Missing grandma hoax posts use photo taken from a 2016 blog

22 June 2023
What was claimed

A user is searching for their 80-year-old grandma who has dementia and has gone missing.

Our verdict

This is a hoax. The photo is taken from an unrelated Reddit thread from 2016.

Posts on social media claiming that an 80-year-old grandmother with dementia has gone missing are hoaxes. 

One of the posts, which appears in a community group for Middlesbrough and has over 300 shares, says: “Help!!!- MISSING!! #middlesbrough My grandma who is 80 took off yesterday around 4:30 and she still hasn't returned. She’s upset because she doesn’t believe she lives in her own house so she’s trying to find her house obviously she’s confused.Last we tracked her card getting gas but she doesn’t know where she’s going, she has dementia. There is a silver alert activated on her. Please help bump this post so we can get her home safely!! [sic]”

Other posts with almost identical text appear in community groups for South Wales, Stourport-on-Severn and South Shields. All of these posts use the same photo of an elderly woman with a cat. 

There are several clues that the post is not genuine. 

Not only is it impossible for the same woman to go missing in several places at the same time (the posts appeared over the span of several days), but a reverse image search shows that the photo comes from a Reddit thread posted in 2016 about a 90-year-old woman, rather than a woman currently aged 80 as it says in the post. 

The text in the Facebook posts is also very similar to other hoaxes about a missing woman that we have fact checked recently. These posts appeared in 20 community groups across the country and all used a photo of a woman from a genuine missing person appeal in the US in 2018, who was later found. 

Hoax posts about missing elderly people in the UK often say that a “silver alert” has been activated. This refers to a way of notifying the public about missing people who may be elderly, have dementia or other conditions and which only operates in the US. It would not be used for someone missing in the UK. 

Full Fact has previously checked many different posts on Facebook buy, sell or trade groups which falsely raise an alarm for missing children, abandoned infants or injured dogs. These posts are often later edited to promote freebies, cashback or property listings, with comments frequently disabled, so that users who see what is happening are unable to call them out publicly. 

This can cause local community groups to become overwhelmed with false information and potentially result in genuine missing and lost posts being ignored or—perhaps worse—dismissed as false. We have written to Meta expressing these concerns and asking the company to take stronger action in response to this problem. 

It’s always worth checking whether content is real before you share it. We have written a guide on how to verify viral images which you can read here.

Image courtesy of Book Catalog

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