Scam uses photos of injured animals to get people to share fraudulent links

Published Aug. 21, 2023 6:06 p.m. ET

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When Kim Spirou came across a Facebook post that seemed to show an injured dog that was lost and needed to be reunited with its owner, she did what many people would have done: clicked the "share" button.

"I thought, 'Maybe I can help, because I'm connected to so many people.' Very innocently. I shared it ... The post got me because it was a little dog and I'm an animal lover," said Spirou.

That post was shared by multiple people, all wanting to aid in the search of the dog's owner. But by the end of the day, the content of the post had changed to a link for a fraudulent rental advertisement.

It's referred to on social media as the "bait-and-switch" scam and is seemingly becoming more common in Facebook groups.

At the time Spirou had shared the post about the lost dog Friday night, she was already sharing a second post on her profile — one that had since changed to a fake real estate advertisement.

"I never shared that. When I shared the post initially, it was something else completely," she said.

Bait-and-switch posts start by appearing to appeal to users' emotions and tugging at their heartstrings.

These posts will typically show an injured animal that needs to be reunited with its owner, an elderly person that is lost, or a child who has gone missing.

Due to the urgent nature of these posts, they tend to be shared by multiple people.

However, once the post has enough shares, the scammer will change its content to include some type of scam link — often times, promoting a rental listing or another kind of fraudulent advertisement.

Those who originally shared the post may have no idea it has been altered, meaning they may end up promoting a scam link on their personal profile for days on end before it is eventually taken down.

"All the shares are where the poison creeps in," said Windsor resident Kristina Garsword, who said she frequents multiple Facebook groups where users can buy and sell items.

According to Garsword, bait-and-switch posts are becoming more common of nuisance in public social media groups.

"Several times a week, at least one of my friends is sharing these kinds of posts. I have gotten really fed up with the amount of times they're just let through," said Garsword. "Administrators aren't monitoring or paying any attention to the content that is being posted in in their groups. It's ridiculous and is so potentially dangerous."

In recent weeks, Garsword has been making separate posts of her own in these groups, advising people on what to look out for to avoid sharing one of these posts.

"Has this person just joined the group? Have the comments been turned off? Is the post really vague? Is it coming from a Page ... because these posts usually come from a Page and not a person," said Garsword.

She added it's important to quickly alert people of these bait-and-switch posts whenever you come across them.

"Tell people that this post is a scam and delete it ... or in a few days, it's going to be changed to a fraud post that your friends are going to click on because you've shared it and they think it's coming from someone they trust," said Garsword.

As for Spirou, she has since deleted both of the bait-and-switch posts that were being shared on her profile.

"These scammers are becoming more and more sophisticated and that's sad, it’s really awful that these scams are increasing at the rate that they are," she said. "I've learned a lesson for sure and I won't repeat this mistake again. This will totally make me think twice before I ever share a post."

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