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Issue 74 - Hoax-Slayer Newsletter

Issue 74: August, 2007

This month in Hoax-Slayer:
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A Free Monthly Web-Based Newsletter brought to you by Brett Christensen

The Hoax-Slayer Newsletter keeps you informed about the latest email hoaxes and current Internet scams. Hoax-Slayer also features anti-spam tips, computer security information, pertinent articles and more.

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Michael Vick Virginia Beach SPCA Poster Hoax

Summary:
Poster, claiming to be from the Virginia Beach SPCA, thanks Michael Vick, a US sportsman indicted on illegal dog fighting charges, for finding a home for 14 American Pit Bull Terriers rescued from Hurricane Katrina.

Status:
False

Example:(Submitted, July 2007)
Subject: Athlete of the Year

Michael Vick Virginia Beach SPCA Poster


Commentary:
A poster, ostensibly from the Virginia Beach branch of the SPCA, is currently circulating as an email attachment and online. The poster, which features a photograph of US sportsman Michael Vick holding a puppy, includes a Virginia Beach SPCA logo along with the following text:
Special thanks to Michael Vick quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons for finding a good home for 14 American Pit Bull Terriers rescued from hurricane Katrina.
However, the claims made in the poster are untrue and it did not originate with the Virginia Beach SPCA. Nor is it in any way endorsed or condoned by the SPCA. It is, in fact, nothing more than a digital fake created by a person or persons unknown.

The poster uses a photograph of Michael Vick that was featured in an article published on FanaticKing.com and various other blogs and websites. The SPCA logo was copied without permission from the genuine Virginia Beach SPCA website along with the site colour scheme.

The Virginia Beach SPCA did help to rescue animals after Hurricane Katrina, but Michael Vick did not contribute in any way. Sharon Adams, Executive Director of the VA Beach SPCA, has denied any connection between the organization and Michael Vick. I contacted the director after receiving submissions about this hoax and she replied with the following information:
No, of course we didn't give Michael Vick any dogs we rescued after Katrina. We don't know him, never had any relationship with him and would not give any single person more than one dog at a time. Furthermore, we are extremely careful about the adoption of any pitt bull for a variety of reasons.
Michael Vick was indicted in July 2007 on charges relating to illegal dog fighting. A 17th July CBC news article notes:
Vick and three others were charged with violating federal laws against competitive dog fighting, procuring and training pit bulls for fighting and conducting the enterprise across state lines.

Vick and the other defendants — Purnell A. Peace, Quanis L. Phillips and Tony Taylor — were involved in an ongoing animal fighting venture based out of Vick's home in Smithfield, Va., from early 2001 to April 2007, according to a statement released by the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Vick faces $350,000 in fines and six years in prison if convicted of the charges.
The unconscionably cruel activity of dog fighting is naturally condemned by animal protection organizations around the world, including the SPCA. Thus, the prankster has apparently created the bogus poster either in a shallow and tasteless attempt to be funny or in a deliberate and callous attempt to spread misinformation.

Hoaxes such as this are far from harmless. They waste the time of charitable organization staff who must field many questions about such issues. They can also unfairly tarnish the reputation of charities in the eyes of the public. Sharon Adams notes:
As a private charity, that takes in 5000 animals a year, we must be very protective of our reputation. If a donor is turned away or skeptical of our practices, we lose that support and our work suffers. The person who stole our home page and banner and created this hoax has slandered us. He or she probably knew what they were doing because they have insured that this thing is as widespread as it could possibly be.
If you receive this hoax, please do not pass it on to others and ensure that you let the sender know that the claims in the message are slanderous and untrue.

References:
Michael Vick Indicted By Grand Jury
Michael Vick Endorses Dog-Fighting
Virginia Beach SPCA

[TOP]



Fuel From Salt Water

Summary:
Series of videos and messages claim that an inventor in the US has found a way to burn salt water with a radio-wave generator and that the technique could become an alternative form of fuel.

Status:
True

Example:(Submitted, July 2007)
Subject: salt water can be used for auto fuel

Check this out.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tf4gOS8aoFk


Commentary:
Claims that an inventor has found a way to "burn" salt water with a radio-wave generator are circulating in the form of videos, emails and website articles. The technique has generated so much excitement because it could potentially be used to power vehicle engines from that most abundant of resources, sea water, and thereby break our increasingly troublesome reliance on fossil fuels.

Although the process described may sound somewhat far-fetched, the claims in the videos and messages are factual.

Several years ago, retired broadcast executive John Kanzius began working on a radio-wave generator that could kill cancer cells. The machine has so far shown promising results and has raised the interest of prominent doctors and scientists.

Kanzius and an associate, Charlie Rutkowski, later discovered that the radio-wave generator could actually burn salt water when they were experimenting to see if the machine could be used for desalination. A news video of the process shows how a test-tube filled with ordinary salt water with a piece of paper towel as a wick ignites and burns without consuming the paper. In fact, the water produces a flame without any wick at all. The footage also shows a miniature engine being powered by heat from the burning water. A chemist who examined the process determined that the energy released is hydrogen. The heat breaks down the bond between hydrogen and oxygen in the water.

