Tag Archives: Hoaxes

Sick Child Facebook Hoaxes (OR: Don’t Like, Don’t Share, Don’t Type Amen)

You’ve almost definitely seen this if you use Facebook: a picture of a child or baby with some alarming medical condition appears in your newsfeed, along with instructions to type “Amen” in the comments, like and share the picture so Facebook will donate money to the child in the picture, let the child know you think they’re still beautiful, or share the post because “one share = one prayer,” and of course to keep scrolling if your [sic] heartless.

I’m here to tell you: be heartless. These posts are hoaxes. You’re definitely helping someone by liking, commenting and sharing, but it’s not the child in the photo.

First, those pictures are used without permission from the child or their parents. Sometimes the children in the pictures don’t have a medical issue, they’re just random photos somebody found on the Internet. This is pure exploitation.

Furthermore, Facebook does not donate money to individuals for medical treatments based on a photo being liked and shared. They’ve done it zero times in the past, and they’re going to do it zero times in the future, forever.

Here’s what you’re really doing when you comment, like, share or interact with one of these posts: you’re helping somebody who created a Facebook page, hijacked a photo of a child without permission, then created a post designed to generate thousands of likes and comments sell the page to someone else as a ready-made, plug-and-play, already-popular page.

It has to do with how Facebook prioritizes things in a news feed. Things don’t appear in unfiltered, chronological order. Posts which have already generated tons of activity (comments, likes, shares) get an additional boost from the Facebook algorithm. In other words, things that are already popular are boosted so they can become more popular, while things that are not popular get buried.

So a Facebook page (which is different from a personal profile) that generates super-popular posts with tons of interaction (i.e., thousands of people sharing and commenting “Amen”) will get a boost for future posts. It’s called like-farming. At that point, the person or company who created the page and post can sell it to anyone who will pay for it, the buyer changes the name of the page, and then runs whatever scam or ripoff they can come up with.

How should you respond to one of these posts?

First, don’t like, share, or type “amen.” But also don’t comment “this is a hoax,” because the algorithm only counts comments. It doesn’t care about their content. Besides, your comment will only be buried by a thousand “amens” within seconds anyway.

You can report the post or the page to Facebook, but there are so many of these hoaxes that it can be like playing whack-a-mole with a drinking straw (and forty thousand moles).

Definitely let your Facebook friend who shared it know that the post is a hoax and that they’re not helping a child at all. Let them know that the photo was used without permission, and that they’re only helping some con artist exploit children for personal gain.

If you need more evidence to convince your friend, here’s an article by the mother of a child whose photo has been repeatedly hijacked for this exact purpose: Why you SHOULDN’T “type Amen and share” posts of sick children.

Nobody is using keyrings with tracking devices to stake out burglary victims

You could also call this post, “Sometimes, even the authorities and the news media get roped in by a hoax.”

I’ve got some Google Alerts set up to help me find interesting topics for potential articles. While digging through the past week’s results, I ran across this item, from the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: LPD warns locals of possible new scam.

If you don’t want to click the link, here’s the crux: “These criminals are handing out key rings that have tracking devices inside them. This way, the criminals are able to know where their targets are at all times if they are carrying the key ring.”

Well, I’ve heard of this one before. First in a forwarded email from my mom, then at Snopes: Key Crime.

Again, if you’re not interested in reading the whole thing, here’s the really basic jist:

snopes-false

Or, if you’d like a little more detail, this sums it up nicely (emphasis mine):

Aside from some technologically questionable aspects to these warnings, one prominent point of skepticism is the lack of obvious utility behind the scheme – that is, how would the ability to track unknown, randomly-selected motorists facilitate the commission of burglaries and carjackings? Especially since both of those crimes are overwhelmingly crimes of opportunity, engaged in as perpetrators spot or stumble across their chances, rather than crimes typically pursued through the elaborate staking out and tracking of targets.

So it’s a hoax. Please spread the word whenever you see this in an article, or when it shows up on Facebook, or when your mom forwards it to you.

The real issue, however, is the fact that, apparently,  nobody researches anything. In the article from Lubbock, it cites the Fort Worth PD as a source. So someone there got this forwarded email, passed it around, and then somebody told the newspaper. And nobody along that path checked it out, or even thought, “Man, this doesn’t sound at all like the way burglars and carjackers actually work.”

So you might say, “But isn’t it okay to just believe all the hoaxes, so then you’ll always be prepared for everything?”

I don’t agree. Mental energy is a finite resource, and if you waste all yours freaking out about your keychains, you’ll have less to spend on actually being vigilant in a useful, productive way. The point of fraud prevention is not to go through life in a state of sustained panic. It’s about being cautious, calm and skeptical of wild claims.

It’s also a bad habit to believe everything you see on the Internet, because that’s exactly what scammers want. Hey, if believing the keychain hoax is harmless, why not believe the email about investing in Iraqi Dinars, too? After all, the person who sent you the message SAID “this is not a scam,” right there in the message they typed, right?

Hoaxes are destructive. Don’t believe them, and please don’t spread them.