Canadian law enforcement officials say they are not investigating reports of any such crimes.
At the height of the holiday shopping season, social media posts claim a series of attempted kidnappings of young children have occurred at malls in and around Calgary, the province of Alberta's largest city. But the stories are false, police say.
"I was naive to think this wasn't happening here but it is! Everyone keep your babies safe. This is terrifying," says the caption of a November 28, 2023 Facebook reel with more than 10,000 views.
In the clip, a woman reads the story of a grandmother who supposedly lost track of her granddaughter at CrossIron Mills Mall in Rocky View, Alberta, outside Calgary. She claims the grandmother found the child in a bathroom stall with a stranger shaving the girl's head while attempting to kidnap her.
Screenshots in some copy-pasted posts indicate the claims also spread via text messages and Instagram stories.
Many posts claim police are investigating the incidents -- but both the Alberta Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Calgary Police Service told AFP there are no open cases of this type at local malls.
"At this time there (are) no identifiable victims of any successful or attempted kidnappings at the mall," said Troy Savinkoff, a spokesman for the Alberta RCMP on December 20.
Calgary's police department said they have no record of abduction reports, either.
"Our Child Abuse Unit is aware of allegations surfacing on social media regarding the possible abduction of minors in malls in and around Calgary, but we have not received any reports at this time," the Calgary Police Service said in a December 20 email.
The department encouraged citizens to report criminal activity by calling 911, but it warned against reckless sharing on social media.
"In some cases, unconfirmed information is distributed which can lead to the spread of misinformation and cause unnecessary alarm," the Calgary Police Service said.
The shaved-head story shared online is the latest iteration of a rumor Snopes debunked in 2010, when it spread in chain emails.
More of AFP's reporting on misinformation in Canada is available here.