It should be noted, however, that, at the time of writing, the process is not yet considered a practical method of generating energy. According to a PESWiki article on the subject, the radio-wave generator consumes more energy than can be produced by the burning salt water. Some of the more enthusiastic reports on the invention tend to gloss over this fact.

That said, the potential of the process is exciting indeed! If successfully developed, the invention could change our world by providing a source of cheap, renewable energy, not just for auto engines, but also for all sorts of other applications. Whether or not this potential can be fulfilled in a practical and economically viable way remains to be seen.



References:
Salt Water Fuel
Salt Water into Fuel part 2
Florida Man Invents Machine To Cure Cancer
Fire from Salt Water
Salt Water Fuel


[TOP]



Olive Garden Syphilis Hoax

Summary:
Email claims that a girl developed Syphilis in her mouth after eating semen-contaminated food at an Olive Garden restaurant in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Status:
False

Example:(Submitted, July 2007)
Subject: Fw: This is really gross!!!

A girl I work with and her friend went to Olive Garden this weekend; I believe Thursday or Friday night. Amber's friend did not get what she ordered correctly so she sent the food back. Sunday she woke up and had red bumps all over inside her mouth. She went to the doctor and after many questions and food allergy tests she brought in what she had ate (she had left over’s at home) the doctor tested it.

The food tested positive for three different types of semen, Amber’s friend had Syphilis in her mouth from the food at Olive Garden here in WDSM


Commentary:
This email forward tell the sickening tale of a woman who developed Syphilis in her mouth after eating food that had been deliberately contaminated with "three different types of semen". According to the message, during a visit to the Olive Garden restaurant in West Des Moines, Iowa, the woman sent her meal back to the kitchen because it was not what she ordered. Two days later, the woman developed a rash inside her mouth that was diagnosed as Syphilis. Subsequent testing of leftover food from her Olive Garden meal revealed semen, apparently added to the food by kitchen staff in retaliation for her complaint.

However, the information in the message is nothing more than a malicious rumour that has no basis in fact. The Iowa Department of Public Health and Olive Garden have declared the story as false. According to an article about the hoax email published on WNBC.com, Iowa state health officials stated that "the Olive Garden has a clean record and that there is no cause for concern". In the article, state epidemiologist Dr. Patricia Quinlisk notes:
"You could just look at it and say, 'Gee, I think some teenager sat around and tried to make up the grossest story they could make up and this is what they came up with,'"
Moreover, reliable information about syphilis indicates that it would normally take a lot longer than two or three days before sores actually appeared. A CDC Fact Sheet about syphilis notes:
The primary stage of syphilis is usually marked by the appearance of a single sore (called a chancre), but there may be multiple sores. The time between infection with syphilis and the start of the first symptom can range from 10 to 90 days (average 21 days). The chancre is usually firm, round, small, and painless. It appears at the spot where syphilis entered the body. The chancre lasts 3 to 6 weeks, and it heals without treatment. However, if adequate treatment is not administered, the infection progresses to the secondary stage.
This version of the rumour is just the latest in a series of similar, and equally baseless, tales that have targeted Olive Garden restaurants and other eateries since at least 1989. Stories of contaminated restaurant and takeaway food have become a part of contemporary folklore. There are a variety of such rumours, including HIV contaminated blood added to fast food ketchup containers, rat served as chicken in Chinese eateries, rat urine on soda cans and many more.

Malicious tales such as these are far from harmless. They can unfairly damage the reputation of businesses that have done no wrong. They spread unnecessary alarm within communities. And they can waste the time of health department staff who must field endless enquiries about such foolish stories.

References:
Olive Garden Syphilis E-Mail Is Urban Legend
Syphilis - CDC Fact Sheet
Secret Sauce
Food in Folklore
HIV Infected Blood in the Ketchup Hoax
Rat served in Asian Restaurant Hoax
Leptospirosis Death Warning - Rat Urine on Soda Can Top
Diner Contracts Syphilis at Olive Garden Restaurant

[TOP]



Software Review: Registry Mechanic

The Windows Registry is one of the most important components of your computer's operating system. The registry is a vast central database that is used to store a great deal of critical information about installed applications, hardware settings, user preferences and a lot more.

When you make Control Panel changes, alter system policies, adjust file associations, or tweak user settings, information about your changes is likely to be stored in the Windows Registry. Also, when you install or uninstall software or add hardware devices, the registry will usually be modified during the process. The registry's job is to store this very complex and varied array of data in one place so that it can be readily accessed by your computer system as required. Thus, the Windows Registry is vital for the efficient operation of your computer.

Unfortunately, the very complexity of the registry means that it tends to develop errors and inconsistencies and become more and more bloated over time. Remnants can be left in the registry when you uninstall software. Spyware or other malicious programs may insert entries into your registry without your knowledge. Unused drivers may add unnecessary clutter to the registry.

Registry problems can lead to system crashes, sudden freezes, and sluggish performance. A poorly maintained registry can severely degrade the overall performance of your computer. Thus, keeping your registry clean and efficient should be an important aspect of your regular computer maintenance schedule.

