At least once a week, someone on Twitter or Facebook will share a picture describing a missing person (usually a child) with one or more phone numbers to call. Our immediate reaction is to share it far and wide to help locate someone else’s missing loved ones. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of bad guy out there who are all too happy to capitalize on that impulse to help them stalk non-custodial children, ex-spouses, and others who have chosen to break contact. Here’s what you need to look for before clicking Share.
More often than not, the pictures will not be shared by law enforcement agencies. That’s a hint that the report may not be legitimate. If the image was not retweeted or originally shared by a local police agency or media group (TV, newspaper, radio), odds are good that it’s not the real deal. You can also check active AMBER Alerts and official state missing persons reports to see if this individual is listed there.
Most of these images include phone numbers. Some quick Google searches will often tell you if the phone number belongs to law enforcement or a private party. Almost all of the time, they are numbers registered to wireless providers, usually pre-paid ones with a blanket of anonymity. This is a giant red flag that something’s up. You should only ever call law enforcement to report a missing person sighting and never a private party.
The stalkers know they can prey upon our impulses to help out. In fact, they depend on it. Let’s make sure we’re all being smart about what we share and not trusting whatever we see on the Internet.