Facebook has deleted two accounts for using stolen images of a sick three-year-old child as part of a disturbing fake cancer scam. The messages posted on the platform claimed that the social media giant would donate money for surgery if users "liked" the post or left comments.
"This little baby has cancer and he needs money for surgery," the Facebook message, posted by a user going by the name Pooran Singh, read. "Facebook has decided to help by giving 1 Like = 2 dollars. 1 Comment = 4 dollars. 1 Share = 8 dollars. Please don't scroll down without typing Amen."
The photos are actually of three-year-old Jasper Allen who suffered from a severe bout of chickenpox last year - a case that was covered by several media outlets in August last year.
The BBC reports that over a million people engaged with the fake post since it was posted earlier this month.
His mother, Sarah Allen from St Neots, Cambridgeshire, said the offending Facebook account probably found the photos from the news stories published about her son.
"We were warned people might take these pictures... because if you Google chickenpox his pictures are there," she told the BBC. "So, we were well aware that might happen, but not in this respect, to say he had cancer."
Concerned friends even contacted Allen enquiring whether her son actually had cancer, she said.
After consistently reaching out to Facebook to report the images since she first saw them earlier this month, she said she was informed on 10 February that one account was removed for violating the site's Community Standards. Within 24 hours, the account popped up again online, Allen said.
"I have reported it for nudity, for copyright and for inappropriate content - about 30 times in total," Allen told The Mirror. "I have had so many people message me about it and I keep reporting it constantly, lots of my friends have reported it too."
According to the BBC, Facebook only took down the posts that featured Jasper at first before it decided to remove the accounts that posted them as well. These accounts also posted images of other children in hospital among other photos asking for likes, votes and requesting people to type
"Amen" and share the post or experience years of bad luck.
"I think it is disgusting. They are scammers," Allen said. "They can't be real human beings, because no person this is ok. They are making up lies."
She said she also commented on the fake post writing: "You sick b*****d, this is my son, he does not have cancer, take these pictures down." The page reportedly "liked" her comment.
Security blogger Graham Cluley told the BBC the scheme was probably used for "link farming" where a scammer attempts to get users to interact with a Facebook post.
"There are a lot of scams that use these kinds of emotional images - oftentimes it's done to make money," Graham Cluley said. "They may later post something that claims you've won a prize and try and get you to enter your mobile phone number and then sign you up for a premium rate service, or ask for other personal information."
Allen told the Mirror that the fake post garnered even more shares than her petition urging the government to make the chickenpox vaccination a part of the NHS's routine childhood immunisation schedule.
"Facebook need to make the reporting process better and take things like this down straight away," Allen said. "You can't even have a breastfeeding photograph on Facebook without it being taken down, but somehow this is fine?"