Thankfully, there is a terrific program available that can make the job of maintaining your registry very simple. The award-winning Registry Mechanic from PC Tools cleans and optimizes your registry with just a few mouse clicks. Registry Mechanic repairs invalid registry entries, removes orphaned references, scans for invalid program shortcuts and optimizes the registry by compacting wasted space. For added safety, the program makes back-ups of any registry changes just in case problems occur.

An outstanding feature of this program is that it is very easy to use, even for those new to computing. Like other PC Tools software, Registry Mechanic has an elegant and intuitive user interface and clear and comprehensive help files.

I regularly use Registry Mechanic on my system and have found that it is very stable software, and does a superlative job of maintaining my registry in optimal condition. I view Registry Mechanic as a vital addition to my collection of computer maintenance and security tools and I am proud to be an affiliate for this product.

If your goal is to proactively avoid computer problems and keep your Windows system running at peak efficiency, then I highly recommend that you purchase and regularly use Registry Mechanic.

Purchase Registry Mechanic

Read more information about Registry Mechanic

As noted above, I am an affiliate for Registry Mechanic. For more information, please refer to my Affiliate Marketing Policy



[TOP]



New California Traffic Laws Hoax Email

Summary:
Email forward includes a list of new 2007 traffic laws for the American state of California.

Status:
False

Example:(Submitted, June 2007)
New California Laws effective 7/1/07

New Driving Fines for 2007

1. Carpool lane - 1st time $1068.50 starting 7/1/07 (The $271 posted on the highway is old). Don't do it again because 2nd time is going to be double. 3rd time triple, and 4th time license suspended.

2. Incorrect lane change - $380. Don't cross the lane on solid lines or intersections.

3. Block intersection - $485

4. Driving on the shoulder - $450

5. Cell phone use in the construction zone. - Double fine as of 07/01/07. Cell phone use must be "hands free" while driving.

6. Passengers over 18 not in their seat belts - both passengers and drivers get tickets .

7. Speeders can only drive 3 miles above the limit.

8. DUI = JAIL (Stays on your driving record for 10 years!)

9. As of 07/01/07 cell phone use must be "hands free" while driving. Ticket is $285. They will be looking for this like crazy - easy money for police department.

Pass this information to your friends and family....


Commentary:
This email forward lists a collection of stringent new traffic laws that are supposedly to come into force in California. According to the message, increased fines and penalties will be imposed on drivers for a range of traffic law infringements.

However, the information in the message is mostly untrue and should not be taken seriously. Moreover, the actual amount of fines for traffic infringements generally depends on the particular region of California in which the infringement occurred. California does have a Uniform Bail and Penalty Schedule, but this is simply used as a guideline. Although different jurisdictions in California may use this schedule as a general guide, the same traffic infringement may attract different penalties in different areas of California. Therefore, any supposedly state-wide list of penalties is likely to be inaccurate.

Each claim made in the email is discussed in turn below:
  1. Carpool lane - 1st time $1068.50 starting 7/1/07 (The $271 posted on the highway is old). Don't do it again because 2nd time is going to be double. 3rd time triple, and 4th time license suspended.

    False: Although the suggested fine for car-pool-lane violations has risen to $380 during 2007, there are no plans to increase this to $1068.50 and penalties do not automatically escalate for subsequent violations.

  2. Incorrect lane change - $380. Don't cross the lane on solid lines or intersections.

    False: The suggested fine for a prohibited lane change is $146, not $380.

  3. Block intersection - $485

    False: The suggested fine for blocking an intersection is $190, not $485.

  4. Driving on the shoulder - $450

    False: The suggested fine for unsafe passing on the right shoulder is $146, not $450.

  5. Cell phone use in the construction zone. - Double fine as of 07/01/07. Cell phone use must be "hands free" while driving.

    False: It is true that some fines are doubled in certain highway construction or maintenance zones. However, the law requiring drivers in California to use hands-free equipment when using cell phones is not yet in effect so there can be no double fines in construction zones as yet. The hands-free cell phone law will come into effect from July 2008, not July 2007.

  6. Passengers over 18 not in the seatbelts - both passengers and driver get tickets

    Misleading: In California, the driver and all passengers who are over 16 years of age or weigh 60 pounds or more must wear seatbelts. Children under six who weigh less than 60 pounds must be secured in a child passenger restraint system. If a passenger not wearing a seatbelt is 16 (NOT 18) or over, he or she may get a ticket. If the unrestrained passenger is under 16, the driver or, if present, the parent or guardian of the child may receive a ticket. There have been no recent changes to this law.

  7. Speeders can only drive 3 miles above the limit.

    False: This supposed rule makes no sense. Speeding is speeding, regardless of how many miles above the limit your are driving. Drivers must not exceed the maximum speed limit for the area they are driving in or they may be penalized.

  8. DUI = JAIL

    True but nothing new: People caught driving under the influence in California will normally be taken to jail, at least for a few hours and this has long been the case. According to the California DMV, a first DUI violation "shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for not less than 96 hours, at least 48 hours of which shall be continuous, nor more than six months, and by a fine of not less than three hundred ninety dollars ($390), nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000)".

  9. As of 07/01/07 cell phone use must be "hands free" while driving. Ticket is $285. They will be looking for this like crazy - easy money for police department.

