Hoax Museum Blog: Email Hoaxes

LazyTruth Fact-Checking Widget — A software company has announced it's making a widget called LazyTruth that will scan all your incoming emails for misinformation:

tl;dr: We’re building an inbox widget that surfaces vetted information when you receive an email forward full of political myths, urban rumors, or security threats. It’s called LazyTruth.

Basically the widget will scan the text of your incoming emails and check them against "pre-existing nonpartisan information". It's an interesting idea. I'll be curious to see how well it works.

Of course, the main problem will be that the people who need the widget most, won't use it. And the widget won't work if some authoritative source hasn't already debunked the rumor. So it probably won't detect the latest twitter rumor you may be confronted with. (via Engadget)
Posted: Wed May 09, 2012.   Comments (3)

New York Times Hoaxed — The NY Times apologized for printing an email from the Mayor of Paris in which he criticized Caroline Kennedy's bid for Clinton's senate seat. You see, it's easy to put a fake email address in the "From" field, so it's the Times's policy to always check that the person who seems to have sent them an email actually did so. But they didn't do that in this case, and now the Mayor is denying he wrote the email.

The Times is "reviewing procedures" to make sure something like this doesn't happen again. Which probably means some underpaid intern is getting yelled at. Link: NY Times. (Thanks, John!)
Posted: Tue Dec 23, 2008.   Comments (2)

Will the sun rise for 36 hours on October 17, 2008? — A very strange astronomical rumor is circulating:

Coming October 17, 2008 the sun will rise continuously for 36 hrs (1.5 days). During this time the US countries will be dark for 1.5 days.
It will convert 3 days into 2 big days. It will happen once in 2400 yrs. We're very lucky to see this. Forward it to all your friends.

This rumor appears to have come from India, so it means to say that the sun will rise for 36 hours over India, and the Americas will be dark for the same amount of time. Not that this makes the rumor any less nonsensical. The only way for this rumor to come true would be if the earth stopped rotating. Let's all hope that doesn't happen.

David Emery has already debunked this. He found that, "During a one-month period from mid-August to mid-September 2008, over 15,000 postings containing the phrase 'the sun will rise continuously for 36 hours' appeared on the Internet." He also theorizes that "the perpetrator(s) of the hoax put a great deal of effort into disseminating it."
Posted: Mon Sep 29, 2008.   Comments (48)

Boy Abducted by Ircenrraat — An email doing the rounds in Alaska tells of a boy who was abducted by "ircenrraat" -- which (from what I can gather) are the Alaskan equivalent of leprechauns. The email is written by Nick Andrew Jr., who says that he found the boy standing in the middle of a field. From Anchorage Daily News:

The boy said he was "brought into" Pilcher Mountain, a site often associated with ircenrraat encounters. There, he was questioned and saw other "little beings."
"He said he made contact with a little girl abducted over 40 years ago," Andrew said. "She told him who she was and she wanted help."
After that the ircenrraat decided to release the boy. "And that's when he came to, I guess, a few minutes before I found him."
Andrew maintained calm perspective about the experience. "Is this kid telling the truth?" he said, leaving the answer open-ended.

Being a skeptic, I'd say that someone is either inventing a tall tale or is letting their imagination run wild. But the real reason I posted this story is that it reminded me of my late great uncle who (so I've been told) once designed a camera that could photograph "the little people that live on plants." I never saw this camera nor any of the pictures taken with it. But I wish I had. (via The Anomalist)
Posted: Mon Jun 02, 2008.   Comments (4)

The Viagra Oyster Email Hoax — George May had a clever idea: Let oysters soak in a solution of Viagra for a while, and then sell them as Viagra Oysters. Of course, Pfizer is objecting to this use of its drug, and food-safety officials don't like the idea of selling purposefully contaminated oysters. But still, May is confident he's got a successful product on his hands, and his idea has received quite a lot of media attention. So it pleased him, but didn't surprise him, when he received the following email from Google's corporate offices:
"Congratulations! The Viagra oyster story is the fastest growing internet story since 9/11 with over 700,000 links in 24 hours."
Except, of course, Google doesn't send out congratulatory letters of this kind. If they did, they'd constantly be congratulating whoever was the latest internet-celebrity-of-the-day. The email was the work of a prankster who forged the "from" field. Or was it? Perhaps May cooked up the email himself to gain a little more media attention for himself. He's denying this allegation, but it seems plausible to me since he's the one benefitting from the hoax -- and because his first reaction on receiving the email was to call the media and tell them about it.
Posted: Thu Jun 07, 2007.   Comments (8)

Big Dog Needs Home — Adela forwarded me this email, wanting to know if it's real or fake:
Need a dog??????????
An actual ad from Colorado!
FREE to an approved home. Excellent guard dog, loves other small-dog breeds. Answers to the name of Dolly.
Will eat anything, owner cannot afford to feed her anymore, as there are no more thieves, murderers, rapists or molesters left in the neighborhood. Your help will be appreciated...

