Organised crime hoax spreads online in crisis-hit Sri Lanka

·3 min read

A message has been repeatedly shared on Facebook and WhatsApp in crisis-hit Sri Lanka warning that an organised crime gang is using children to lure victims for organ harvesting and theft. But the warning is a hoax, according to the Sri Lankan police force and the government's Home Affairs Ministry. The purported message was credited to the "Ministry of the Interior Affairs" which does not exist.

The Sinhala-language notice was shared here on Facebook on September 21, 2022.

"This is not the time to be a hero or a good Samaritan," reads the message, which was addressed to "all police stations and citizens".

It continues: "There will be young children who will wait by the roadsides, with a piece of paper in hand that they will claim holds the address to their home.

"They will say they are lost. If you come across these children, do not take them home...This is a trap to lure you to kill you, steal your valuables, harvest your organs or rape you...There will be groups lying in wait.

"If you see them, escort them to the nearest police station or a patrolling unit and immediately report them."

The warning appears to have been issued by the "Ministry of Interior Affairs".

Screenshot of the false Facebook post captured on September 22, 2022

The purported warning circulated online as Sri Lanka reported increasing crime rates in the first months of 2022, according to local media reports.

Experts have predicted a further increase in reported crime as the island nation faces its worst economic crisis since independence, AFP reported.

The same notice was shared dozens of times on Facebook here and here. It has also circulated previously in April 2022 here.

The message has also been shared on WhatsApp, as seen below:

Screenshot of a WhatsApp message sharing the hoax, taken on September 23, 2022.

Similar English-language posts have circulated in Ghana and Nigeria since at least March, also credited to the "Ministry of Interior Affairs".

Neither African country has such a ministry within their respective national governments, but they do have a Ministry of the Interior.

Some users appeared to have believed the warning was genuine.

One wrote: "The lows Sri Lanka has fallen to, even children are part of criminal gangs. We are so unfortunate to be witnessing this deterioration."

"When living becomes tough and people feel the pain of hunger, there is nothing they won't do to get out of it. We have our politicians to thank for this situation. Please, everyone, remain safe," another commented.

However, the notice is a hoax, according to the Sri Lankan authorities.

A spokesperson for the Sri Lanka Police told AFP: "There is no truth to these claims."

"We have not received any complaint about such an incident and neither have any such incidents occurred," the official said.

Sri Lanka does not have a "Ministry of Interior Affairs".

The secretary to the country's Home Affairs Ministry told AFP it did not issue any such warning.

AFP previously fact-checked other false WhatsApp messages shared in Sri Lanka here.