Fake Missing Persons Money Scam – How Scam Work – 2024

Fake Missing Persons Money Scam

An Emotionally Charged Scam that Tugs at Scam Victim’s Heartstrings!

How Scams Work – A SCARS Insight

•  Tim McGuinness, Ph.D. – Anthropologist, Scientist, Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.
Originally Published: 2021 – Article Updated: 2024

Article Abstract

The missing person scam is a sophisticated fraud tactic that preys on people’s kindness by transforming an innocent plea for help into a financial trap.

Initially, scammers create a fake missing person post designed to evoke empathy and urgency. As the post gains traction through social proof—a cognitive bias where people mimic the actions of others—the scammers edit the content to promote a fraudulent investment or charity scheme, exploiting the established trust.

To guard against this scam, verify information through official channels, scrutinize post edits, educate others, report suspicious posts, and use reputable charities. Understanding social proof can help mitigate the scam’s impact and protect communities from financial exploitation.

SCARS RED BOOK - Crime Organizer - from SCARS Publishing shop.AgainstScams.org

SCARS Recommended Books

SCARS GREEN BOOK - Recovering from the Scam - from SCARS Publishing shop.AgainstScams.org
Missing Persons Scam - How Scam Work - 2024 - on SCARS RomanceScamsNOW.com - The Encyclopedia of Scams

The Missing Person Money Scam: Exploiting Scam Victim’s Kindness for Financial Gain

In the ever-evolving landscape of online fraud, a new and sophisticated scam has emerged: the missing person scam. This deceitful tactic preys on people’s kindness and their instinct to help those in need, transforming innocent intentions into a gateway for financial exploitation. Understanding how this scam operates, recognizing its signs, and knowing how to guard against it are essential for protecting oneself and others from falling victim.

How the Missing Person Scam Works

1. Initial Setup with a Fake Missing Person Post: The scam begins with the creation of a fake missing person post. These posts often include a heartfelt plea for help, complete with photos and detailed descriptions that evoke empathy and urgency. These posts are shared widely, accumulating likes and shares, and appearing genuine and urgent.

2. Building Credibility through Social Proof: As the post gains traction, it benefits from a psychological cognitive bias known as “social proof.” This is the tendency for people to mirror the actions of others under the assumption that those actions are reflective of the correct behavior. The more likes and shares the post receives, the more credible it appears to new viewers.

3. Content Edit to a Fraudulent Scheme: Once the post has garnered significant attention and credibility, the scammer edits the content. The heartfelt plea for finding a missing person is replaced with an investment scheme or a fraudulent charity appeal. By this stage, the post has already been widely shared, giving the new fraudulent message an air of legitimacy.

4. Exploitation and Financial Gain: The edited post now encourages people to invest in a too-good-to-be-true opportunity or to donate to a cause. Trusting the social proof from the original post, unsuspecting individuals are more likely to fall for the scam, transferring money or personal information to the fraudster.

Recognizing the Missing Person Scam

Rapid Changes in Content: One of the most telling signs is a sudden and drastic change in the content of a post that has already gained significant attention. A missing person post that transforms into an investment opportunity or a charity appeal is a red flag.

Inconsistent Details: Look for inconsistencies in the story, such as changes in the names, locations, or other critical details. Scammers often make mistakes when altering the post’s content.

Overly Emotional Appeals: While genuine missing person posts are emotional, scammers may exaggerate this to manipulate emotions. Be cautious of posts that seem overly dramatic or too perfect in their portrayal of distress. They may also use heavy religious references that seem inconsistent for where the person is located.

Lack of Official Sources: Legitimate missing person cases are usually reported by official sources, such as law enforcement agencies or reputable news outlets. They will usually include contact information for law enforcement as well. If a post lacks links to such sources, it could be a scam.

Pressure to Act Quickly: Scammers often create a sense of urgency to prevent critical thinking. Be wary of posts that urge immediate action or donations without providing adequate information or time to verify the claims.

The Impact of Social Proof Cognitive Bias in the Missing Person Scam

The missing person scam leverages a powerful psychological principle (cognitive bias) known as “social proof” to deceive individuals – there are literally hundreds of cognitive biases that work against us all.

Social proof is a cognitive bias where people mimic the actions of others under the assumption that those actions are reflective of correct behavior. In the context of the missing person scam, this bias plays a significant role in enhancing the credibility of the fraudulent posts, making them more likely to be believed and shared. Understanding how social proof operates can help individuals recognize and guard against this and similar scams.