    False: As noted in Number 5 above, the hands-free cell phone use law does not come into effect until July 2008. Moreover, the suggested fine will be $70 for the first infringement and $175 for further infringements, not $285 as stated in the message.
Thus, the information in the message is highly inaccurate and passing it on to others will serve no good purpose. To get accurate and current information about traffic laws in California, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, drivers should ask relevant local authorities or refer to official documentation covering such issues.

References:
UNIFORM BAIL AND PENALTY SCHEDULES
California Driver Handbook
New Laws for 2007 - Driver License
California told to speed up car-pool-lane traffic
About.com:New California Driving Laws 2007


[TOP]



Catholic Church Cash Grant Scam Email

Summary:
Email claims that the Catholic Church in Italy has awarded the recipient a large cash grant to be used for "personal, educational, and business development" .

Status:
False

Example:(Submitted, June 2007)
CHIESA CATTOLICA ITALIANA(THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ITALY)

The Catholic church Italy, would like to notify you that you have been chosen by the board of trustees as one of the final recipients of a cash Grant/Donation for your own personal, educational, and business development. The Chiesa Cattolica Italiana,established in the year 1872, is one of the biggest church built for God in Italy. In the year 1901, they started offering collection for the sole aim of human growth, educational and Community development. In conjunction with the ECOWAS, UNO, and the EU, We are giving out a yearly donation of US$650,000.00 each to 100 lucky recipients each year. These specific Donations/Grants will be awarded to 100 lucky international recipients worldwide; in different categories for their personal business development. The objective is to make a notable change in the standard of living of people all around the Universe (From America to Europe, Asia to Africa and all around).

Kindly note that you will only be chosen to receive the donation once, which means that subsequent yearly donation will not get to you.Take time and thought in spending the donation wisely on something that will last you a long time. Based on the random selection exercise of internet websites and millions of supermarket cash invoices worldwide, you were selected among the lucky recipients to receive the award sum of US$650,000.00 as charity donations/aid from the Catholic church Italy, ECOWAS, EU and the UNO in accordance with the enabling act of Parliament.

(Note that all beneficiaries email addresses were selected randomly from over 100,000 internet websites or a shop's cash invoice around your area in which you might have purchased something from). You are required to contact the Church Executive Secretary below, for qualification documentation and processing of your claims. After contacting the secretary, you will be given your donation pin number, which you will use in collecting the funds.

Please endeavor to quote your Qualification numbers (N-222-6647, E-910-56) in all discussions. Exec Sec. Miss. Mary Pepe Email: mmarypepemi@yahoo.it

Please note that these donations/Grants are strictly administered by the EU, ECOWAS, UNO. You are by all means hereby advised to keep this whole information confidential until you have been able to collect your donation. On behalf of God, The Church, Ecowas, UNO and the EU, accept our warmest congratulations. May God Bless you with this donation.


Commentary:
According to this email, Chiesa Cattolica Italiana, the Catholic Church in Italy, has awarded the recipient a cash grant or donation of $650,000.00 to be used for personal, educational, and business development. The message claims that the recipient was randomly selected from a pool of email addresses collected online or from information recorded on shopping invoices.

However, the supposed grant does not exist and is simply the bait used by scammers to trick victims into replying to the email. If the scammers receive a reply, they will begin an ongoing correspondence with their potential victim via email, phone or letter. Eventually, the scammers will request that the victim pay various fees, supposedly required to allow the "grant" to be released or delivered. The scammers will insist that these fees cannot be deducted from the grant itself for legal or insurance reasons. Requests for fees will likely continue until the victim realizes that he or she has been duped. The victim may also be tricked into providing a large amount of personal information that could be subsequently used to steal his or her identity.

The message is easily identified as fraudulent by its obvious logical flaws. While Christian organizations such as the Catholic Church do regularly donate funds to various worthy causes, they DO NOT randomly grant large sums of money to total strangers chosen solely via an email address or the name on a shopping invoice. Any such claim is simply ludicrous. In fact, it is equally ludicrous to suggest that such an organization would clandestinely harvest contact information from websites or invoices in the first place. Such a practice would be a highly unethical and an extremely impractical and haphazard method of selecting a grant recipient. In reality, donations or grants would only be given to people or groups who truly required such charity or were in a position to help others by their use of the funds. It is absurd to claim that the Catholic Church would give $650,000 to 100 people every year to be used in any way that the recipients deemed fit. And, of course, a wealthy and powerful entity like the Catholic Church in Italy would be very unlikely to use a free Yahoo email address as a contact.

An almost identical version of the scam message identifies the "Église catholique en France" as the branch of the Catholic Church offering the "grant".

This "church grant" ruse is just a variation of the long running email lottery scam in which recipients are informed that they have won a large amount of money in an international lottery.

You should be very cautious of any unsolicited message that claims that you have been awarded a grant that you never applied for or have won a lottery that you never entered. Similar scams may claim that you can gain a percentage of several million dollars by helping to transfer the funds out of a foreign bank account.

