Concerned members of the public across Northern Ireland are being scammed by social media posts about a pensioner who is said to be lost with his little dog.
The post claims the man pictured has dementia and has driven off in his car with his pet, Bobe, and cannot be found by his family.
But the post and every claim in it are fake and could lead to anyone who engages with it becoming the victim of fraudsters.
Read more: Belfast bar named in top 20 dog friendly restaurants
Read more: Illegal Belfast dog fertility clinics add to 800% increase in pet IVF business
Here’s how the scam works:
- Fraudsters urge people to share an emotionally charged post across Facebook.
- They use the same pictures and posts in several pages under different aliases.
- They target many different groups and cities.
- Kind hearted members of the public share the post until it goes viral.
- The post is then edited by the scammers to contain another picture grab as much engagement as possible.
- The post is edited again and appears as a more serious scam encouraging people to sign up to a bogus scheme.
- The person sharing only sees the original ‘heart break’ post but as it is edited their Facebook friends see the new scam, which is now apparently endorsed by their pal.
In this case, posing under various aliases, the scammers claim a pensioner called Benson S Bell, 74, is suffering from senile dementia and is lost with his dog and does not know where he is going.
It has already attracted more than 6,000 shares in 25 locations from Belfast to Boston but every one of the kind hearted sharers has been scammed.
Scammers practising this type of fraud use this sophisticated scheme to have unsuspecting Facebook users act on their behalf and build trust amongst their friends, creating social media posts about an event or news story designed to tug at the emotions.
And when dogs, children and pensioners are included in the claims, they travel further and faster as more people try to help.
When the post is shared in good faith and gathers momentum, its contents are then changed entirely and people it is shared with no longer see a post about the lost pensioner or a sick child, instead they see a new post but this one is about a bogus scheme designed to scam more victims.
And the scam works because the posts appear to be endorsed by trusted friends, family and colleagues.
DogsLive tracked down the unwitting man in the photo used in this scam and discovered his photograph was being reproduced across social media without his knowledge, to create the fake cry for help.
His real name is Rob Jones, he is 76 and lives in Southampton, England with his partner Lyn Bulman. Neither Mr Jones nor Ms Bulman have anything to do with the scam posts on social media.
And we can reveal that Lyn took the photo for an article in their local paper in which Mr Jones explained how his three-year-old terrier, Josh, was almost killed in a dog attack but is now recovering.
Every other post about Mr Jones AKA Benson S Bell, is fake and designed to make readers feel emotionally involved to increase user interaction by fraudsters and sadly Mr Jones has no control over any of it.
And as the scam peaks, the fraudsters insert a new photo to gather up other unsuspecting members of the public they did not attract in the first place.
In this case the image of the elderly man and his dog is changed to a young boy cuddling a different dog.
And once they scammers feel they have exhausted the first claims, they shift gear and edit their posts with a fresh scam – in this case too-good-to-be-true house rental offer.
In this case the content of the scam was edited to a house for rent with an elderly couple desperate to have their home lived in as they went into care. And today we wait to unlock the final phase in the scam.
What to look out for in fraudulent Facebook posts:
- Use of phrases that do not match your locale: In this case the poster says ‘There is a silver alert activated on him’. There is no such thing in the UK.
- Spelling mistakes and inconsistencies.
- ‘The bump’: most of these posts include the request: “Please help bump this post”
- Comments are TURNED OFF on these scam posts
Facebook has information about reporting scams here. The company said: “When something gets reported to Facebook, we’ll review it and remove anything that doesn’t follow the Facebook Community Standards. Your name and other personal information will be kept completely confidential.”
To get the latest dog news straight to your inbox, sign up to our free newsletter. For the latest headlines, visit the Belfast Live homepage here.
You can find this story in My Bookmarks.Or by navigating to the user icon in the top right.