Hoax Museum Blog: Law/Police/Crime

Frivolous (fake) lawsuits — The Lebanon Daily News confesses to coming down with a bad case of the Gullibility Virus. In a recent article they whipped themselves into a state of righteous indignation about a series of frivolous lawsuits. They had read about the lawsuits in an email. (Best part: they titled the article "Sad but true"). A reader later wrote to them:

Austin woman awarded $80,000 for tripping over her own son in store? Fabricated. Los Angeles man trying to steal hubcap gets $74,000 when target vehicle runs over his hand. Never happened. Pennsylvania man gets half a million for being trapped in garage he was trying to burglarize? Bogus. Little Rock man gets $14,500 for being bit by a dog he was shooting with a pellet gun? Hoax. Lancaster woman gets $113,500 for slipping on a soda she threw at her boyfriend? Tell us her name and the lawsuit’s case number. Delaware woman gets $12,500 for injuries while trying to sneak into nightclub? Fiction. Oklahoma lady gets $1.75 million for leaving RV on cruise control while she makes sandwich in back? Balderdash.

The LDN admits to sloppy research, but points out that one of the cases in the email was true, the infamous McDonalds coffee-burn case brought by Stella Liebeck. I'm probably one of the few people who thinks Stella Liebeck had a decent case, because, in my opinion, McDonalds was keeping their coffee too hot. I've had this argument with plenty of people, and no one has ever agreed with me.
Thanks, Joe!
Posted: Wed Jun 10, 2009.   Comments (14)

Fooled by Crunchberries — This case sounded so stupid to me that at first I thought it had to be a joke, but here's the actual ruling, Sugawara v. PepsiCo, Inc., so apparently it's true.

Janine Sugawara filed suit against PepsiCo, maker of Cap'n Crunch's CrunchBerries, alleging she had been deceived by their marketing into believing that crunchberries were real fruit, only to learn, to her dismay, that the product contained "no berries of any kind."

The judge threw the case out, noting, "The survival of the instant claim would require this Court to ignore all concepts of personal responsibility and common sense."

Sugawara is a serial litigant (pun intended). She had previously filed suit against the maker of Froot Loops for similar reasons. Link: Lowering the Bar
Posted: Sat Jun 06, 2009.   Comments (10)

The Bonnie Sweeten Abduction Hoax — Philadelphia Mom Bonnie Sweeten had apparently been embezzling money from a charity where she worked for years. Fearing that she was about to be found out, she fled to Orlando with her daughter, but not before concocting a hoax about being abducted by two black men who rear-ended her SUV. (She placed a call to 911, pretending she was locked in the trunk of the black men's car.)

I guess the hoax was intended to cover her tracks, but I'm not sure if it didn't simply increase police scrutiny, making them search more closely for her than they otherwise would have. Obvious signs that her call was a hoax: a) the call was placed miles from the scene where she said the abduction occurred; b) police soon found her car, unharmed; c) police then identified Sweeten on airport video, boarding a flight to Orlando with her daughter. The police tracked Sweeten down in Orlando and arrested her.

If someone wanted to disappear effectively, I would think they should slip away quietly, to give themselves as much of a head start as possible. And also avoid airports and other places with lots of security cameras.

Links: Yahoo! News, Philly.com.
Posted: Fri May 29, 2009.   Comments (2)

Moms Behaving Badly — A dispute between two young girls escalated into an online fight between the mothers. The mother of one of the girls posted an ad on Craigslist offering sex with men, and listed the phone number of the other girl's mother as the contact. Twenty-two people called the number. The woman has now been charged with aggravated harrassment. [Newsday]
Posted: Mon May 11, 2009.   Comments (2)

Pigeon Drop Scam Becomes Robbery — There's a report of a pigeon drop scam in which the scammers approached a woman at an ATM and tried to convince her to buy a diamond (that was supposedly such a bargain that she'd easily make a profit if she resold it). But in this case the scammers got tired of haggling with her and eventually just grabbed her money and ran. Which means that the scammers are now guilty of grand theft. [Mercury News]
Posted: Fri Apr 17, 2009.   Comments (6)

