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Previous "Hoax du Jour" columns
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Related topic: rate your own Internet alert (or just-received warning from a well-meaning friend) against the Korova Drop-dead Internet Alert guide.
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The "Hoax du Jour" is a recurring column providing updated
information and commentary on the Internet community. It is a feature of
Korova Multimedia's "e-v-mail" page.
Computer Virus Myths
The Curse of a Thousand Chain Letters
Lycos Guide: Urban Legends
The Motley Fool
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Think outside, way outside, of the box at ChromeJob.com.
by Jan Harold Brunvand
November 28, 1998
When I started this column in 1997, I was interested in targeting specific "net lore" which seemed to be designed to mislead and frighten online users. Virus hoaxes had already become common after the Pandora's Box of "Good Times" had been unleashed in 1994. Since I published a debunking of the "AOL Cookie" hoax, I expanded my interest to instances of semi-factual information which had been altered (either intentionally or through careless retelling). The illegal practice of "Phone Slamming" was presented on the Sacramento, CA, nightly news as a "recent" danger, though it had been going on for years. The "90# Phone Scam" alert was purported to work on all phone lines, not just PBX systems (and I continue to get misplaced contention from visitors to this site on that fine point). These are cases in which a little bit of information, and a healthy dose of misinformation, make a much better story than the plain truth.
Visitors to this page have often shared their latest cyberban legends with me (thank you!), which are amusing, but not always a prime topic for Hoax du Jour. It has been interesting to note that a proto-online UL like the "Labor Day Gang Initiation" scare of 1993 took months to spread by fax, but the immediacy of the online world today can suck a known urban legend through everyone's mail servers in a matter of a days.
What I generally try to address here is online information that is intentionally misleading.
Still, there are times when an urban legend (UL), presented online, can have alarming results. The "Toxic Tampon" hoax achieved fast notoriety: some women who received the "alert" were outraged. Fortunately, the "Toxic Tampon" alert was 90% hogwash. Here's another recent alert that I find troubling.
casts doubt on infected-needle reports
As to pay phones in particular, I've been deluged with requests for information on this latest warning:
From: 911 Operator--Tina Strongman
Hello, this is to warn every one of a new thing happening in communities as a gang initiation and such. If you care about anyone, please forward this to them immediately so they can learn of the possible harm. Even if you don't read this, at least forward it to people.
Hello, my name is Tina Strongman and I work at a police station, as a phone operator for 911. Lately, we've received many phone calls pertaining to a new sort of problem that has arisen in the inner cities, and is now working it's way to smaller towns. It seems that a new form of gang initiation is to go find as many pay phones as possible and put a mixture of LSD and Strychnine onto the buttons. This mixture is deadly to the human touch, and apparently, this has killed some people on the east coast. Strychnine is a chemical used in rat poison and is easily separated from the rest of the chemicals. When mixed with LSD, it creates a substance that is easily absorbed into the human flesh, and highly fatal. Please be careful if you are using a pay phone anywhere. You may want to wipe it off, or just not use one at all. If you have any questions, you can contact me at the links listed below. Please be very careful.
Let your friends and family know about this potential hazard. Thank you.
According to David Emery (The Mining Company's Urban Legends and Folklore Guide), this is a hoax that was mutated by some smarty pants who registered the Hotmail e-mail address as an "experiment." From the beginning, there doesn't appear to have been anyone named Tina Strongman. The corroboration of a "free-mail" address doesn't make this one any more true. Barbara Mikkelson also confirms that this story's a ringer.
Your immediate clues are that the phone number is incomplete, and "Tina's" e-mail address isn't an official domain, but with a freebie e-mail site. If "Tina" was a dispatcher for a local PD, well,... she wouldn't be sending out an alert ANYWAY. It would be disseminated in a more official manner.
The element that the drugs are left on the phone's buttons reminds me of some alerts that circulated throughout law enforcement last year, alleging that (1) drugs or (2) nerve toxins were being left on the door handles of police cars. Barbara Mikkelson has an excellent page on the Ricin warnings; I wouldn't discount the possibility that this latest warning is a copycat hoax crafted from the "AIDS Needle" UL and the "Ricin" alerts.
What makes this one more interesting to me is that in the previous "AIDS Needles in Pay Phones" story, the villains were drug addicts working nationally in some kind of collusion. Now the poisoning of pay phones is attributed to gangs. Boy, it's getting dangerous out there ... if you believe these ULs.
July 31, 2001
Reality seems to be imitating hoax. In the past couple of years, I've come across a isolated reports of foreign objects found in food. Sad to report, there are rare incidents of food service workers caught and prosecuted for doing various ugly things to food being served to customers. I read an account of burger preparers "skating" across the kitchen floor on frozen beef patties, then frying them up for customers. Bodily fluids (spit, or worse) are one of the things these punks put into fast food. Reading the details would make you swear off fast food for the rest of your life. (I have.)
This report from New York goes beyond comprehension, if in fact it's not a rigged attempt to extort the restaurant. And it's notable for this topic in that it seems to be a copycat stunt based on the hoaxes I discussed in 1998.
'McNeedle' Mom Fears AIDS
The ironic twist to this story is that there's no indication that the needle might be tainted with HIV or AIDS, other than what Ms. Perez might've heard as an urban legend. No doubt, hospital personnel may've tested her for a variety of problems arising from a "needle stick" incident. But the victim, and the news-hungry media, appear to have jumped on the "fear of AIDS needles" buggaboo. Hey, it sells newspapers.
(A grateful doff of the pith helmet to Karl145, David Emery (The Mining Company), Doug Voelker, and Barbara Mikkelson (snopes.com) for various reports and research.)