What is Social Proof?

Social proof is the psychological tendency to follow the actions of others, especially in situations where the correct behavior is ambiguous or uncertain. This bias stems from an evolutionary need to conform to group behavior for safety and survival. In modern times, it manifests in various ways, from following crowd behavior to relying on reviews and testimonials.

How Social Proof Enhances the Scam

Initial Credibility: When a missing person post is shared by a large number of people, it gains initial credibility. Viewers are more likely to believe the post is genuine because many others have already interacted with it. The assumption is that if so many people are concerned and sharing the post, it must be legitimate.

Amplified Reach: The more a post is shared, the more it spreads across social networks. Each share acts as a recommendation from one individual to another, amplifying the post’s reach exponentially. As the post circulates widely, its perceived credibility continues to grow.

Increased Trust: People tend to trust information that comes from their social circles. When a friend or family member shares a missing person post, it carries more weight than a post seen in isolation. This trust can lead individuals to engage with the post more deeply and take action, such as sharing it further or donating money once the content is changed.

Reduced Skepticism: Social proof reduces skepticism. Seeing a post with many likes, shares, and comments creates an implicit endorsement. Individuals are less likely to question the authenticity of the post and more likely to accept it at face value.

Psychological Comfort: Following the crowd provides psychological comfort. In uncertain situations, conforming to the behavior of others feels safer and more rational. This comfort can cloud judgment, making it easier for scammers to manipulate emotions and prompt actions like donations or investments.

The Role of Social Proof in the Scam Cycle

Creating a Hook: Scammers craft an emotionally compelling missing-person post is designed to evoke strong reactions. The initial wave of shares and likes creates the hook, leveraging social proof to build a foundation of trust and credibility.

Building Momentum: As the post gains traction, the momentum of social proof continues to build. Each new interaction reinforces the post’s legitimacy, drawing in more unsuspecting individuals who are swayed by the collective behavior of their peers.

The Switch: Once the post has reached a critical mass of shares and likes, the scammer edits the content, replacing the missing person plea with a fraudulent investment opportunity or charity appeal. The existing social proof lends credibility to the new content, making it appear as though the investment or charity has widespread support.

Exploiting Trust: With the post now transformed, scammers exploit the established trust. Individuals who trusted the original post are more likely to trust the new message, making them susceptible to financial exploitation.

Mitigating the Impact of Social Proof

Critical Thinking: Encourage critical thinking and skepticism. Before acting on or sharing a post, take time to verify the information from credible sources. Look for official confirmations from law enforcement or reputable news outlets.

Awareness and Education: Spread awareness about the social proof bias and how scammers exploit it. Educating people on this psychological principle can help them recognize when they are being influenced by collective behavior.

Check for Consistency: Regularly review the content of widely shared posts. If a post you previously shared or interacted with changes its message, investigate the new content thoroughly.

Report Suspicious Activity: Report posts that seem to have been edited in a suspicious manner. Social media platforms have mechanisms for flagging potentially fraudulent content, which can help protect others from being deceived.

Use Reliable Sources: Rely on well-known and reputable organizations for charitable donations and investments. Avoid acting on appeals that come solely from social media posts, especially those with sudden changes in content.

By understanding and mitigating the impact of social proof, individuals can better protect themselves and their communities from falling victim to the missing person scam and other similar fraudulent schemes. Awareness of this cognitive bias is a crucial step in fostering a more discerning and secure online environment.

How to Guard Against the Missing Person Scam

The key to these scams is that other real people share them.

Verify Before Sharing: Before sharing any missing person post, verify the information through official channels. Check for news reports, police alerts, or statements from the missing person’s family.

Scrutinize Edits and Updates: If a post you’ve shared undergoes significant changes, investigate the new content. Scammers rely on the fact that people don’t revisit old shares to notice these changes.

Educate and Inform Others: Spread awareness about this scam to friends, family, and social media contacts. The more people know about it, the less effective the scam will be.

Report Suspicious Posts: If you suspect a post is part of a scam, report it to the social media platform. Many platforms have mechanisms for flagging and investigating fraudulent content.

Use Reliable Charities: When asked to donate, always use well-known and reputable charitable organizations. Avoid sending money to unfamiliar entities based on social media posts alone. Though admittedly this is not always possible in the case of GoFundMe and similar appeals.

Stay Skeptical: Maintain a healthy level of skepticism about sensational or emotional social media posts. It’s better to be cautious and take time to verify than to act impulsively and fall victim to a scam.