The text, I assume, is fake. But the picture looks real. That's just a big dog. Looks like a mastiff. I've become more familiar with very big dogs ever since my parents got a 180-pound Great Dane named Falcon. He's so big that every picture we take of him looks photoshopped. Here's a picture of me and Falcon (and my wife on the left) taken over Thanksgiving while visiting my parents. Note how Falcon's head appears to be at least twice the size of my head. That's not a trick of the camera. His head really is twice the size of mine, and I don't have a small head.

Related Post:
Feb 28, 2005: Big Dog
Posted: Wed Nov 29, 2006.   Comments (44)

Quick Links: Giant Gnome, etc. — Giant Gnome
Maria Reidelbach's Gnome Chomsky is aiming for a Guinness record for tallest gnome, at a whopping 13 feet, 6 inches tall.

Woman Finds Husband's Secret - Female Hormones
Catherine Everett was surprised when she walked into the bathroom, only to find her husband admiring his new breasts.

Coming soon, allegedly...

Teenager Sends his Ex-company 5 Million Hoax Emails
David Lennon was annoyed when he was fired from his job. So he sent 5 million hoax emails over the course of a week, quoting The Ring. He was given a two-month curfew order and fitted with an electronic tag.
Posted: Sun Sep 03, 2006.   Comments (6)

Email Warns of Inflammatory Breast Cancer —
Status: True
I warn in Hippo Eats Dwarf that "Unsolicited e-mail is not a reliable source of information—about anything" (Reality Rule 7.4). This is especially true of all those random health-related claims that circulate via email warning of flesh-eating bananas, poisonous perfume, toxic tampons, etc. So it's refreshing to find an example of a health-related email warning that's actually true.

On May 7, Seattle's KOMO 4 News ran a segment about Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC), a deadly form of cancer that most women are totally unaware of. IBC doesn't present with typical symptoms (there's no lump), and it can't readily be detected with a mammogram. Instead women and doctors alike often mistake IBC's symptoms for rashes or insect bites.

The KOMO news segment soon inspired an email warning to start circulating. One version of the email, as reported on urbanlegends.about.com, reads:
The Silent Killer...Very IMPORTANT
Ladies, you MUST watch this video...this is not a joke...please read and watch. It's a form of Breast Cancer that I honestly had never even heard of. Stay healthy!
Please show this to other women you know, or print it out for them to read.
Within less than two months, this email had spread far and wide. So far that KOMO now reports that:
As of Thursday morning, amazingly, the video has been accessed a total of 10 million times, and has helped shed light on the important subject to several news agencies across the nation and world. We continue to hope the video helps provide important life-saving information and helps bring more awareness to a subject that not many people knew about.
It's cool that an email warning is actually serving a useful function, for once. But I think the advice that most unsolicited information received via email is garbage should still stand.
Posted: Fri Jun 30, 2006.   Comments (3)

Don’t Use Cruise Control In The Rain —
Status: Hoax
Here's an email that's been circulating around:
"A 36-year-old female had an accident several weeks ago and wrote off her vehicle. It was raining, though not excessively, when her car suddenly began to aquaplane and literally flew through the air. She was not seriously injured but very stunned at the sudden occurrence. When she explained what had happened to a highway patrolman, he told her she should never drive in the rain with cruise control activated. If your car begins to aquaplane, it will accelerate beyond the set cruise control speed when the tyres lose contact with the asphalt."

So is there any truth to this? Is it dangerous to drive in the rain with cruise control activated? Not according to Australia's RAA (Royal Automobile Association) which recently issued an advisory about this email:

“Should the car’s tyres break traction with the road, such as in an aquaplane situation, the increase in wheel speed would be sensed and the cruise control system would then reduce the amount of throttle and maintain the set speed. Additionally, cruise control systems are deactivated as soon as the brake is applied. As braking is usually an automatic reaction in most emergency situations, the scenario of cruise control causing an increase in vehicle speed is highly unlikely.”

