That photo of a missing autistic boy and his dog? It’s a hoax

Posts about a missing autistic boy (and usually his dog) have been circulating on social media since January.

The post, including a photo of the boy, pleads for help from whichever community it’s been posted in — complete with a local hashtag — and asks viewers to share the post. More often than not, the post originates in a local Facebook group.

The nearly identical text will sometimes change the boy’s name or photograph, but the markers are always the same: a profile that’s been created recently with no other posts. Once the plea for help is shared across the community, the original poster may change the copy to lead others to a scam — or find other ways to take advantage of those who participated.

Jeffrey Blevins, a professor of journalism and public and international affairs at the University of Cincinnati, previously described these copy-and-paste posts as “gullibility checks” for scammers in an interview with USA TODAY.

“They’re likely to circle back to you later to see what you’re willing to share, or they might try to engage you one-on-one, get you to accept a friend request, that kind of thing,” Blevins said.

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