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This viral thread promises to plant a tree if you post a pic of your pet – but it’s not what it seems

From awkward challenges to weird trends, social media users seem to jump at the chance of their posts going viral. TikTok is usually the culprit, but millions of Instagram users caught on to a new trend this week. Tap or click to see a dangerous online challenge that is sending kids to the hospital.

Plant A Tree anonymously posted an Instagram story urging users to share a picture of their pet. For each post, the company would plant one tree. After the post had been online for only 10 minutes, it mysteriously got deleted.

But that didn’t stop millions from continuing to share photos of their furry friends. It quickly snowballed out of control, with over 4 million shares in only a couple of days. The problem is, the post doesn’t live up to its promise.

Here’s the backstory

Shortly after the initial post started making the rounds, Plant A Tree admitted that it was behind the campaign. Explaining its decision to remove it from Instagram, it said it doesn’t have the capacity to plant that many trees.

The Plant A Tree website is incredibly sparse on details, with no concrete contact information or who started the company. It also seems to be in the business of selling necklaces in aid of various charities. The company does claim on the site that it has planted 6,500 trees for other causes.

The anonymous owners have also made some dubious claims in the past. As a Huffington Post investigation details, the company asked users to donate to charities supporting the Australian bush fire in January. And naturally, buy their bracelets and necklaces.

If there’s smoke, the internet will investigate

Online detectives have helped solve several cases over the years, and the Plant A Tree viral post sparked the interest of journalist Patrick Marlborough. In a lengthy Twitter thread, Marlborough detailed how he tracked down the campaign owners and how they have scammed people in the past.

Some of the interesting aspects that he alleges are:

  • Necklaces cost 50 cents on Alibaba but is sold for $36
  • Plant A Tree is registered as a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in Boca Raton, Florida
  • The business is registered to a residential address
  • The business model is based on 4ocean, a heavily criticized organization who only donated about 0.25% of proceeds to charities

The bottom line? Posting pictures of your pet will not lead to a tree being planted. It’s also a good idea not to share these posts, making others believe they are real.

Even the company’s website is marked as “likely fake” on Fake Website Buster. FakeSpot, the web service that detects problematic websites and Amazon products, states that “multiple eCommerce scam experiences detected.”

Better posting on social media

Viral trends can be fun to get behind, but you must be aware of some dangers. Others should see not everything you take pictures of. Here are some safety tips for posting photos on social media:

  • Don’t put personal information in your posts. That includes in the photo or in the caption. Never post images of your driver’s license, vaccination card or bank cards.
  • Be aware of sensitive information in the background of your photos. You don’t want to give anything sensative away by mistake.
  • Never share vacation photos while you’re away. This could tip people off that your home is empty, leaving it ripe for theft.

Keep reading

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Don’t do it – This viral trick can damage your AirPods or Mac

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