I actually never use cruise control, whether or not it's raining, because I have a bit of a phobia about it. I have a fear that one time I'll step on the brake, and the cruise control won't deactivate.
Posted: Thu Apr 13, 2006.   Comments (25)

Motorcycle Flips Car —
Status: Undetermined (but probably true)
Alex Palmer forwarded me the following email which is circulating around, consisting of the following text and four pictures:

Subject: Picture is worth a thousand words.
The Honda rider was traveling at such a "very high speed", his reaction time was not sufficient enough to avoid this accident. Swedish Police estimate a speed of ~250 KM/h (155mph) before the bike hit the slow moving car side-on at an intersection. At that speed, they predicted that the rider's reaction time (once the vehicle came into view) wasn't sufficient enough for him to even apply the brakes. The car had two passengers and the bike rider was found INSIDE the car with them. The Volkswagen actually flipped over from the force of impact and landed 10 feet from where the collision took place.

All three involved (two in car and rider) were killed instantly. This graphic demonstration was placed at the Stockholm Motorcycle Fair by the Swedish Police and Road Safety Department. The sign above the display also noted that the rider had only recently obtained his license. At 250 KM (155 mph) the operator is traveling at 227 feet per second. With normal reaction time to SEE-DECIDE-REACT of 1.6 seconds the above operator would have traveled over 363 feet while making a decision on what actions to take. In this incident the Swedish police indicate that no actions were taken.

image image image image

The images and text are posted on quite a few sites, including one that shows a picture of the actual accident scene. I haven't been able to confirm any of the details, but this doesn't surprise me given that the incident apparently happened in Sweden, and I don't speak Swedish. (For instance, I don't pull up any references in Lexis-Nexis to a Stockholm Motorcycle Fair.) But it seems reasonable to me that if a motorcycle going 155mph hit a car side-on, it would definitely have enough force to flip the car (which is the detail that Alex Palmer was suspicious of). After all, that's a lot of energy, which has to go somewhere.
Posted: Wed Apr 12, 2006.   Comments (28)

Rare Time Alignment Tomorrow —
Status: Partially true, partially false
An email is circulating around that makes the following claim:

On Wednesday of this week (tomorrow), at two minutes and three seconds after 1:00 a.m., the time and date will be 01:02:03 04/05/06.
This will never happen again.

That's just wrong. It probably won't happen again in any of our lifetimes, but it will happen again: in 2106, 2206, 2306, etc. And in Europe they write the date as day, month, year, so it won't be true over there. (But you could fly over to the UK and experience the same 'rare' phenomenon on May 4th of this year!)
Posted: Tue Apr 04, 2006.   Comments (9)

Carjacker Strategy: Place Paper On Your Rear Window —
Status: Theoretically could happen (though there's no solid evidence it ever has)
You may have received this email warning recently:

Imagine: You walk across the parking lot, unlock your car and get inside. Then you lock all your doors, start the engine and shift into REVERSE. Habit!
You look into the rear-view window to back out of your parking space and you notice a piece of paper, some sort of advertisement stuck to your rear window. So, you shift into PARK, unlock your doors and jump out of your vehicle to remove that paper (or whatever it is) that is obstructing your view... when you reach the back of your car, that is when the car-jackers jump out of no where ... jump into your car and take off -- your engine was running, your purse is in the car, and they practically mow you down as they speed off in your car.
Just drive away and remove the paper that is stuck to your window later and be thankful that your read this email and that you forwarded it to your friends.

I got it and dismissed it as a hoax, given its similarity to the false warning about people trying to sell perfume in parking lots. (They supposedly get you to sniff the perfume which is really ether and knocks you out.) But an article in the Mercury News notes that it might be worth paying attention to the paper-on-the-rear-window warning. They interview a California Highway Patrol officer who says:

I have heard of this a few times, and it is true. What makes it popular among car thieves is that it's non-confrontational (no gun or threat needed) which equals a lesser fine or sentence if they're caught. And it's a lot easier than traditional methods. Your readers should definitely heed this advice to drive away.

