By Jen Kocher, Cowboy State Daily
The executive director of a Wyoming missing person nonprofit is sounding the alarm about an uptick of phishing scams involving missing people posts on social media.
Desirée Tinoco, founder of Missing People of Wyoming, said what began as one scam involving a missing teenage boy has spiraled out of control as scams infiltrated her group’s Facebook page and several other public group pages throughout Natrona County and the state.
As someone who is well-versed in parsing out scammers, this particular one caught Tinoco off-guard.
“I’ve never seen this before,” she said. “The fact they are changing the picture of the missing person and reusing (it) is really sick and scary.”
Photos, Descriptions Don’t Match
Tinoco became aware of it after sharing a post for a missing teen named “Tyler Buckland” by a Facebook user named “Kelly.” A user pointed out to Tinoco the same post later morphed to a banking scam.
A post with “Tyler’s” photo and story showed up again on another local Casper social media site as “Tyler Tommy.” It had been shared by “Leah Tommy,” who claimed to be his mom, Tinoco said.
The story was the same about his leaving for school and not coming home. The description did not match the photo nor did it give specific details with a geographical location. Like the other post, the comments had been turned off.
Bots And Fake Profiles
Upon further research, Tinoco read about similar schemes involving “Tyler” and other missing people in Missouri and elsewhere where scammers were using bots and fake profiles to con users into sharing their phishing schemes by altering the post after the original is shared.
Think of it as a Trojan Horse sneaking in a digital billboard. Once in place, the scammer can manually change the post so the user is then unwittingly sharing that particular phishing scheme.
The schemes range from fake rentals or real-estate offers to any number of other scams.
For example, the original post might be for a missing person or a puppy that was found or someone who is wanted by police. Posts, in other words as Tinoco noted, that evoke emotions and prompt people to share them among their friends and on other public or group pages.
Because users are not warned about activity on that post, they won’t see that the post has been altered unless they go back and check.
Tinoco thinks two snuck past her and the co-administer of her group’s page, but both have since been taken down from the Missing People of Wyoming Facebook page.
From the posts on her page, Tinoco has identified the bots as originating from Russia, Africa and India.
Warning From Law Enforcement
The Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigations, which runs the statewide missing person database, said it’s aware of the scam.
“We’ve started hearing about the scams going around with a missing person attached to it,” Katie Koskelowski, DCI control terminal specialist and manager of the missing persons clearinghouse, told Cowboy State Daily in an email Monday morning.
The “Tyler” scam has been shared in almost every state at this point, she said, and urged people to check the database to make sure the missing person has been verified before sharing.
Vigilance Is Key
Tinoco reiterated the importance of vetting these posts, which appear to be cropping up in record time.
“Check your sources before you share someone’s missing person fliers. It takes the average person five minutes to verify if the case is still active,” she said. “It’s happening on lots of the buy and sell pages and local social media groups.”
Tinoco said she verifies every missing person post on her page within 24 hours. She vets it against the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation’s database or with the law enforcement agency sharing the post.
She further advises people to check out that particular person’s page before sharing their post. Typically, fake bots are easy to spot based on their user names and profiles.
The comments on the posts also are muted so people can’t alert other people to the scam.
“People aren’t aware what they’re sharing and think they are doing something good. That’s the most alarming thing about this particular scam is that they are preying on people’s good intentions.”
Who is ‘Tyler’?
It’s not clear if Tyler is a real person or whether he ever been missing.
A search by Cowboy State Daily to track down his case led to a YouTube video on a site called NewsRandom. The video claims that “Tyler Bucklandon” did not return home from his first day of school in St. Louis, Missouri, on Tuesday, Oct. 11.
Other videos have appeared on TikTok with photos resembling the same “Tyler” in the various missing person posters posted by different “mothers.”
Many users on Facebook have flagged it as a scam in several states.
Cowboy State Daily could further find no news accounts of “Tyler’s” missing person case.
“It’s unclear if he is a real person or was ever missing,” Tinoco said. “It’s really disturbing that someone would exploit this boy’s picture.”