[TOP]

Heroin Needles and Snakes in Ball Pits - HIV Needles on Gas-Pump Handles

Summary:
Email warning claims that a child died after being injected with a heroin-filled hypodermic needle left in a McDonald's ball pit and that another child died in a Burger King ball pit after being bitten by venomous snakes. It also claims that HIV infected needles are being deliberately left under gas-pump handles.

Status:
False

Example:(Submitted, June 2007)
DONT IGNORE THIS BECAUSE ITS A LONG ARTICLE PLEASE!! PLEASE

READ!!

McDonalds, Chuck E Cheese, Discovery Zone... All places with ball pits in the children's play area. One of my sons lost his watch, and was very upset. We dug and dug in those balls, trying to find his watch. Instead, we found vomit, food, feces, and other stuff I do not want to discuss. I went to the manager and raised hell. Come to find out, the ball pit is only cleaned out once a month. I have doubts that it is even done that often. My kids will never play in another ball pit. Some of you might not be parents, but you may have nieces, nephews, grandchildren, or friends with children. This will pertain to you too. As I read the following, my heart sank. I urge each and every one of you to pass this on to as many people as you can. I cannot stress how important this is!

Hi. My name is Lauren Archer, my son is Kevin.

On October 2nd, 1999 I took my only son to McDonald's for his 3rd birthday. After he finished lunch, I allowed him to play in the ball pit. When he started whining later on, I asked him what was wrong, he pointed to the back of his pull-up and simply said "Mommy, it hurts." I couldn't find anything wrong with him at that time. I bathed him when we got home, and it was at that point when I found a welt on his left buttock. Upon investigating, it seemed as if there was something like a splinter under the welt. I made an appointment to see the doctor the next day, but soon he started vomiting and shaking, then his eyes rolled back into his head. From there, we went to the emergency room. He died later that night. It turned out that the welt on his buttock was the tip of a hypodermic needle that had broken off inside. The autopsy revealed that Kevin had died from a heroine overdose. The next week, the police removed the balls from the ball pit. There was rotten food, several hypodermic needles: some full, some used; knives, half-eaten candy, diapers, feces, and the stench of urine.

(You can find the article on Kevin Archer in the October 10,1999 issue of the Houston Chronicle.)

Don't think it's just McDonald's either. A little boy had been playing in a ball pit @ a Burger King & started complaining of his legs hurting. He later died too. He was found to have snake bites all over his legs & buttocks. When they cleaned the ball pit they found that there was a copperhead's nest in the ball pit. He had suffered numerous bites from a very poisonous snake. Repost this if it scares the crap out of you!! Repost this if you care about kids!! Please forward this to all loving mothers, fathers and anyone who loves and cares for children!! What has this world come to?? If a child is not safe in a child's play area then where??

AND FYI:

In Florida and other places on the East Coast a group of people are putting HIV/AIDS infected and filled needles underneath gas pump handles, so when someone reaches to pick it up and put gas in their car, they get stabbed with it. 16 people have been a victim of this crime so far and 10 tested HIV positive. Instead of posting that stupid crap about how your love life will suck for years to come of you don't re-post, post this. It's important to inform people, even if you don't drive, a family member might, and what if they were next?


Commentary:
This email forward combines three widely circulated messages into one. Firstly, it claims that a child died of a heroin overdose after being pricked by a heroin filled hypodermic needle in a McDonald's ball pit. Secondly, it claims that another child died in a Burger King ball pit after being bitten by venomous snakes. Thirdly, it claims that HIV infected needles are being deliberately left under gas pump handles. All three of these claims are entirely untrue.

These claims are discussed in turn below:
Claim:
A child named Kevin Archer died as a result of being pricked by a heroin filled hypodermic needle in a McDonald's ball pit.


Analysis:
This claim is untrue. The version shown above states that the story was featured in the Houston Chronicle. However, David Galloway, a former writer for the Houston Chronicle, has denied that any such article was published in the newspaper. Other versions of the hoax claim the article was published in the "Midland Chronicle". But, since it appears that no such publication even exists, this claim is also unfounded.

In fact, there are no credible reports in any news publications that relate to the death of a child from a heroin overdose in a McDonald's ball pit. The absence of any news on the story is, in itself, a very strong indication that the claims in the warning message are false. It is hugely improbable that such a story would only be published in one local news outlet. News publications all around the world would have certainly featured the story. There would also have been official police and health authority reports concerning the incident and, almost inevitably, legal action against the fast-food giant. Instead, the only information about the supposed death is perpetrated in various versions of this poorly constructed and factually flawed "warning" message.

Moreover, soon after the original version began circulating, McDonald's responded with a statement debunking the hoax:
We have thoroughly investigated this rumor and it is absolutely not true. There have been no such incidents ever reported at any McDonald's. In addition, there has never been an article in any newspaper regarding this rumor. Unfortunately these types of rumors bring unnecessary concerns for our customers. It is important to know that safety is a top priority at McDonald's, especially as it relates to children. We take many precautions to ensure our Playlands are safe.

Claim:
Another child died after being bitten by venomous snaked while playing in a Burger King ball pit.


