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Social media posts are asking for urgent help in locating an 80-year-old relative considered missing after fleeing in a state of confusion. But nearly identical posts were shared in Facebook groups across Canada before being edited to show ads that seek to collect personal data from users, and the same person appears in an online fundraiser for his funeral expenses in California.
“URGENT – MISSING! My uncle who is 80 went out yesterday around 5:30 p.m. from Embrun. This is the last time we followed his map to get gas but he does not know where he is going,” reads a Facebook post from November 1, 2022 shared 2,500 times from a garage sale group for Embrun in the province of Ontario.
“A silver alert is also on. Please help bring him and their dog Brandi home safely and quickly,” the message continues, referring to the public notification system commonly used to help find people quickly. elderly missing due to Alzheimer’s disease and associated dementia.
The same photo was shared in posts in several Canadian Facebook groups, including in Newfoundland and Alberta, with the text identical except for the city name. Accounts sharing the claim disable comments for posts, preventing people from warning others that the post is fake.
A reverse image search on Google reveals that the image of the man in the car once appeared on a GoFundMe page where Vern English of Sonoma, Calif., says he is seeking donations to prevent homelessness.
A second fundraiser says English died in August 2022.
Once the posts have gained hundreds, sometimes thousands of shares, they are edited to remove the post about the missing uncle and show ads instead, in many cases for dental care.
Users may share the post thinking it’s a call for help, but if it’s later changed, their friends see an announcement that appears to be endorsed by a trusted contact.
Dental care is currently not included in the Canada Health Act, although the federal government is proposing a plan to add coverage by December 1, 2022. Oral health services – which may be paid for by individual or private insurance – vary by province and the territory.
Same claim, different picture
A second series of messages circulated in buying and selling groups from British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador, also claimed to be looking for a lost uncle who left confused, but used a different photo of a man and of his dog.
A reverse image search on Google led to a November 18, 2020 article from a local newspaper in the U.S. state of Washington about a 79-year-old man who was found after going missing with his dog. There is no evidence that the same man ever disappeared in Canada.
These posts are part of a series of false claims – many attributed by AFP to accounts in Zimbabwe – that continuously target local Facebook groups in North America in an attempt to obtain users’ personal information. .