Posts about missing boy use stock photograph of child model

15 February 2023
What was claimed

An autistic boy named Charlie William has gone missing with his dog.

Our verdict

These appeals are false. The image accompanying the posts is a stock photo from a professional modelling shoot, not a genuine missing person.

Multiple Facebook posts that claim to be from a parent seeking help in finding their missing child are fake and use an image of a professional model from a stock photography website.

The posts, which have all been published from the same account, have appeared on Facebook community group pages in a variety of locations including Birmingham, Burnley and the Republic of Ireland 

Each post begins with the word “help” and the name of the location, followed by identical text: “My son Charlie William took off this morning with our dog Tank. He is autistic and has been missing for eight hours now,if anyone sees him or our dog please PM me please re-post on any sites. I already contacted police.”

The posts are accompanied by a photograph of a young boy cuddling a Bernese mountain dog

We have also seen other posts using the same image and format but where the name of the missing child has been changed to William John. These appear on group pages in Deeside in north-east Wales and various locations in the United States.  

Using a reverse image search, Full Fact found the same image available for sale through a stock photography site where it is listed as “sad child with the dog”. The same young model appears in a number of other images on the site including “boy doing dishes” and “grandfather and grandson watch family album”. 

The image was used to illustrate a blog post on a pet website in 2021 and has been available online since at least 2015. 

While it's plausible that a child model may have gone missing, it's implausible that the child has gone missing from several places at once and, to raise awareness, his mother has posted appeals about where he is with a photo which is at least eight years old. 

All of the posts have the comments turned off, meaning that other Facebook users are unable to warn anyone that the appeal is not genuine. According to the online safety team of Derbyshire Constabulary, this is a common feature of hoax posts. 

The force warns: “Please be aware of hoax posts regarding missing persons, missing pets, injured animals etc. If the comments are disabled, DO NOT SHARE. 

“Once shared a number of times, the post is edited to something else, such as crypto investments or fake scam giveaways. If you shared the original post, the new scam post appears in your name too. Think! If you were trying to locate a vulnerable child, would you really disable comments?”

We’ve fact checked a number of similar fake posts shared on Facebook in recent weeks about missing children and dogs.

Image courtesy of Clint McKoy

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