Analysis:
This claim is also untrue. This "warning" is even older then the Kevin Archer hoax. The original version claimed that the deadly snakes in the ball pit were rattlesnakes rather than copperheads. Again, there are no credible news reports whatsoever that confirm that a child died from snake bites sustained in a ball pit. As with the Kevin Archer version, the total absence of news reports strongly indicates that no such incident took place. Burger King released the following statement denying the rumour in 1998:
Burger King Corporation has learned of an e-mail being circulated on the internet that FALSELY alleges the injury and death of a child while playing in a playground ball pit resulting from a rattle snake bite.

To be positively clear, the incident outlined in the e-mail has no basis in fact relative to any Burger King restaurants.

Burger King Corporation takes the dissemination of this false rumor very seriously and will vigorously pursue any and all remedies available to us against the originator(s) to the fullest extent allowed by law.
Furthermore, a copperhead's diet generally consists of rodents, small birds, insects, lizards and frogs while a typical rattlesnake also lives on rodents and other small animals. It is difficult to see how a "nest" of snakes would find enough food to survive in a child's ball pit. Moreover, a noisy and constantly moving ball pit seems like a very unlikely place for snakes to congregate.

As UrbanLegendsAbout.com points out, this hoax is in fact a revamped version of a much older urban legend. Baseless stories of children being bitten by snakes or injured by hidden objects in amusement park rides have been passed around for many years.


Claim:
People are deliberately leaving HIV infected needles underneath gas pump handles to purposely infect others.


Analysis:
Again, this claim is unfounded. This is a long running hoax that has been set in several locations around the world. The US based Centres for Disease Control (CDC) notes:
CDC has received inquiries about a variety of reports or warnings about used needles left by HIV-infected injection drug users in coin return slots of pay phones, the underside of gas pump handles, and on movie theater seats. These reports and warnings have been circulated on the Internet and by e-mail and fax. Some reports have falsely indicated that CDC "confirmed" the presence of HIV in the needles. CDC has not tested such needles nor has CDC confirmed the presence or absence of HIV in any sample related to these rumors. The majority of these reports and warnings appear to have no foundation in fact.
The claims have also been dismissed by Jacksonville Police, who were the target of one of the earliest versions of the hoax.

Another widespread variant of this hoax falsely claims that HIV infected needles have been deliberately left on cinema seats.

Certainly, syringes are sometimes found in places where they could cause injury to unsuspecting members of the public, including a case where an insulin needle was left in a pay phone coin return. In 1999, a malicious copy-cat prankster in Virginia did hide some needles in coin-return slots and other places, apparently in an attempt to "prove" the urban legend. However, this was an isolated incident and there was no suggestion that the needles were infected with HIV.

According to the message, "16 people have been a victim of this crime so far and 10 tested HIV positive". If these incidents were true, they would have gained intense media and police attention. As with the other hoaxes discussed above, there are no believable news reports that confirm the claims in the message.

Although variants of these hoaxes have now been circulating for several years, there is no evidence to support claims that infected needles are being deliberately and regularly hidden under gas-pump handles or elsewhere.
Thus forwarding this bogus "warning" message will only spread misinformation and cause unnecessary alarm. It is always important to check the veracity of any warning messages before hitting the "Forward" button.

References:
Houston Chronicle: Kevin Archer Denial
Heroin Needle Hoax Continues to Haunt McDonald's Ball Pits
Burger King Corporation - False E-mail Statements
Copperhead Snake Fact Page
EASTERN DIAMONDBACK RATTLESNAKE
About.com: Snakes in the Ball Pit
Calls about e-mail hoax flood Sheriff's Office
Still on Pins and Needles

[TOP]

Pasha Bulker Storm Waves Hoax Email

Summary:
Email claims that attached photographs show the bulk carrier Pasha Bulker being inundated by giant waves shortly before it ran aground during a storm near Newcastle, Australia in June 2007.

Status:
Real photographs but they are not of the Pasha Bulker.

Example:(Submitted July 2007)
Subject: Pasha Bulker Cam footage before grounding

Amazing pics of Pasha Bulker before it ran aground off Newcastle.....

Pasha Bulker Wave 1

Pasha Bulker Wave 2

Pasha Bulker Wave 3

Pasha Bulker Wave 4


Commentary:
These amazing photographs are currently circulating via email and have also been posted online. According to the text that accompanies the photographs, they depict massive waves hitting the Pasha Bulker, a bulk carrier that ran aground during violent storm activity near Newcastle, Australia in June 2007.

However, the photographs are not of the Pasha Bulker. The images were circulating online with alternative descriptions long before the Pasha Bulker ran aground. In fact, the photographs show a ship called the "Selkirk Settler" (now called the "Spruceglen (2)") and they were taken during a storm more than twenty years ago. The same set of images is featured in an article about the vessel on BoatNerd.com along with the following explanation:
The storm pictures [...] were taken during a North Atlantic storm February, 13, 1987 on an eastbound passage from Tampa, Florida to Ghent, Belgium with a load of phosphates. The pictures were taken by Capt. George Ianiev, who was the ship's Second Mate at the time. The big blue wave was the largest wave the ship encountered during the storm; seeing it hit the ship made the vessel's master question whether they would survive the storm.
The ship is now owned by Canada Steamship Lines and, these days, her voyagers are mainly on the Great Lakes and the St.Lawrence River.