By understanding the mechanics of the missing person scam, recognizing its signs, and taking proactive measures to verify and report suspicious activities, we can protect ourselves and our communities from this insidious form of fraud. Remember, your vigilance can prevent scammers from exploiting the kindness and generosity that drives so many of us to help others in need.

Important Information for New Scam Victims

SCARS Resources:

Other Cyber Resources

-/ 30 /-

What do you think about this?
Please share your thoughts in a comment below!

SCARS FREE Support & Recovery Program - 4 EVER FREE

Do You Need Support?
Get It Now!

SCARS provides the leading Support & Recovery program for relationship scam victims – completely FREE!

Our managed peer support groups allow victims to talk to other survivors and recover in the most experienced environment possible, for as long as they need. Recovery takes as long as it takes – we put no limits on our support!

SCARS is the most trusted support & education provider in the world. Our team is certified in trauma-informed care, grief counseling, and so much more!

To apply to join our groups visit support.AgainstScams.org

We also offer separate support groups for family & friends too.

SCARS STAR Membership

Become a

SCARS offers memberships in our STAR program, which includes many benefits for a very low annual membership fee!

SCARS STAR Membership benefits include:

  • FREE Counseling or Therapy Benefit from our partner BetterHelp.com
  • Exclusive members-only content & publications
  • Discounts on SCARS Self-Help Books Save
  • And more!

To learn more about the SCARS STAR Membership visit membership.AgainstScams.org

To become a SCARS STAR Member right now visit join.AgainstScams.org


SCARS Publishing Self-Help Recovery Books Available At shop.AgainstScams.org

Scam Victim Self-Help Do-It-Yourself Recovery Books

SCARS Printed Books For Every Scam Survivor From SCARS Publishing

Visit shop.AgainstScams.org

Each is based on our SCARS Team’s 32-plus years of experience.

SCARS Website Visitors receive an Extra 10% Discount
Use Discount Code “romanacescamsnow” at Checkout

Always Report All Scams – Anywhere In The World To:

Go to reporting.AgainstScams.org to learn how

U.S. FTC at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/?orgcode=SCARS and SCARS at www.Anyscams.com
Visit reporting.AgainstScams.org to learn more!



Legal Disclaimer:

The content provided on this platform regarding psychological topics is intended solely for educational and entertainment purposes. The publisher makes no representations or warranties regarding the accuracy or completeness of the information presented. The content is designed to raise awareness about various psychological subjects, and readers are strongly encouraged to conduct their own research and verify information independently.

The information presented does not constitute professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment of any psychological disorder or disease. It is not a substitute for professional medical or mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Readers are advised to seek the guidance of a licensed medical professional for any questions or concerns related to their mental health.

The publisher disclaims any responsibility for actions taken or not taken based on the content provided. The treatment of psychological issues is a serious matter, and readers should consult with qualified professionals to address their specific circumstances. The content on this platform is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, a therapist-client relationship.

Interpretation and Definitions


For the purposes of this Disclaimer:

  • Company (referred to as either “the Company”, “We”, “Us” or “Our” in this Disclaimer) refers to Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc. (registered d.b.a. “SCARS”,) 9561 Fountainbleau Blvd., Suit 602, Miami FL 33172.
  • Service refers to the Website.
  • You means the individual accessing this website, or the company, or other legal entity on behalf of which such individual is accessing or using the Service, as applicable.
  • Website refers to RomanceScamsNOW.com, accessible from https://romancescamsnow.com

Website Disclaimer

The information contained on this website is for general information purposes only.

The Company assumes no responsibility for errors or omissions in the contents of the Service.

In no event shall the Company be liable for any special, direct, indirect, consequential, or incidental damages or any damages whatsoever, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tort, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Service or the contents of the Service. The Company reserves the right to make additions, deletions, or modifications to the contents on the Service at any time without prior notice.

The Company does not warrant this website in any way.

External Links Disclaimer

This website may contain links to external websites that are not provided or maintained by or in any way affiliated with the Company.

Please note that the Company does not guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness, or completeness of any information on these external websites.

Errors and Omissions Disclaimer

The information given by SCARS is for general guidance on matters of interest only. Even if the Company takes every precaution to ensure that the content of this website is both current and accurate, errors can occur. Plus, given the changing nature of laws, rules, and regulations, there may be delays, omissions, or inaccuracies in the information contained on this website.

SCARS is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information.

Fair Use Disclaimer

SCARS may use copyrighted material that has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The Company is making such material available for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.

