Fake alerts for missing pensioners are circulating online

11 November 2022
What was claimed

Help is being sought in finding missing pensioner Robert Spall who has dementia.

Our verdict

False. The man named in the posts is not the one pictured and has already been located.

A series of posts in Facebook community groups claiming to seek help in finding a missing, elderly person in various UK locations in the past few days are false. 

One such post which appeared on a group page in Southampton on 8 November says: “FLOOD YOUR FEEDS! A Silver Alert has been issued for Robert Spall who went missing from Southampton Last night, he has dementia.”

The post is accompanied by a photograph of an elderly man on a doorstep holding a ball for a large German Shepherd dog. 

We have found identical posts on Facebook groups for Scarborough, Grimsby and Burton upon Trent. In many cases the post has been uploaded to groups for multiple locations by the same Facebook account. 

The same post also appears in community groups across the United States including ones in Kansas, Pennsylvania and South Dakota. The posts are identical except for their supposed location, and the spelling error “dimentia” in one case. 

The post is likely to have originated in the US as it makes a reference to a “silver alert”—a way of the public about missing vulnerable people, for example those who are elderly or have dementia and other conditions—that only operates there.

Although we have not been able to trace the original source of the photograph used in the posts, the details can be traced back to a genuine silver alert for a man named Robert Spall which was issued by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation on behalf of the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office on 21 October. 

The alert was cancelled later that same day when Mr Spall was located and confirmed to be safe.

We have also found other versions of the post that use the same wording but feature a picture of a man named Vern English who has been the subject of a similar false post that we have written about. 

A retired businessman, Mr English lived in California and died earlier this year

There are also versions of the post using the pictures of Vern English but claiming the missing person is called Robert Smith

The online safety unit of Derbyshire Constabulary has issued a warning about both of these posts on its own Facebook page. It says: “We recently posted a warning regarding scam found dog posts doing the rounds on community and selling pages. It has been brought to our attention that similar is happening now with missing vulnerable people scam posts being shared.

“Again, if the posts have comments disabled, please DO NOT share. Anyone wanting to reunite an [sic] vulnerable person would not disable comments. 

“As before, these tend to be on community and selling pages. Currently, most use the terms "silver alert" and mention dementia. Please don't encourage fake posts by sharing without checking.”

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 National Silver Alerts

Correction 9 August 2023

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

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