SKOWHEGAN — A Facebook page purporting to be that of the Skowhegan Police Department recently posted a false claim that there had been a triple murder in town, an incident that comes amid growing national attention of fake news and the role of social media in spreading such hoaxes.

“Our page has been hacked and copied at this point, we are working to get this fixed,” the department wrote on its Facebook page Monday. “If you go to the page it is misspelled and it is also all spam. We are sorry for this, and hope to have a solution soon.”

One Facebook responder asked if the posted apology by the police department was related to “the apparent fake triple murder in Skowhegan that’s all over the facebook.”

“Yes,” the department responded.

It appears the police department’s page wasn’t actually hacked, but a duplicate page gave the appearance of being the official page.

The hoax posting on the bogus Facebook page appeared with a police car, yellow crime scene tape and the words “body found,” linking to a fake news story reporting a woman killed her three children in Skowhegan and in other locations. The fake Skowhegan page on Facebook said: “Police believe a 39-year-old woman killed her 3 sons and stabbed herself in their home in Skowhegan. Officers found the boys’ bodies in a closet.”

Skowhegan Police Chief Don Bolduc said Officer CJ Viera is currently working with Facebook officials to remove the bogus page, but he said making contact with Facebook has been difficult.

Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said he has not heard of any other Facebook hoaxes in Maine affecting police agencies.

Sgt. Kyle Willette at the Maine Computer Crimes Task Force offices in Vassalboro said he has heard of hackers compromising law enforcement websites and social media pages, but nothing quite like posting a phony triple homicide on what appears to be a police department’s page.

“We hear of Facebook fraud often,” Willette said. “We’ve taken a number of calls where people have either been the victim of crimes over the Internet through their Facebook accounts or through other social media accounts, and we take calls fairly often about accounts that have been compromised in one way or another.”

He said law enforcement agencies are users of social media and are just as vulnerable as the general public to hackers and mischief makers.

“Vigilance is the best defense,” he said. “Paying attention to the accounts and strong credentialing passwords, two-step verification, all of the sorts of things that social media providers suggest.”

Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand on Monday described the situation as the Skowhegan Police Department’s Facebook page being “spoofed.”

“Someone duplicated content from our police department’s page and created a new page in order to carry out a hoax,” Almand said. “It is truly bothersome why anyone would do this, but things like this occur on Facebook. We do not control Facebook locally, but we do monitor our page closely.”

Almand said the duplicate account was reported by several people within hours of its creation. As soon as town officials were aware of the hoax, they reported the account to Facebook for its removal.

“The key to prevention is remaining vigilant,” Almand said. “We are thankful for our citizens looking out for our police department and our community.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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