Although the images do not show the Pasha Bulker, many genuine, and quite spectacular, photographs of the stricken vessel have also been circulating. The salvage of the Pasha Bulker has received a great deal of media attention in Australia. She was finally refloated on 2nd July 2007.

References:
Monster storm wreaks havoc along NSW coast
Photos of supertanker caught up in a storm
Spruceglen, Federal Fraser, Selkirk Settler storm pictures
Coastal Watch: The Pasha Bulker
Pasha Bulker free at last


[TOP]

Mars, Earth - Closest Approach in Recorded History

Summary:
Email claims that Earth and Mars will have the closest approach in recorded history in August and will be a spectacular site for stargazers.

Status:
Was true in 2003, but is now hopelessly outdated.

Example:(Submitted, July 2007)
Subject: NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN

Thought this is interesting enough to pass around

IT OUGHT TO BE SOMETHING TO SEE!

Once in a lifetime...

Mars


Image of Mars

The Red Planet is about to be spectacular!

This month and next, Earth is catching up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. Due to the way Jupiter's gravity tugs on Mars and perturbs its orbit, astronomers can only be certain that Mars has not come this close to Earth in the Last 5,000 years, but it may be as long as 60,000 years before it happens again.

The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles of Earth and will be (next to the moon) the brightest object in the night sky. It will attain a magnitude of - 2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide. At a modest 75-power magnification Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye .

Mars will be easy to spot. At the beginning of August it will rise in the east at 10p.m. and reach its azimuth at about 3 a.m.

By the end of August when the two planets are closest , Mars will rise at nightfall and reach its highest point in the sky at 12:30a.m. That's pretty convenient to see something that no human being has seen in recorded history. So, mark your calendar at the beginning of August to see Mars grow progressively brighter and brighter throughout the month.

Share this with your children and grandchildren.

NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN


Commentary:
An email that has circulated during July and August for several years is again hitting inboxes in 2007. The message informs recipients that the planet Mars will be passing very close to Earth in August. While this information was valid back in 2003, it is totally inaccurate for 2007.

The year is not specifically mentioned in the message and a great many recipients therefore assume that the message refers to August, 2007. Another version of the message is circulating via SMS. Virtually identical (and equally misleading) messages were circulating back in July and August 2005 and again in July and August 2006. The events outlined in the message were more or less true back in 2003 although they were a little hyped even then. According to NASA, on August 27, 2003, Earth and Mars were the closest they have been for around 60,000 years. Mars was indeed a spectacular site in the night sky during several months of 2003.

However, this fact is not quite as earth shattering as you might think. A 2003 NASA article on the subject explains that:
Much has been made of the fact that the August 27th encounter with Mars is the closest in some 60,000 years. Neanderthals were the last to observe Mars so favorably placed. This is true. It's also a bit of hype. Mars and Earth have been almost this close many times in recent history.
In spite of the claims in the 2006 incarnation of the message, Mars was a far less than "spectacular" sight in the night sky. For much of 2006, it was on the far side of the sun from the Earth and was quite inconspicuous during July and August.

And, during July and August 2007, the view of Mars will again be far less than spectacular. Mars will make its closest approach to Earth in December 2007, but, even then, it will not be particularly bright. The SEDS website notes:
Mars will come into its Opposition on December 24, 2007 in constellation Gemini. Six days earlier, on December 18, 2007, the planet will have come to its closes distance to Earth during this apparation: 88.42 million km (55 million miles, or 0.58935 AU). This is not very close, as Mars will be quite close to its aphelion at the time of this opposition. As usual, this approach will offer another opportunity to launch spacecraft to the red planet: Nasa intends to send the Mars lander Phoenix.

The planet will be situated far north: At a northern declination of +26:46 at opposition time, Northern hemisphere observers will find it high in their meridian, and Southerners will find it low in the North. In this rather aphelic opposition, the planet will become only as bright as mag -1.64, and of diameter 15.88 arc seconds around that time.

At around 88 million kilometers, Mars will be a lot further away from Earth this year than it was back in 2003 when the distance between the planets was only around 56 million kilometers.

This message seems set to keep resurfacing every year and duping a whole new set of recipients into gazing rather fruitlessly at the night sky. But don't despair! Close encounters with Mars are not such uncommon events. The claim that "NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN!" is misleading. It is true that the next time Mars will be as close to Earth as it was in 2003 will be on August 28, 2287. In the mean time however, there will be plenty of other close approaches, so our children and our children's children are not likely to miss out altogether.

Perhaps by 2287 some of our descendants will be observing the close encounter from the Martian perspective.

References:
2003 NASA Article: Approaching Mars
Hubble Makes Best Mars Globe Photos Ever
SEDS: Mars 2007
Mars Opposition
SMS on Mars spectacle next month is a hoax


[TOP]

Internet Dating Scams

There are a great many quite legitimate dating service websites that allow members to establish online relationships. Often, these online friendships blossom into genuine long-term relationships. An increasing number of people have found life-partners via relationships started online.

