HANFORD — In the age of social media and instant information sharing online, it can be easy to share that post you saw about a shocking local crime, but police officials are asking residents to reconsider clicking that share button.
“If you share information that’s not accurate, you’re not necessarily helping anyone. You’re creating fear and panic in people that shouldn’t be afraid,” Hanford Police Department Capt. Karl Anderson said.
There was a story recently circulating on local Facebook group pages about a woman who said her car was blocked at the Hanford Costco gas station early one morning by a group of men who then tried to kidnap her.
In the post, the woman said she was able to drive away and call 911. She said law enforcement showed up and arrested one of the men — who allegedly had a warrant for human trafficking — while the others got away.
The story was shared by many people on their individual Facebook pages, warning others to be cautious and on the lookout for the attempted abductors.
The good news is there is no band of kidnappers in Hanford, nor a rash of attempted abductions, Anderson said. The bad news is, the story is most likely a hoax, seeing as the department has no credible evidence to substantiate what is being said in the post.
Anderson said when the department was made aware of the story, he reached out to other local law enforcement agencies, including Kings County Sheriff’s Office, Fresno Police Department and Visalia Police Department.
He was told by Visalia Police officials that similar stories were posted on Facebook involving incidents at several of their city’s big-box stores that turned out to be made up.
When the department reached out to Costco, Anderson said police were told by the store that there was no video evidence of any sort of incident and no one had contacted the store’s management or its security department.
Anderson assured that if something significant like a kidnapping or attempted abduction happened, the police department would be the first entity to have the pertinent information out to the public. He said the most credible information will be on local news sites or the Hanford Police Officer’s Association Facebook page.
“I would just tell people to be leery about the source of their information,” Anderson said. “If they don’t see it coming from a credible news source or a trusted law enforcement partner, it’s probably going to be bogus.”
Anderson said he knows people share information with good intentions, but after information is shared multiple times from non-original sources, the story seems to change a little each time, making it harder to discern the truth.
In general, Anderson said Facebook groups dedicated to reporting crimes that have occurred are somewhat of a double-edged sword.
On one hand, misinformation can be spread and create undue paranoia, but on the other hand, he said they are a good tool in getting residents to talk and letting others know if something unusual or suspicious is going on in their neighborhoods.
“It’s OK to share information to communicate with your neighbors,” Anderson said. “The problem is when you re-share stories that you don’t know to be true.”
If people have any concerns, they can contact the police department at 585-2540.