Sophos has advised consumers and businesses not to forward a warning about supposed child abduction in the US.
The hoax message, which poses as an AMBER Alert about a three-year-old boy said to have been kidnapped in a 2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse, is being spread widely around the world via Facebook and Twitter, as well as through SMS text messages.
Unwitting users are sharing what they think is a genuine warning causing a snowball effect as the fake messages telling recipients to look out for a car with the registration plate "98B351" spreads faster and further.
Sophos saw the license plate number which features in the bogus "AMBER alert" rise to the 87th most commonly searched for term on the Internet within an hour.
"Hoaxes are causing a nuisance again and playing on people's emotional responses to this type of news. The truth is that it's all too easy for people to forward warnings to their friends, family and colleagues via Twitter and Facebook – thinking that they are doing a good deed," says Brett Myroff, CEO of regional Sophos distributor, Sophos South Africa.
"Unfortunately, all they are doing is wasting everyone's time and bandwidth. Simply Googling the ‘warning’ would reveal that it is false."
Although the warning purports to be about an American child, Sophos has seen UK social networking users contributing to the flood of warnings posted to the internet.
The AMBER (America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) Alert Programme is a voluntary partnership between US law enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies, and the wireless industry, to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases. The goal of the AMBER Alert system is to instantly galvanise the entire community to assist in the search for and the safe recovery of the child.