Photo of a man who died in 2014 used in recent hoax appeals for ‘missing’ man

25 September 2023
What was claimed

A photo shows a man named Walter Peters who has gone missing with his dog.

Our verdict

This is false. The photo comes from articles on a local US newsite about a different man who went missing and died in Georgia in 2014.

A missing-person hoax has been shared multiple times on Facebook.

The authors claim to be searching for an elderly man with dementia named “Walter Peters”. But the posts use a photo from US news articles in 2014 about the disappearance of a different man.

One Facebook post with almost 150 shares, for instance, appears in a buy-and-sell group for Porthcawl, Wales. It says: “FLOOD YOUR FEEDS ~ MISSING!! In porthcawl.Our Dad, Walter Peters aged 73 drove out last night with his dog Cami and he still hasn't returned. He doesn't know where he's going, he has dementia. There is a silver alert activated on him. Please help bump this post so we can get him home safely”.

Posts with the same picture and almost identical text appear in community groups for Lemington in Newcastle, New Parks in Leicester and Cimla in Wales. 

Other versions can also be found in groups abroad, including in Ōmāpere in New Zealand (where it has more than 1,500 shares), Samoa, and several places in the US, including Perry County in Pennsylvania, Dunnellon in Florida and Dartmouth in New Hampshire. 

The posts all use a photo of a man in a rocking chair with a dog on his lap. A reverse image search shows the same image in articles from 2014 about a man who went missing with his dog in Villa Rica in Georgia, US, and whose body was sadly found the following month. This man was not called Walter Peters and was 80 years-old rather than 73.

There are other telltale signs this is not a real missing person appeal. For example, several posts have their comments section disabled, which prevents people warning other users it’s a hoax (and would also make it more difficult for users to offer help if someone really had gone missing). 

The post also closely resembles other hoax posts we’ve seen, which claim an elderly person with dementia is missing with their dog, and also use phrases such as “flood your feeds” and “bump this post”. 

Moreover, they say that a “silver alert” has been activated. This refers to a system designed to notify the public about missing vulnerable people—such as someone missing with dementia. However, it does not operate in the UK.

Full Fact has seen many hoax posts in other forms, including several about missing children, injured pets and abandoned babies. We’ve recently published an investigation into how and why these posts are shared so widely. 

These types of posts can cause local community groups to become overwhelmed with false information, which could potentially mean genuine appeals are ignored or—perhaps worse—dismissed as fake. 

It’s always worth considering whether something is real before sharing it online—you can read more about how to spot Facebook hoax posts using our guide here. We’ve written to Meta expressing these concerns and asking the company to take stronger action in response to this problem.

Image courtesy of Yuri Samoilov

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