Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

Have you heard the warning about criminals who use business cards soaked in a potent street drug to incapacitate their victims? Or that carrying an iPod or cell phone can make lightning strike injuries more severe? In cyberland, every day is April Fool's Day, with hoaxes like these being widely circulated by e-mail.

laptop worriedChicken Little believed the sky was falling. The Boy who Cried Wolf was ignored after falsely crying for help. But for some reason, well-meaning friends and family feel it’s OK to press “forward” when they receive one of these worthless spam messages. One pal even said to me, “Well, I didn’t have time to check it out so I sent it just in case it’s true.”

Snopes.com is my favorite source for determining whether a rumor is fact or fiction. The Web site is the life’s passion of a Los Angeles couple, Barbara and David Mikkelson, and receives about 6.2 million visitors a month. Reader’s Digest published a feature about these truth-crusaders.

Many of the stories debunked by the Mikkelsons have landed in my own inbox. Some, such as a report that the federal government is giving out cell phone numbers to telemarketers, have been told so often that they continue to persist despite officials’ repeated assertions to the contrary.

Some of the panic-inducing tales making the rounds:

  • Identity thieves will break into a gym locker and switch the credit cards in your wallet with expired duplicates. [Possible, but not common.]
  • Thieves armed with “code grabbers” break into cars by recording signals sent by remote keyless entry devices. [Theoretically possible. But the would-be thief would need specialized knowledge and equipment and would have to spend hours (if not longer) crunching data.]
  • The artificial sweetener aspartame has caused an epidemic of cancer, brain tumors and multiple sclerosis. [Nope. The Food and Drug Administration has not determined any consistent pattern of symptoms that can be attributed to the sweetener’s use and says it's safe.]
  • Prospective gang members are being initiated by killing the drivers of cars who flash their headlights. [False. I remember hearing this story as a teen.]
  • Robbers use ether-filled perfume bottles to render their victims unconscious. [Bogus. See our earlier All Consuming post.]

Be a better friend. The next time you get a message like this, check Web sites such as Snopes.com or urbanlegends.about.com to verify whether the tale is real. If it’s just another prank, do all of us a favor – break the chain!

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