In the age of social media, scams, and hoaxes have become all too common. But one recent trend has hit Illinois and is particularly infuriating and disturbing.

Someone has been creating fake Facebook profiles, targeting communities in various locations, and posting distressing messages about a missing autistic child accompanied by a beloved pet dog.

The intention behind such deceitful acts is to scam or trick unsuspecting individuals who genuinely want to help those in need.

One instance of this unsettling trend occurred in a Rockton, Illinois Facebook group dedicated to buy/sell/trade activities. A heart-wrenching message was posted, pleading for assistance in finding a missing autistic boy named "Brandon Smith", who had apparently run away with the family dog named Hank.

The post quickly gained attention as concerned community members shared it in hopes of locating the child.

A Little Research Goes A Long Way

However, investigations soon revealed the truth behind this distressing plea. A Google reverse image search of the photo used in the Facebook account and the image of the boy and dog confirmed that the entire story was a hoax.

It was nothing more than an elaborate ruse to manipulate people's emotions and exploit their empathy.

Unfortunately, this deceptive tactic is not an isolated incident. According to reports from Yahoo! News, similar posts have been circulating on social media platforms across Michigan since January.

READ MORE: Virtual Kidnapping Scam Sweeping Wisconsin and Illinois

The modus operandi remains consistent: a fabricated story about a missing autistic child and his faithful canine companion, shared within local communities through seemingly legitimate Facebook profiles.

These posts generate a sense of urgency and appeal to the community's compassion, prompting individuals to rally together in the hopes of reuniting the child with his family.

However, once the plea for help has spread far and wide, the perpetrators behind these fake profiles often alter the content or redirect unsuspecting users to scams or other exploitative schemes.

How do you know this is a hoax/fake?

The answer is the same as trying to figure out if you're being catfished. I used Google Search By Image, a.k.a Google reverse image search. It allows users to search for images using an image as the starting point, rather than a written or spoken search query.

In this instance, I copied the link adresses to both photos into the search bar.

  • Photo 1: the profile photo of the Facebook account claiming their autistic child was lost.
Google Search By Image
Google Search By Image

The results on the right indicate the photo of the woman is a stock photo, this means it is 99.99% not a photo of the person with this Facebook account. Also, if you do a little more digging you'll learn the picture is used to see clothing marketed toward teachers and other professionals.

  • Photo 2: child with dog
Google Search By Image
Google Search By Image

As you can tell from the results on the right, this photo is widely used for hoaxing purposes. I say "hoaxing" because I can't say with certainty that the image has been used to scam others out of money.

This despicable act not only preys on people's goodwill but also undermines genuine efforts to find missing individuals and provide support to those in need.

In a world where social media connects us all, it is disheartening to witness the manipulation of empathy for personal gain.

If this article only serves one purpose, I hope it's a reminder to exercise caution and verify the authenticity of information before sharing or participating in online campaigns.

By remaining vigilant, we can help ensure that our compassion is channeled toward genuine causes and protect ourselves from falling victim to the deceitful tactics of those seeking to exploit our goodwill.

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