David Emery notes that the warning might be a bit overblown, but also cautions that: "Much more important than worrying about whether or not to remove a piece of paper stuck to your windshield, therefore — in any situation where you might be vulnerable to a carjacking — is being aware of your surroundings and taking note of who may be lurking nearby as you enter or exit your automobile."
Posted: Thu Jan 26, 2006.   Comments (25)

The GTC Group Billion Dollar Trust —
Status: Scam
Here's an offer that has scam written all over it. The GTC Group (I'm kind of reluctant to link to their website, on the off chance that I'll help send a victim their way, but here it is) claims that if you agree to establish a trading account in their name (no money or fees required!), they will pay you, and 5000 other lucky volunteers, $24,000. They're circulating this claim via email. Here's how they explain the deal on their website:

Our client is a family trust with $1B to invest. We recently presented them with an investment opportunity to make a return of 18% without risk. Unfortunately, this opportunity involves the purchase of certain restricted financial instruments in the Asian markets. Due to regulation, the purchase of these instruments is restricted to $200,000 per person (or trust or any other entity). We are therefore unable to invest any more than $200,000 of our client's funds. We presented our client with a possible solution, to which they were agreeable. Our solution is very simple, as I'm sure you may have preempted already. We require 5,000 people who would like the opportunity to earn a share of the return WITHOUT any investment required. Once we reach this number, each person will have a trading account established in their name. Each account will be funded with $200,000. The trading cycle will then begin, which lasts for just over one month. At this stage, the profit will be split between our client and the participants. Of the 18% return our client will receive 5%.

You don't really need to read any further than "a return of 18% without risk" to know it's a scam. There's no way to make an 18% return on anything, let alone $1B, without risk. There's also the fact that they claim to be a billion-dollar trading outfit, but they can only afford a rinky-dink website. And we're expected to believe that some "family trust" is going to entrust them with $1B? Even though they claim no fees are required, I'm sure people who sign up will be asked to pay 'unanticipated fees' somewhere down the line. I'm also sure no one will ever see that $24,000. According to the registration info for the domain name, the GTC Group is run by some guy named George Davies out of Stanbrook House, 2-5 Old Bond Street, London. (Thanks to Harvey Wharfield for forwarding me the link to this thing.)
Posted: Mon Jan 16, 2006.   Comments (23)

Potential new risk from mobile phones —
Status: Partially true, partially fake
image Dipankar Mitra sent me this graphic which is circulating via email, warning of a "Potential new risk from mobile phones." He notes that it's accompanied by a caption that reads:

Please use left ear while using cell (mobile), because if you use the right one it will affect brain directly. This is a true fact from Apollo medical team. Please forward to all your well wishers

He asks, "Do let me know if it is real or hoax..."

Well, the caption is definitely a hoax. I have no idea what the Apollo medical team is. (When I google the term I just pull up references to this email.) And the suggestion that it would somehow be safer to use your left ear rather than your right is absurd.

However, the graphic and the information in it are not a hoax. The illustration was created by the Graphic News agency back in 2002. (Click 'Graphic Search' on their site, then do a keyword search for the term 'blood-brain barrier', and you'll pull up the graphic.) The information it describes comes from a study published in the May 2002 issue of the scientific journal Differentiation. Researcher Darius Leszcynski did find that when human endothelial cells were exposed to the maximum level of radiation allowed under international safety standards for mobile phones, a stress response could be observed in the cells. But he also noted that most mobile phones emit much less radiation than the levels used in the experiment. So there's probably no imminent danger of damaging your blood-brain barrier by using a mobile phone.
Posted: Tue Jan 10, 2006.   Comments (8)

Email Warns of Hidden Camera in Tanning Salons —
Status: Hoax
A small British newspaper reports that tanning salons in New Eltham (which, I guess, is a suburb of London) are being targeted by a hoax email warning that hidden cameras are snapping photos of women as they tan. The email is accompanied by "dozens of revealing pictures of naked women using tanning beds, who are obviously unaware they are being photographed." (Two of the pictures are below.) The article continues:

Angry women who use tanning beds are circulating the pictures to each other, believing them to be genuine and warning their friends and family not to use the salon.

Apparently the candid pictures actually show a tanning salon in California. The article doesn't state if the photos were taken by an actual hidden camera, or if they were staged. But I'm sure that this hoax must be popping up in more places than just New Eltham (especially if it started in California).

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Posted: Wed Nov 30, 2005.   Comments (14)

The Palace of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan —
Status: Email hoax (real pictures, fake caption)
Bad: Falling for an email hoax. Worse: Using the hoax as the basis for your presentation to the local city planning commission, thereby displaying your gullibility to the entire public.

