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Timmins police warn of fake missing person post on social media

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Police in Timmins are warning the public about sharing misinformation online after finding a fake social media post about a missing teen.

A post made in the 'Timmins Buy n Sell' Facebook group just before noon Tuesday by the page Hailey Montana is being called out as being fake by police.

Timmins police say missing person post on Facebook is fake. June 11, 2024 (Timmins Police Service)

It has 12 reactions and 26 shares as of 4 p.m.

Along with two grainy photos of what appears to be a young female, the post claims "Authorities in Timmins are searching for a missing teen, the daughter of a police officer."

It claims she has been missing since Thursday and asks people to share the post to help reunite her with her family.

"FAKE POST – This post appeared on the Timmins Buy and Sell," Timmins Police Service said on social media a few hours later in response.

"This person has not been reported missing to the Timmins Police Service."

Before sharing misinformation, police advise the well-meaning public to check their official website and social media for all current missing person cases.

"We also did a reverse search of the photo and could not find any matches. I cannot say if the photo is real and the account holder found them on Google or if the photos are complete fakes made with AI," a police spokesperson told CTVNewsNorthernOntario.ca in an email.

"What I can confirm is that this person was not reported as missing to Timmins Police Service."

Police said they take every missing report seriously and sharing false information can negatively impact an investigation, directing resources away from priority tasks.

"There are many group pages that seem to have a lot of fake posts and it is not exclusive to Timmins. There are often posts about missing people or found children and pets that tug at the heart strings but are fake posts," police said.

"The most effective way to protect yourself from fake posts is to only trust something once you can verify it."

Police tips:

  • Consider the source of the post. Is the account from a trusted source? (ie: Timmins Police Service, City of Timmins, OPP)
  • How old is the article? Is it recent or is it an old story being rehashed. This can have a negative impact on the person and the family who may be reliving a traumatic situation.
  • Has the account just recently joined that social media platform? Not have any “Friends” or “Followers”?
  • Is the poster local? Look at the language in the post. Does it mention specific details about local locations or have contact information or is it vague that could apply to anywhere? Ie – This dog was found on the side of the road in Timmins. Which road? What area?
  • Have the comments been turned off so that others cannot call the post out for being fake?

CTV New reached out to the Hailey Montana account for comment and has not received a response.

The page only has four group posts, with the first one about a missing Timmins senior posted Oct. 20, 2023, and flagged by the platform as "false information."

Comments are turned off on all of the posts on the Hailey Montana page.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children said some signs to help spot misinformation include:

  • The information doesn't come from an official law enforcement agency or other credible news source
  • The post contains mistakes such as poor grammar, misspellings, words used improperly or syntax errors
  • The post doesn't ask you to take appropriate action, like the proper police phone number

"In a world dominated by social media and the internet, it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s real and what’s not when online," the centre said.

"It is also important to remember that after sharing the poster or image on social media, check back often to see if the child has been recovered. To protect their privacy, it’s important to take their name and image off of social media after a recovery. Consider deleting your posts once a child has been found."

Once you have confirmed a post's legitimacy, the centre recommends adding a 'call-to-action,' so people know what to do if they see the person in public, include the police department's contact information and consider leaving out additional details that are not in the official poster.

CTV News has reached out to Timmins police for more information about the situation and is awaiting a reply.

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