A Facebook post asking for the public’s help to trace the parents of a young girl found wandering in Sliema, a popular seaside town on the coast of Malta, went viral on Thursday 20th April, being shared by over 1,300 people.
The post was shared in a Facebook group for rental accommodation in Malta, quickly gaining the sympathy of other Facebook users who went on to share it in several other groups.
The post claims that a toddler named Courtney was found near a park in Sliema and asks people to “please help bump this post so she can be reunited with her parents”.
Many people who shared the post made a similar appeal, expressing their hope that the girl will be safely delivered to her family.
A reverse image search reveals that the image did not originate in Malta.
The photo first appeared online earlier in the week when the police department in the town of Pasadena, Texas launched an appeal for the public to come forward with any information about a missing child.
The Pasadena police department refers to the child as a “two to three-year-old Hispanic child”, without specifying the child’s gender or name. The child was found alone in a parking lot.
The post was updated just 40 minutes later, announcing a happy end to the story, with local residents helping the police to reunite the child with their family.
In comments to Times of Malta, a police spokesperson confirmed that the post is fake and that no such child was reported missing.
Missing child scams
This post appears to be an example of a notorious missing child scam, where scammers attempt to attract a large number of shares or likes through a story or image that is likely to gain the public’s sympathy.
Once the post has been widely shared, the scammer returns to the original post and edits it, changing it into a post containing links to fraudulent websites or hoaxes, often asking users to submit their credit card details.
Unsuspecting Facebook users who then come across the edited post advertising a hoax are less likely to be suspicious if it has received thousands of likes or shares.
Such posts often have their comments disabled to prevent people from warning unsuspecting users that the post is a scam.
The image is not of a toddler called Courtney who was found abandoned in Sliema.
The photo was originally posted by the police department in Pasadena, Texas on Monday 17th April. The child was later successfully reunited with their family.
This is an example of a scam that tries to make hoax websites appear legitimate.
The claim is therefore false as the evidence clearly refutes it.
The Times of Malta fact-checking service forms part of the Mediterranean Digital Media Observatory (MedDMO) and the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO), an independent observatory with hubs across all 27 EU member states that is funded by the EU’s Digital Europe programme. Fact-checks are based on our code of principles.
Let us know what you would like us to fact-check, understand our ratings system or see our answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the service.