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Don't Be Fooled: Tips for Spotting Fake Missing Child Posters


Picture this: You see a post on social media for a missing child in your local area. The person posting the information has a photo of a child, includes a name and says that the child is missing – but there really isn’t any other information. Out of curiosity, you look up the child’s “name” on the internet and that’s when you notice the same child with the same photo seems to be missing from numerous other cities across the U.S., and not one post has consistent information. 

Seems odd, doesn’t it?

That’s because maybe it is.

Here at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), we know that one of the most important jobs when a child goes missing belongs to the public, who have a unique ability to quickly disseminate information and photos of missing kids on social media.

But what if the missing poster you’re sharing isn’t actually a missing poster at all? What if the information is wrong or the child in the photo isn’t even a missing child? 

How do you know when to click “share” and when to proceed with caution?

Sometimes, the decision can be difficult and not exactly clear, so before sharing an image or poster of a missing child, it’s important to check the legitimacy of the post. 

When trying to determine if the missing poster is real, look for the following red flags to spot misinformation:

  • The information on the child does not come from NCMEC, an official law enforcement agency or another credible news source, such as your local or national news. 

  • The poster or post contains misspellings, improperly used words or errors in syntax. 

  • The post is not asking you to take the appropriate action or doesn't share how you can take action.

Make sure the post includes identifying information about the child you are trying to find.

Good missing posters should include:

  • A child's name 

  • The date they went missing 

  • The location they are missing from

  • BONUS: The poster includes the law enforcement acency handling the case, their phone number, or NCMEC's 24/7 hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST 

Here’s an example of a NCMEC missing poster: 

joniah's missing child poster with correct information

Your work isn’t finished once you determine if the missing poster is real – because if it is, it’s time to share! Sharing a real missing poster on social media is one of the easiest ways to get involved in the search for a missing child. 

Consider the following for your own post when sharing or reposting:

  • Add a “call to action” to make sure the viewer knows what to do if they see the child in public. 

  • Highlight the investigating law enforcement agency’s phone number or the number for NCMEC (1-800-THE-LOST) where people can call or text in tips about a missing child. 

  • For the child’s privacy, NCMEC does not identify when a child is a possible victim of child sex trafficking or in social services care. Consider leaving these details out of your post, even if you’ve seen them elsewhere on social media!

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. 

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. We hope that these quick tips will help you determine what to share when assisting in the search for missing kids. 

To stay up to date with the most recent missing posters in your area, check often or follow us on social media at @missingkids, where you can like, share and retweet our posts.

You can also check your local news or visit the social media pages of your local law enforcement agency.