When the same man was reported to have been killed in three separate incidents worldwide, media outlets that included his name in their lists of victims realized they had been duped.
It began when the man, known only as "Alfonso," reportedly died in the EgyptAir crash in May. He was then identified as a victim in the Orlando nightclub shooting on June 12. Most recently, he was reported as among the 45 people killed in the Istanbul airport attack on June 28.
"Help, my brother Alfonso was on Ataturk Airport and we don't know anything about him, please help #turkey," one Twitter user posted following the terrorist attack, according to the New York Post. The "victim's" photo was included in the Tweet.
A similar message was posted on Twitter following the EgyptAir crash.
"@EGYPTAIR my brother traveled there, I'm scared for her life. Please help me," a different Twitter user wrote.
It turns out that Alfonso is indeed a victim -- of a revenge prank. The perpetrators are reportedly former friends of his who say he owes them money.
Below is a statement obtained by France24, which tracked the pranksters down on social media:
This man used to be my friend but he’s cheated money out of me and at least four people who I know. I lodged both civil and criminal complaints against him, but because the legal proceedings are dragging on and he still hasn’t given us back our money, we decided to punish him by posting his photo online. Our goal is to ruin his reputation. We want the whole world to recognize his face.
France24 then contacted the alleged con artist in the photo, who seemed to confirm that he is involved in an ongoing legal battle. He reportedly lives in Mexico.
"My photo is everywhere because of someone who started it as a prank after a legal dispute," he said. "I never reported the people who did this to me because, in Mexico, nothing ever happens in these kinds of cases."
He added that his attempts to contact media outlets to have his photo removed were unsuccessful.
It is unclear whether the pranksters are liable to face legal ramifications. Attorney Fabrice Lorvo told France24 that French authorities are still developing the legal framework for cyber-harassment, but that there are consequences.
"If this situation had taken place in France, the person who first tweeted this man's photo could face serious legal consequences and even jail time," Lorvo said. "He could be tried in a civil court for infringing image distribution rights."
Aside from that, Lorvo said the incident serves as evidence of the media's irresponsible reliance on social media.
"One interesting thing about this case is that it shows that traditional media outlets are more and more influenced by social media," he said. "Numerous websites shared this man's photo without verifying its origins!"