Domino’s Video Prank — One of the mysteries of law enforcement in the age of YouTube: Why do people proudly post videos of themselves engaged in illegal acts? They're just begging to have the police come knocking on their door. So anyway, the latest example of video self-incrimination involves two Domino's employees who created a prank video showing one of them farting on the food and sticking it up his nose as the other one laughed and egged him on. They posted the video on YouTube and it promptly went viral. Domino's then fired them (the two had to see that coming). One of the two emailed the company a groveling apology: “It was fake and I wish that everyone knew that!!!! I AM SOO SORRY!” Nevertheless, Domino's is still planning to press felony charges against them. The video has now been removed from YouTube, but Consumerist still has a copy of it posted. [NY Times]
Posted: Thu Apr 16, 2009.   Comments (4)

Cash Stops Bullet — Mythbusters did an episode on the urban legend of a bullet being stopped by a Bible (or a Zippo lighter). They found that a hardcover book of at least 400 pages might stop a bullet, but anything less (including a Zippo) didn't have a chance. Nevertheless, police in Sao Paulo, Brazil are saying that the wad of cash a woman had stuffed in her bra slowed down a bullet enough to save her life. I'm sure the woman is very lucky, but I suspect the cash had nothing to do with her good fortune.[Yahoo!]
Posted: Wed Apr 15, 2009.   Comments (13)

Neighborhood dispute gets ugly — The term Neighbor From Hell seems an appropriate one for Julie Rank-Earley. Her neighbor once filed a police complaint about her, resulting in a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. Instead of letting the issue drop, Rank-Earley decided to up the ante by subscribing to hundreds of dollars worth of pornographic magazines in the name of her neighbor. Her neighbor simply complained to the police again when she started getting all the bills. Now Rank-Earley is sitting in jail. [Dayton Daily News]
Posted: Tue Apr 14, 2009.   Comments (1)

Bathroom stall robbery — It's safe to use the bathroom again. Two weeks ago a New York man said he was robbed in a bathroom stall in the Atlanta airport. He was just sitting there, doing his business, when two men poked their heads "over the top of the stall," pointed a silver handgun at him, and demanded his wallet. Police have now determined the robbery report was a hoax. [AJC.com]
Posted: Mon Apr 06, 2009.   Comments (2)

If you don’t show a weapon, is it really a robbery? — Police say that a man, alone in a car, drove up to a teller window at the Lone Star National Bank in Texas. He slipped the teller a note. Exactly what it said has not been revealed, but it caused the teller to hand him an undetermined amount of cash. He then drove away. At no point did the man display a weapon.

Big Gary asks: But if you just say, "Give me money," and you don't display a weapon, and you aren't in any position to hurt anybody, it's not really a robbery, it's a gift, right?

I don't think so. I'm pretty sure it's illegal to lead a bank teller to believe you may be trying to rob the bank, even if you're joking or make no specific threat. (Though specific laws probably vary state by state.) After all, how does the teller know you're not serious, or that you don't have a bomb wired to you?

In the April Fool's Day Database I record a case from 2006 in which a 57-year-old woman walked into a bank on April 1st and handed the teller a note that said, "I'm here to take money." It was a joke. She was there to withdraw money (legally) from her own account. Nevertheless, the police later tracked her down and charged her with disorderly conduct.

Banks are kinda like airports. All potential security threats are taken seriously. Even jokes.
Posted: Wed Mar 18, 2009.   Comments (11)

New phishing scam merges physical and virtual worlds — Police in Grand Forks, Michigan North Dakota report that people are finding fake parking tickets on their cars that direct them to go to horribleparking.com to view information about standard parking regulations. When they visit the site, a virus is downloaded onto their computer.

It's not clear what the virus does, but it seems like a pretty elaborate way to infect someone's computer. Also, an expensive way. Printing fake tickets and paying someone to distribute them has to cost a lot more than sending out emails. Link: Grand Forks Herald.
Posted: Wed Feb 04, 2009.   Comments (6)

Immigrants devise creative methods of hiding — Two cases of illegal immigrants finding unusual methods of sneaking into countries have recently been in the news:

Case #1: U.S. border police found 13 illegal immigrants inside a fake Budweiser beer van.

