used in other bait-and-switch schemes can be read here.

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  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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