Hoax posts about dog thief with gun use photos from US

8 June 2023
What was claimed

Photos show a dog being stolen from places in the UK by a man with a gun.

Our verdict

The photos reportedly show an incident in Ocean County, US and were first published by a local news website in New Jersey. They do not show a dog being stolen in any part of the UK.

A series of Facebook posts that claim a dog has been stolen by a man with a gun are hoaxes. The posts all use the same photos that come from the US. 

The posts show still images from CCTV footage showing a man with a gun holding a dog, and a picture of the same dog on its own.

One of the hoax posts, which has over 1,200 shares and appears in a buy-and-sell group for towns in Greater Manchester, says: “Someone in #Ramsbottom has stolen our beloved pup, leaving my 4 year old son heartbroken. If anyone has seen him, please let me know. Let's make this thief famous and spread the word hopefully he'll be caught soon!!!”

Posts with almost identical text, changing only the location, have accumulated hundreds of shares in community groups for Bristol, Leeds, Plymouth and Middletown in Cumbria, among others. The same text has also been translated into French and posted by someone whose accounts says they work in animal protection. It claims the dog was taken from Brest in Brittany and has 11,000 shares. 

All of the posts share the same photo of a dog lying on grass and either one or two still images of CCTV footage that shows a hooded man holding supposedly the same dog in one hand and a gun in the other. 

A reverse image search shows that the photos come from a local news website in New Jersey, US. The photos appear in an article published on 12 May 2023 that says the photographs show an alleged incident in Ocean County.

Full Fact has written many times before about hoax posts similar to this, including missing dogs, injured pets, abandoned babies and lost pensioners

Hoax posts often use photos that are taken from elsewhere– it is always worth checking whether content is real before sharing. We’ve written a guide on how to identify misleading images here

Another clue that a post may be a hoax is if the comments section has been disabled, which is often done to prevent social media users from commenting that the post isn’t genuine. This is true for many of these hoax posts

The motivation behind the false posts isn’t always clear, but we’ve seen a number of cases where they were edited after reaching a large number of people in order to advertise housing or survey websites. These types of hoaxes can risk genuine missing or lost posts being ignored or dismissed as false. 

We have written to Meta expressing these concerns and asking the company to take stronger action in response to this problem.

Image courtesy of Tony Webster

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