Case #2: British authorities found four illegal immigrants hiding inside a 32-foot-tall fake Christmas tree in the back of a truck. The tree was made of aluminum and nylon, and had been ordered for a town center display.
Posted: Wed Nov 26, 2008.   Comments (1)

Fake Cocaine — On June 4 Steven Decker of Muscatine, Iowa sold a white powder to an undercover agent. He said it was cocaine, but it wasn't. It was fake cocaine. In the eyes of the law, this doesn't let him off the hook. He's being charged with "delivery of a simulated controlled substance" and is looking at up to ten years in prison and $50,000 in fines.

I'm sure Decker is not exactly a boy-scout, but being charged for selling fake cocaine is a curious concept. Added irony: he was selling a simulated controlled substance to a simulated controlled substance buyer.
Posted: Tue Nov 25, 2008.   Comments (10)

Your classmates aren’t looking for you — Classmates.com told Anthony Michaels that former classmates were looking for him. If only he would upgrade to a premium membership, they would put him in touch with his school buddies. So Michaels paid the money. Then he discovered that no one was looking for him. Now he's brought a class-action suit against classmates.com for deceptive advertising.

There's a fine line in advertising between what's legal and what's not. "Puffery," which is defined as making exaggerated claims that the average consumer would never take literally, is legal. Example: "You'll love it!" However, making specific, factually misleading claims is illegal. For instance, you can't claim that a product regrows hair if it doesn't.

Classmates.com seems to be on the illegal side of that line, so I predict they'll end up paying out money in this suit.
Posted: Thu Nov 13, 2008.   Comments (15)

Fleeing Purse Snatcher Drops Breast — Police in Port St. Lucie are on the lookout for a cross-dressing purse snatcher who accidentally dropped a condom filled with water after grabbing a 74-year-old woman's purse. He had been using the condom as a fake breast. That's weird enough. What I can't understand is why he was using a water-filled condom. Wouldn't a regular balloon have worked better?

Though questioning the fashion decisions of a cross-dressing purse snatcher is surely an exercise in pointlessness.
Posted: Wed Sep 03, 2008.   Comments (6)

Two Stupid Criminals — Desperate for free porn
A man entered an adult novelty store, told the clerk that he was a detective with the Longmont Police Department's "age verification unit," and demanded that the clerk provide him with pornographic videos so that he could verify the ages of the actors in them. The Longmont Police have no age verification unit. The clerk turned him away, and then the manager called the real police. (Thanks, Bob!)

Cheesecake Box Bomb
A man entered a movie rental store, placed a box on the counter, and told a clerk it was a bomb that he would detonate unless he was given cash. The clerk refused and the man fled. The "bomb" was an empty cheesecake box.
Posted: Mon Aug 11, 2008.   Comments (4)

The Knoxville Carjacking Party — According to internet rumor, Britney Spears is planning to star in a movie titled The Knoxville Carjacking Party, based on the brutal 2007 murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. Spears would play Channon Christian.

The story is a hoax. More specifically, it's a case of satire mistaken as news, having apparently originated as a faux news report from "celebrity snitch, Clarence Star" on the site Ghetto Bragging Rights.

Wayne Bledsoe, a columnist for Knoxnews.com, notes that the spread of the false rumor offers a case study in how misinformation is propagated by the online media. Numerous celebrity gossip sites, such as popcrunch.com, reported the false rumor as fact, without making any effort to verify it. Bledsoe writes:

By Wednesday morning, a Google search found more than 10,000 hits for "Knoxville Carjacking Party" and the rumor had been translated into Spanish and French. Not only that, but Web "reporters" often edited out the more ludicrous parts of the story, helping to make it sound more credible. Readers not familiar with the Knoxville murders simply assumed it was a new slasher film.
Some Web browsers left comments on the sites saying that the report sounded like a hoax, but others were quick to defend it. A reader at Current.com insisted: "It's not fake. I don't think so. It's all over the international scene."
The amazing thing is that out of the 10,000-plus mentions of the fictitious movie, no one had apparently contacted Spears' management or record company to check if it was real.

