Post about missing uncle in Sunderland is fake

2 November 2022
What was claimed

The niece of an 80-year-old man who has gone missing in Sunderland wants help finding him.

Our verdict

False. The post uses a picture of an American man who died earlier this year.

A Facebook post which purports to be from the niece of an 80-year-old man who went missing in Sunderland on 31 October is false. 

The post, which was published on 1 November, says: “URGENT- MISSING! My uncle who is 80 drove out yesterday around 5:30 pm from Fulwell. 

“That’s the last we tracked his card getting gas but he doesn’t know where he’s going. He’s upset because he doesn’t believe he lives in his own house so he’s trying to find his house obviously he’s confused. 

“He doesn’t have a cell phone or onStar. He hasn’t filled up anymore so he may be stopped and resting. There is a silver alert activated as well. Please help us get him home safely and quickly as well as their dog Brandi.”

A picture accompanying the post shows an elderly man with a moustache sitting in a car, which appears to have the steering wheel on the left, alongside a black dog. 

Although the text claims that the man went missing in the Fullwell region of Sunderland, the use of Americanisms including “gas” and “cell phone”  suggest it was originally intended for a US audience. 

In addition, the post makes reference to “OnStar”, a roadside assistance programme available in the US but no longer in the UK, and the activation of a “silver alert”—a way of notifying the public about missing vulnerable people, for example those who are elderly or have dementia and other conditions—that only operates in the US. 

A reverse image search of the photograph used in the post identifies the man as Vern English, who was resident in Sonoma, California. The image appears on a fundraising page created in January 2021. 

The retired founder of a successful local taxi firm, Mr English died earlier this year and therefore could not have gone missing in England in October. 

The same Facebook account has recently uploaded a number of other versions of the same post on the same day claiming her uncle was last seen in Belfast, Elgin in Scotland and a city in Tennessee in the US. 

We have written before about posts that claim to be seeking assistance with finding abandoned babies or identifying people who have been in accidents. 

Image courtesy of Ethan Wilkinson

Correction 9 August 2023

This article has been corrected to clarify who silver alerts apply to.

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