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Debunked: Images of Tommy Bowe being escorted by gardaí and PSNI officers are fake

A number of fake images with links appeared on Facebook and Instagram earlier this month

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SPONSORED POSTS ON social media showing Irish television presenter and former Ireland rugby international Tommy Bowe being escorted by police are fake.

A number of posts with links beneath the images appeared on Facebook and Instagram over the past month.

The images purport to show Ireland AM presenter Bowe being escorted either by gardaí or by PSNI officers.

Captions that go along with the images read: “He didn’t know that the microphone was on. This might be the end to this career”. The posts then include a link to click on that brings users to a different website. The sponsored posts have since been removed.

The posts in question are fake, and are edited to make Bowe appear as though he is in them. Bowe confirmed this himself on his personal social media accounts.

“Standard few co*k ups again today but don’t think I’m going to prison over it! Please don’t CLICK! #Scam,” the presenter wrote on Twitter while sharing a number of the images.

In response to Bowe, one Twitter user David Moriarty tweeted a picture of the front page of a copy of the Irish Examiner which shows him being “arrested” by gardaí as part of an anti-terrorism training exercise in 2017.

One of the images shared by Bowe is near-identical, with the image edited so that Bowe’s head appears instead of Moriarty’s.

The Garda and PSNI posts are not the only sponsored content to have used Bowe’s image recently as part of an apparent scam.

Another post showing Bowe in the Ireland AM studio, from one of the pages which contained the Garda image, contains the simply caption: “He’s been hiding it for years. The truth came out live on air.”

Celebrity scams 

The images are just the latest in a long line of fake celebrity endorsements and pictures that appear regularly on social media. 

In the past, fake images depicting Ryan Tubridy, Graham Norton, Lucy Kennedy, Doireann Garrihy and Miriam O’Callaghan and many other well-known Irish figures have appeared online.

The fakes are usually used to direct users to websites that pass themselves off as news sites, with fake quotes from the people involved.

The goal is often to scam users out of money, usually by enticing them to buy cryptocurrency or engage in some other form of fake investment.

In February last year, Facebook apologised to Miriam O’Callaghan and both parties reached a court settlement over false and misleading advertisements that appeared on the platform.

The ads featured damaging and untrue claims that suggested O’Callaghan had left her job with RTÉ’s Prime Time programme to promote skin care products.

Likenesses of An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have also appeared in fake ads on mainstream websites claiming that he is trading cryptocurrency. 

The Journal also recently debunked a similar hoax involving images of Environment Minister Eamon Ryan and comedian Tommy Tiernan.

A 2020 Guardian investigation looking at how the scams operate in Australia linked the businesses behind the images to a number of Moscow addresses.

download (1) An image of Varadkar last year on the BBC News main page.

Money losses

Earlier this year, British bank NatWest said that people in the UK were losing tens of thousands of pounds as a result of celebrity endorsements scams.

The bank highlighted one case where someone lost more than £285,000 after responding to a bogus article which gave the false impression of being an interview with Dragons’ Den star Peter Jones.

While there are no direct figures for celebrity endorsements scams in Ireland, a report published earlier this month by the Banking and Payments Federation of Ireland (BPFI) found that fraudsters stole nearly €85 million (€84.6m) through frauds and scams in 2022, an increase of 8.8% on 2021.

Stuart Skinner, a scam expert at NatWest in UK urged people to always be very wary about making investments, especially when the opportunity appears to be endorsed by a celebrity.

“I’d urge you to be extremely cautious of fake celebrity investment adverts seen online,” he said.

A cross-industry effort with social media companies is required to stop this crime.

 With reporting from Press Association.

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