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Here are examples of my own research into specific hoaxes (not hoaxes about computer viruses) that have come my way. These examples illustrate some of the checking that can be done to determine whether a tale is valid. Where the E-mail message substantially repeats a description of the hoax carried on someone else's Web page, I merely provide a link to that page rather than repeating it here.
Reading the following might make you overly skeptical, rejecting any strange warning as if it were a hoax. However, actual frauds are sometimes reported with so much hyperbole and misstatements of facts that they initially appear to be hoaxes when they are not. See A Real Fraud With a Bad Warning for an example.
Note: The following items are in chronological order, according to when they were brought to my attention. Time may alter some of the details, but I don't update them unless significant changes are necessary.
This is the name assigned by the Urban Legends Reference Pages to this hoax. You might want to read their analysis before reading my own. Their analysis contains complete quotations of common forms of the E-mail message used to distribute this hoax, both the Canadian and U.S. versions.
Several months apart, my two dear children sent this to me with the question: "Is this true?" To summarize, an E-mail message is being distributed to warn us all that a bill is pending in either Congress (U.S.) or Parliament (Canada) to levy a postal fee on each E-mail message. The fee would subsidize the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) or Canada Post Corp. for the revenue they have lost through the public's switch to electronic mail. Both my children sent me copies of the U.S. version (although my daughter is a resident of Canada).
The message does contain some germs of believability. The USPS has indeed noted some decline in the growth of personal first-class mail traceable to the growth in E-mail. Every hoax that succeeds in becoming widely distributed by individuals who have themselves been hoaxed must be believed; otherwise, no one would bother sending it on. Here is my analysis:
Note that, whenever a rumor cites pending Congressional legislation, the Library of Congress's Thomas service can be used to review a summary of any bill, read its entire text, and determine the current status. As a resident of California, I have also bookmarked a similar service for this state's legislation.
In response to my commentary Murder in the Casino, a Postscript, I received an E-mail that, at first appeared to describe a hoax. After about six years, while there might be some dispute about the truth, this no longer appears to be an outright hoax. My discussion of this has been moved to my commentary.
I received this in an E-mail from a relative. The Urban Legends Reference Pages titles this Cough Dropped, which I found immediately when I searched on heart attack.
I generally put more credence into this kind of report if I receive a message containing a link to a Web page hosted by a recognized medical authority; in that case, I do not care how many times the message was forwarded. But forwarding, reforwarding, and reforwarding again (nine times), a failure to cite a specific medical authority where this could be confirmed, and the key phrase "Forward this message to all in your address book" made me very suspicious.
The interesting thing about this was that, at one time, it actually had authoritative backing. Now, however, it is a tale that will not stop being told despite the withdrawal of all prior support from health professionals.
Well more than a year after I originally added "Cough CPR" to this page, my wife's cousin who is spreading the "WTC Survivor" virus hoax is also spreading this one. Yes, we are getting this from both sides of our families.
I received this in mid-July, 2000. It described how two-way mirrors are sometimes placed in women's restrooms so that some peeping Tom can get his jollies. It also described how to tell if a mirror is two-way: The silvering is on the surface of the glass instead of behind the glass. From the markings and forwarding headers, the E-mail message was at least third hand.
Immediately, I started to wonder: Why would a two-way mirror be silvered on the surface where an unsuspecting victim might touch and damage the silvering? My suspicions were further aroused by the fact that a warning supposedly from a police official did not reference her department's Web page or have her E-mail address. The message did not even name the police woman or the city in which she works. This is typical of Internet hoaxes; they are in the form "somebody said" without ever identifying the somebody.
Of course, I quickly consulted the Urban Legends Reference Pages, where I did a search on mirror. Just as quickly, my search uncovered Mirror Image, which described the difference between a first-surface mirror (silver in front of the glass) and a second-surface mirror (silver behind the glass). The article also mentioned that a two-way mirror can be made either way. Thus, the fingernail test would fail to detect a two-way second-surface mirror and would cause unjustified alarm in the presence of an ordinary first-surface mirror.
Traced back to April, 1999, and reported in the Urban Legends Reference Pages in June, 1999, this hoax still circulates more than a year later. As the Society states on their site, once one of these legends gets started, the Internet almost makes it impossible to stop.
In October, 2000, I received an E-mail message from a cousin. (Counting second cousins and the following generations, I have over 100 cousins.) She was relaying a very inspirational message. I received the same message earlier the same year but ignored it.