(Thanks, Bob!)
Posted: Tue Aug 05, 2008.   Comments (4)

Fake Foot — I'm still catching up on all the recent hoaxes... So here's another one that a lot of people have emailed me about. The fake foot that washed up on a beach in British Columbia.

Five human feet have washed up on beaches in British Columbia during the past year, generating a lot of media interest. After all, who do these feet belong to? It's a mystery. But a sixth foot that washed up turned out to be a hoax. From ctv.ca:

A sixth foot believed to have washed ashore on Vancouver Island was not human, although it was found inside a sock and running shoe, according to the B.C. Coroners Service. "A forensic pathologist and an anthropologist have examined the shoe and remains, and determined a skeletonised animal paw was inserted into the shoe with a sock and packed with dried seaweed," BCCS said in a statement Thursday. The foot had been found inside a size-10 black Adidas shoe.

I've posted about similar hoaxes. For instance, back in 2003 I wrote about police in Crawford County launching an investigation after finding leg bones sticking out of boots found beside a lake in Arkansas. The bones turned out to belong to an animal.

New Scientist has an interesting take on the recent case. (You may only be able to read their full article if you're a subscriber.) They discuss the field of ocean forensics, which apparently is quite undeveloped. When bodies wash up from the ocean, it's usually very difficult for forensic scientists to figure out what happened to the person because there's not a good understanding of what happens to corpses floating in the ocean.

Researcher Gail Anderson is trying to change this. She's chained the carcass of a 25-kilogram pig to the ocean floor and has been recording the exact stages of its decomposition, carefully noting the crabs, lobsters, and fish that feed on it. She's already discovered that fish tend to feed on the face last. So if a body washes up with damage to the face, but not to the rest of the body, foul play is likely. I'm going to add this to my growing list of great trivia to bring up at cocktail parties.
Posted: Tue Jun 24, 2008.   Comments (5)

Thieves Steal Fake Money — Thieves used a hammer to break open a plexiglass box being used as a Drop-A-Note donation box in the Kentucky Theatre's lobby, and they stole the money inside. Unfortunately for the thieves, the money they took was fake. From kentucky.com:

"It's sad when idiots can't tell fake money from the real thing," said Steve Brown, president of Kentucky's Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ Project, a group dedicated to restoring a Wurlitzer organ and returning it to the Kentucky. Proceeds from the Drop-A-Note box, which is three wood organ pipes with a space for donations in the middle pipe, go to the restoration project. The fake bills looked similar to real ones, but they didn't have serial numbers and were black and white, Brown said. The thieves, who struck early June 2, made off with little or no money because the box had been emptied that weekend.

The thieves were probably former convenience store clerks, fired for accepting too many George Bush and Santa Claus bills.
Posted: Sun Jun 22, 2008.   Comments (1)

An email from SueEasy — This morning I received an email from SueEasy, a website about which I've posted previously:

This is Andrew Richards, Manager Operations at SueEasy.com
We would like to express our discontentment regarding your entry about our
company: http://hoaxes.org/weblog/permalink/sue_easy/
We are NOT a hoax of any kind. We have several respected law firms and
attorneys signed up with our service & we were hand picked by Michael
at TechCrunch.

here's some press:

Please do not make sweeping statements and write false stories about things
you haven't reserached. We'd appreciate it, if you took the link down

A. Richards

To which I replied:

Dear Andrew,
Thanks for your email, though it puzzles me. I state a number of times in my post that SueEasy is NOT a hoax.
Can you please indicate, specifically, what you believe to be the inaccurate statements in my post.
-Alex Boese

I've run into this problem before. Companies complain to me after seeing their name on my site, because they assume that EVERYTHING I discuss on the site must be a hoax, even if I state that it's not. We'll see where this leads.
Posted: Mon Jun 16, 2008.   Comments (15)

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