Fact Check: SCAM Posts Push Claim About Found 2-Year-Old To Lure People To Share Them

Fact Check

  • by: Sarah Thompson
Fact Check: SCAM Posts Push Claim About Found 2-Year-Old To Lure People To Share Them False Alarm

Was an approximately 2-year-old-child, who was never reported missing, found in a town -- and are police keeping the child safe while looking for the child's guardian? No, that's not true: While this situation may have occurred somewhere at some point in time, posts circulating on Facebook in May 2024 are part of a scam and are not true. The posts use random photos of a child and the same exact phrasing, but the names of different towns are inserted to spread a false alarm in local community Facebook groups.

One example of the claim appeared in a post (archived here) on Facebook by House of Artist News on May 12, 2024. The post was captioned::

This little boy, approximately 2 years old, was found in #gainesville 1 hour ago. Officers have the child safe at the Police Station but we have no idea where he lives. No one has called looking for him.Please share this post💔💔💔

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing -- Lead Stories added a blur over what appear to be injuries to the child's face:

(Source: Facebook screenshot with blur added, taken on Wed May 15 13:48:06 2024 UTC)

The page House of Artist News has copied and reposted the narrative from a scam post that was circulating in many Facebook groups in May 2024. In the comments under the post, someone relayed that they were told this post was spam. While House of Artist News may not be part of a bait-and-switch scam, they do seem to be aware that they are sharing something that is not true. House of Artist News made this perplexing reply:

no spam other people just took the picture and posted false news


(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed May 15 13:48:06 2024 UTC)

Lead Stories has debunked a wide variety of narratives used in this bait-and-switch scam, such as found injured dogs, snakebite warnings and dangerous criminals on the loose. The urgent or alarming nature of the narrative inspires people to share the post. After the post has been shared, at some point the post will be edited to become something else entirely. Now the newly edited post will be displayed on the personal timelines of the people who had shared the original post. Commenting for the post is then turned off. That way those who realize it's a scam cannot alert others that the post is fake.

Pictured below is the edit history of a post with the caption about the little boy on May 13, 2024, phrased as if the child had been found only one hour earlier. On May 14, 2024, the post was edited to become a fake ad for real estate. This newly edited caption contains a link (https://bit.ly/findyourhome2024USA) that redirects to another website (https://affordablehomes2024.carrd.co/) where the user is offered a subscription to "Rentownclub" in order to view available listings.


(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed May 15 13:48:06 2024 UTC)

Lead Stories copied some text from the caption without the name of the town to use in Facebook's search feature. We found posts identical to the one shared by House of Artist News using the town names of Taunton, Somerset U.K.; Sheffield, U.K.; Hartsville, South Carolina; Tinley Park, Illinois, and several others. The search results for photos associated with that caption brought back scores of additional posts from mid-April 2024 with the same exact caption and an entirely different child. The examples in the composite image below mention the names of the towns Geneva, Indiana; Chillicothe, Ohio, and New Bern, North Carolina.


(Source: Lead Stories composite image made with Facebook screenshots taken on Wed May 15 13:48:06 2024 UTC)

One more example: A May 14, 2024, post in the Ohio group "Barnesville Trading Post Too" (pictured below) has the same caption with a photo of another child with facial injuries. A reverse image search with Google Lens found that this photo appeared in a April 26, 2017, article about dog safety from cbc.ca. The child who was bitten in the face by a friend's dog was 7 years old at the time of the attack.


(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed May 15 16:15:33 2024 UTC)

Additional Lead Stories fact checks debunking narratives used in this bait-and-switch scam can be found 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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