My cousin's message contained some of the most common elements of a hoax. She received it fourth-hand; thus, I received it on its fifth forwarding. It also contains the key mantra: " … send this to as many people as you can and emphasize that they should send it to as many of their friends …" While it contained some opinions (which cannot be challenged as a hoax) and factual information, it also contained some false statements. Indeed, the beginning paragraph was garbled:
Other problems include:
Is this a hoax? When Sinclair broadcast his editorial in 1973, some of his facts were weak; but he did not intend to fool us. It was not a hoax then. However, circulating his comments today as if they were fresh and new — after corrupting the original — is indeed a hoax, a deliberate attempt to present something that is different from what it is asserted to be.
This is the third hoax that I received from the same cousin. No, she did not start any of them. I can tell that this one went through at least 15 forwardings before it reached her. Even if she is not responsible for starting these hoaxes, she is spreading them.
The Urban Legends Reference Pages describes this as a variation of the American Cancer Society 3¢ Hoax. This has become so widespread that the Make-A-Wish Foundation has its own Web page about Chain Letters, where they strongly reject any participation in chain letter schemes.
A little thought about this message should make anyone suspicious. A 7-year-old would not develop a tumor from beatings. Other problems could result — concussion, even death — but not a tumor. And why would a family that allowed Amy to be beaten so severely even be interested in paying her medical bills? Finally, I never heard of the Make-A-Wish Foundation donating towards any child's medical treatments.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation states that any chain letter or E-mail message on behalf of the Foundation is a hoax. Most chain letters and E-mail messages on any subject are indeed hoaxes. If the letter or message is about money, it is most definitely a hoax.
In mid-February, 2001 (the day after she sent me Help Make-A-Wish Foundation to Help a Child, directly above), my cousin sent me this variation of La Cucaracha. She also sent me Mirror, Mirror on the Wall and A Canadian View. I think she means well, but she should be more skeptical. As the Urban Legends Reference Pages asks about the taco, how does anyone know that the roach egg came from the glue on the envelope?
Although the E-mail message indicates that it is based on a news report from CNN, CNN denies ever carrying such a report.
Did you hear that Micro$oft has developed new software to track the distribution of E-mail? To test it, Bill Gates himself is sending messages to randomly selected recipients. If you receive one of his messages, you should forward it to someone else. Then, Gates will send you a check. If the person to whom you sent the message also forwards it, both you and that person will receive checks. Alternatively, you will receive an all-expense trip for two to Disney World in Florida. According to the Urban Legends Reference Pages, this Thousand Dollar Bill hoax has been circulating since late 1997.
From yet another cousin, I received a variation that may have begun at the end of 1999 and uses the same concept of E-mail tracking software. This one has Intel developing the software for tracking E-mail and AOL sponsoring the test. To lend credibility, the message — forwarded at least four times before it was sent to me — includes the name and E-mail address of someone who already received a check for $4,324.44. However, don't try to send a message to Jane Piltman at <email@example.com> to ask about her check; Baylor University says no such E-mail address has ever existed.
Think! Software to track a specific E-mail message as it is forwarded around the Internet??
Finally, do you put your postal mailing address in your E-mail messages? If not, how would AOL know where to send your check? Watch out! One variation of this hoax involves a message congratulating you on earning a big check for participating in the test. All you have to do is send a reply message with your Visa card number, and they will credit your Visa account with the payment. This crosses the line from hoax to fraud. Never, never give your credit card or bank account numbers to anyone if you did not originate the communication.
This was sent to my wife by the same cousin who I cite above for broadcasting four other hoaxes as truth. Apparently she no longer sends E-mail to me because she is tired of my replies that embarrass her by debunking her warnings. The E-mail message criticizes foreign automobile manufacturers for being stingy and not contributing to relief funds for the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack on New York's World Trade Center.
HOAX! And, as I warned my cousin, since this advocates boycotting the criticized companies, this is libel that could result in a lawsuit.
Three companies cited for not donating — BMW, Nissan, and Honda — actually gave over $1,000,000 each. Porche is also criticized for not donating; but Porche is a division of Volkswagen, which donated $2,000,0000 (twice what Ford Motor donated). And Daewoo is criticized for not donating, ignoring the fact that the company is in bankruptcy.
The E-mail my wife received cites CNN Headline News as the source. CNN denies ever broadcasting such a news item or hosting it on its Web site.