As reported by the Muncie Star Press (no link), Don Love gets the award for doing the latter. He received an email containing a series of pictures of an opulent estate (shown below), with the caption:

In case you're wondering where this hotel is, it isn't a hotel at all. IT IS A HOUSE! It's owned by the family of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the former president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu-Dhabi.

Enraged, he made a slide presentation out of the pictures and showed them to the planning commission, as part of his effort to get them to approve construction of an ethanol plant. His point was that they should promote local energy projects, to prevent all the city's money going to greedy, oil-rich sheiks. He told them: "This is the type of thing being done with your petro dollars that I want to re-patriate. Keep in mind the gentleman has more than 20 wives. This is one of 70 baths. Some are bigger than my house. This is his little swimming pool. These are his cars."

Of course, the pictures don't show a sheik's palace. In reality they show a fancy hotel in Abu Dhabi called the Emirates Palace. All the stuff about 20 wives is bogus too. If Love had bothered to do any research, he would have found this out. He probably could also have found some real pictures of a sheik's palace, which would have been a more effective way of making his point. Incidentally, my other house (the one in my daydreams) looks just like the one in the pictures.

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Posted: Tue Nov 15, 2005.   Comments (69)

The Power of Makeup —
Status: Viral email
Pasted below is the content of an email that's going around. It's not a hoax, but it deals with issues of camouflage and deception. (It also reminds me of some Before and After pictures that I posted over a year ago.) The subject line of the email is: Never underestimate the power of makeup.


Posted: Sun Nov 13, 2005.   Comments (29)

Miss International’s Nanny Speech —
Status: Probably a hoax
imageLast month Precious Lara Quigaman, Miss Philippines, was crowned as the 2005 Miss International. An email now going around relates a story about her answer to a question asked during the final round:

Precious Lara Quigaman, the Miss Philippines who took home the 2005 Miss International crown, was asked during the final round the following question:
What do you say to the people of the world who have typecasted filipinos as nannies?
Precious Lara replied, “I take no offense on being typecasted as a nanny. But i do take offense that the educated people of the world have somehow denegrated the true sense and meaning of what a nanny is.”
Quigaman further elaborated: “Let me tell you what she is. She is someone who gives more than she takes. She is someone you trust to look after the very people most precious to you - your child, the elderly, yourself. She is the one who has made a living out of caring and loving other people.”
In closing, Precious ended her nanny speech with, “So to those who have typecasted us as nannies, thank you. It is a testament to the loving and caring culture of the Filipino people. And for that, I am forever proud and grateful of my roots and culture.”
That’s a winning answer, ladies and gentlemen!

I've been unable to find any source to confirm that this question was indeed asked to Quigaman during the final round. But it seems like it would have been a very odd question to ask. And according to Crispina Belen of the Manila Bulletin, there were no questions of this sort asked during the pageant:

There was no Question & Answer portion at the 45th Miss International beauty pageant in Tokyo but the finalists were asked to write an essay about their advocacies and plans to help the less fortunate. Precious Lara concerns the streetchildren. She has said in the past that she would like to be a missionary doctor to be able to help the poor and the needy.

And a post on Filipino.ca states that:

That wasn't Quigaman's winning answer. Miss International traditionally doesn't have a final question. The finalists each do a speech about what their cause is and what they would do if they were Miss International. Her speech was about helping children and their need for education.

So it would seem that the email is a hoax. Personally, I had never realized that Filipinos were typecast as nannies. I thought it would be the British, if anyone, who would be typecast in that way.
Posted: Wed Oct 19, 2005.   Comments (8)

Suicide Jumper — Warning: Graphic. This is from an email going around:

A police officer sent this to me. It is not for the faint of heart. If you have a weak stomach, then don't look at the URL. It is a picture of the demise of a suicide jumper taken shortly after he landed. It shows him with his insides now on the outside. You will see the look of horror on the faces of the bystanders. The faces of the bystanders is why I believe this is real..

Posted: Fri Apr 22, 2005.   Comments (31)

Mushroom Licenses — Are you soon going to need a license to pick wild mushrooms in Illinois? That was what an email press release that circulated around last week stated. The email claimed that mushroom hunters would have to get a license from the same vendors that sell hunting and fishing licenses, and that revenue from the license sales would benefit biological and archaeological research in Illinois. The email prompted dozens of people to call the Illinois Natural Resources Department to complain. Today a Department spokeswoman, Gayle Simpson, denied that any such licenses were going to be required. In other words, the email was a hoax.
Posted: Mon Apr 04, 2005.   Comments (4)

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