The Company believes this constitutes a “fair use” of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the United States Copyright law.

If You wish to use copyrighted material from this website for your own purposes that go beyond fair use, You must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Views Expressed Disclaimer

The Service may contain views and opinions which are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other author, agency, organization, employer, or company, including SCARS.

Comments published by users are their sole responsibility and the users will take full responsibility, liability, and blame for any libel or litigation that results from something written in or as a direct result of something written in a comment. The Company is not liable for any comment published by users and reserves the right to delete any comment for any reason whatsoever.

No Responsibility Disclaimer

The information on the Service is provided with the understanding that the Company is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, medical or mental health, or other professional advice and services. As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional accounting, tax, legal, medical or mental health, or other competent advisers.

In no event shall the Company, its team, board of directors, volunteers, or its suppliers be liable for any special, incidental, indirect, or consequential damages whatsoever arising out of or in connection with your access or use or inability to access or use the Service.

“Use at Your Own Risk” Disclaimer

All information on this website is provided “as is”, with no guarantee of completeness, accuracy, timeliness or of the results obtained from the use of this information, and without warranty of any kind, express or implied, including, but not limited to warranties of performance, merchantability, and fitness for a particular purpose.

SCARS will not be liable to You or anyone else for any decision made or action taken in reliance on the information given by the Service or for any consequential, special, or similar damages, even if advised of the possibility of such damages.

Contact Us

If you have any questions about this Disclaimer, You can contact Us:

  • By email: contact@AgainstScams.org

PLEASE NOTE: Psychology Clarification

The following specific modalities within the practice of psychology are restricted to psychologists appropriately trained in the use of such modalities:

  • Diagnosis: The diagnosis of mental, emotional, or brain disorders and related behaviors.
  • Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis is a type of therapy that focuses on helping individuals to understand and resolve unconscious conflicts.
  • Hypnosis: Hypnosis is a state of trance in which individuals are more susceptible to suggestion. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, and pain.
  • Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a type of therapy that teaches individuals to control their bodily functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including stress, anxiety, and pain.
  • Behavioral analysis: Behavioral analysis is a type of therapy that focuses on changing individuals’ behaviors. It is often used to treat conditions such as autism and ADHD.
    Neuropsychology: Neuropsychology is a type of psychology that focuses on the relationship between the brain and behavior. It is often used to assess and treat cognitive impairments caused by brain injuries or diseases.

SCARS and the members of the SCARS Team do not engage in any of the above modalities in relationship to scam victims. SCARS is not a mental healthcare provider and recognizes the importance of professionalism and separation between its work and that of the licensed practice of psychology.

SCARS is an educational provider of generalized self-help information that individuals can use for their own benefit to achieve their own goals related to emotional trauma. SCARS recommends that all scam victims see professional counselors or therapists to help them determine the suitability of any specific information or practices that may help them.

SCARS cannot diagnose or treat any individuals, nor can it state the effectiveness of any educational information that it may provide, regardless of its experience in interacting with traumatized scam victims over time. All information that SCARS provides is purely for general educational purposes to help scam victims become aware of and better understand the topics and to be able to dialog with their counselors or therapists.

It is important that all readers understand these distinctions and that they apply the information that SCARS may publish at their own risk, and should do so only after consulting a licensed psychologist or mental healthcare provider.






This content and other material contained on the website, apps, newsletter, and products (“Content”), is general in nature and for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical, legal, or financial advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for licensed or regulated professional advice. Always consult your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider, lawyer, financial, or tax professional with any questions you may have regarding the educational information contained herein. SCARS makes no guarantees about the efficacy of information described on or in SCARS’ Content. The information contained is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible situations or effects. SCARS does not recommend or endorse any specific professional or care provider, product, service, or other information that may be mentioned in SCARS’ websites, apps, and Content unless explicitly identified as such.

The disclaimers herein are provided on this page for ease of reference. These disclaimers supplement and are a part of SCARS’ website’s Terms of Use. 

All original content is Copyright © 1991 – 2023 Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc. (Registered D.B.A SCARS) All Rights Reserved Worldwide & Webwide. Third-party copyrights acknowledge.

U.S. State of Florida Registration Nonprofit (Not for Profit) #N20000011978 [SCARS DBA Registered #G20000137918] – Learn more at www.AgainstScams.org

View the claimed and or registered indicia, service marks, and trademarks of Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc., All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Contact the law firm for the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Incorporated by email at legal@AgainstScams.org

Share This Information - Choose Your Social Media!

Leave A Comment