This makes hoax number six spread by the cousin I cite immediately above. It involves a woman at a shopping mall, a flat tire, and a helping stranger (who leaves behind his tools of horror). The Urban Legends Reference Pages categorizes this as a variant of the Hairy Arm hoax in its "Shopping Mauled" section.
I belong to a gardening club. One of the members sent a message to all the other members, warning about mulch originating in Louisiana contaminated with Formosan subterranean termites. Yes, such termites are a serious problem in the area devestated by Hurricane Katrina. And yes, downed trees and even destroyed houses are sometimes ground into mulch for use in gardens.
However, a quick check of the Urban Legends Reference Pages led to Formosan Termites, which gave the following information:
Also, Formosan subterranean termites are a tropical and subtropical pest. At 34.1°N latitude, we are within 50 miles of the northern limit of its range. With frosts regularly occurring every winter, Oak Park (where I live and where the garden club is active) is not at a high risk of infestation.
Some of you may already have this info, but I thought it was valuable enough to send on.
SUBJECT: IMPORTANT CELL PHONE INFO
What to do when your cell phone gets lost or is stolen:
If you have ever lost, or had one stolen, and if you are on a plan, you still have to pay the plan approximately up to 24 months, and you have to buy another handset and enter into another contract. This is more revenue for the phone company. There is a simple way of making lost or stolen mobiles useless to thieves. The phone companies know about it, but keep it quiet.
HERE'S HOW TO THWART THE THIEVES:
To check your mobile phone's serial number, key in the following on your phone:
star-hash-zero-six-hash (* # 0 6 #) and a fifteen digit code will appear on the screen. This is unique to your handset.
WRITE IT DOWN AND KEEP IT SAFE--NOT WITH YOUR PHONE
Should your mobile phone get stolen, you can phone your service provider and give them this code. They will then be able to block your handset, so even if the thief changes the sim card, your phone will be totally useless to them.
You may want to send this to as many people with mobiles as possible.
This has two of the classic indicators of a hoax:
According to the Urban Legends Reference Pages (Cell Phone Security), there is a germ of truth in this. However, AK's recommendation works only with certain types of cell phones and only blocks the use of the instrument, not the use of the account. There are more effective ways to deal with stolen cell phones, ways that apply generally without regard to the type of instrument.
Unlike my cousin who spread at least five of the hoaxes on this page, AK sent a follow-up message admitting she was hoaxed. Indeed, I received her follow-up before I opened her original message.
AK forwarded a message to me about protesting against the U.S. Postal Service, which was issuing a stamp in honor of the Moslem Eid holiday. The message spewed hatred against all Moslems because of what happened on 11 September 2001. The words were not AK's; she merely forwarded a message from someone else.
The truth is that the stamp was issued on 1 September 2001, more than a week before the terrorist attack on the U.S. That means the stamp was planned, designed, and printed months before we knew how badly some Moslems hate the U.S. It might not be clear in the image to the right; but the denomination is 34¢, definitely not the current postage rate in 2006 when I received AK's message. The stamp was later reissued in 37¢ and again in 39¢ denomnations as postage rates increased.
Two things of note about the forwarded message:
Again, AK did the right thing by disowning the message when the error was brought to her attention.
I received an E-mail from a cousin (not the same cousin who I cite in earlier hoaxes on this page) that claimed Moslems in the Canadian city of Dorval (a suburb of Montréal) requested that pork — a prohibited meat in the Moslem religion — be banned from all schools in the city. The message supposedly quoted a diatribe by the mayor of that city in which he refused the request. The E-mail saluted the mayor for his strong stand against the Moslems.
Aside from whether this is a hoax, there are several problems with the message:
Finally, they must understand that in Canada (Quebec) with its Judeo-Christian roots, Christmas trees, churches and religious festivals, religion must remain in the private domain.I cringe every time some politician appeals to "Judeo-Christian" anything. An appeal to Judeo-Christian values usually reflects an attempt to generate Jewish support for a political agenda that many Jews who are well educated in their religion would reject.
In the end, this is indeed a hoax. Originally, the location of the Moslem's request and the mayor's diatribe involved the city of Ath in Belgium. It then mutated to Dorval in Canada. In both cases, it never happened. This hoax might even be a deliberate attempt to promote bigotry against Moslems. This is so hateful that I will not quote the actual message.
See the following:
Updated 22 February 2015