Sadly however, scammers have managed to effectively exploit this trend to further their own nefarious ends. Many people around the world have been duped into sending money to Internet fraudsters posing as would-be girlfriends or boyfriends.

A typical Internet dating scam goes like this:
  1. A person registers at an online dating service and creates a profile. The profile will include information, and possibly a photograph, of the person along with a way for interested people to make contact.

  2. In due course, a scammer contacts the person posing as someone interested in exploring a possible romantic relationship.

  3. The victim responds and the pair begins corresponding regularly. They may soon bypass the dating service contact system and start communicating directly, usually via email.

  4. Over time, the scammer will slowly earn the trust of the victim. He or she may discuss family, jobs and other details designed to make the correspondent seem like a real person who is genuinely interested in the victim. Photographs may be exchanged. However, the "person" that the victim thinks he or she is corresponding with, is likely to be purely an invention of the scammer. Photographs may not even show the real sender. The victim's apparent love interest may look completely different to the person in the photograph and, in reality, may not even be the same gender.

  5. After the scammer has established the illusion of a genuine and meaningful relationship, he or she will begin asking the victim for money. For example. the scammer may claim that he or she wants to meet in person and ask the victim to send money for an airfare so that a meeting can take place. Or the scammer may claim that there has been a family medical emergency and request financial assistance. The scammer may use a variety of excuses to entice the victim to send funds.

  6. If the victim complies and sends money, he or she will probably receive further such requests. With his or her judgement clouded by a burgeoning love for the scammer's imaginary character, he or she may continue to send money.

  7. Finally, the victim will come to realize that he or she has been duped, perhaps after waiting fruitlessly at the airport for a "lover" who, will, of course, never arrive.

  8. Meanwhile, the scammer pockets the money and moves on to the next victim. In fact, the scammer may be stringing along several victims simultaneously.
In many cases, the victim will not only have lost out financially, but will also be left broken-hearted and thoroughly disillusioned. These scammers tend to prey on victims that may be especially lonely, shy or isolated and therefore more vulnerable.

There are a number of variations on the same basic scam. In some cases the scammers may be the one to create a profile on a dating site and wait for a potential victim to contact them. Typically, the profile will include a photograph of a very attractive young woman who will have no trouble attracting would-be suitors.

In other cases, the scammers may simply send out random unsolicited emails professing a desire to begin a relationship in the hope that some gullible recipients will favourably respond. Alternatively, they may strike up a conversation with a potential victim via an Internet chat room.

In some variations of the scam, the fraudsters may not ask for money directly. Instead, they may ask their victim to cash money orders or cheques and wire them the proceeds. The money orders or cheques will turn out to be fake or stolen and the victim will be left out of pocket and possibly held responsible for receiving stolen funds. The scammers may also try to trick victims into revealing sensitive information such as credit card numbers.

If you begin corresponding with a person with a view to a possible romantic relationship, remain cautious even if the relationship seems to be progressing very well. These scammers are very skilled at building trust and know how to make vulnerable victims fall in love with them. Regardless of the strength of your feelings towards a correspondent, you should view any requests for money as highly suspicious. Therefore, you may be able to expose a scam by conducting Internet searches on the names used by the scammers or key phrases from their emails.

References:
Russian Dating Scams
Seduced into scams: Online lovers often duped


[TOP]

Optical Mouse Cancer Warning Hoax

Summary:
Email warns that radiation emitted by an optical computer mouse can cause cancer and damage hand tissue.

Status:
False

Example:(Submitted July 2007)
Just in case, please be careful.

Subject: Optical mouse can cause cancer

The convinience of using optical mouse eventually coz dangerous side effect. After Three years from the first launch by microsoft, have been found thousand of cases - hands tissue coz by mouse radiation.

Optical Mouse works by release Electromagnetic high frequency to the lower surface under it. This frequency much more higher than the frequency use for handphone.

As it has been known that human hand and wrist contains lot of important nerve connected to brain.

According to WHO, the radiation from Optical Mouse is 5 times stonger than using handphone.

These radiation is even worse for those product with lower quality ( non branded mouse ), since they use weaker shield to protect customer wrist. WHO, GreenPeace, and CNN have stopped the usage of Optical mouse in their whole office.

Meanwhile Microsoft and IBM have allocate 2 billion of US Dollar, in joint venture to make a safer pointing device.

Big Hardware Industries in China and Taiwan are trying to hide all fact related to this things. While in the market, most of optical mouse sold old were coming from their product.

To avoid this, try to reduce using mouse. learn how to use hot key ( i.e. Ctrl-V, CTRL-C for paste and copy ) Use back your old model of mouse ( with the tracking ball).


Commentary:
According to this "warning" email, using an optical mouse can have dangerous side effects and cause cancer due to the amount of radiation produced by the devices. The message claims that there have been thousands of cases of hand tissue damage attributed to optical mouse radiation.

However, the claims in the message are fundamentally flawed. Optical mice do not emit radiation that could cause cancer or damage tissue. An optical mouse has a tiny built-in camera that takes thousands of photographs per second. A red light emitting diode (LED) bounces light off the underlying surface to a sensor that analyzes the images and sends coordinates to the computer. The cursor is moved on the screen based on the coordinates received.

Thus, the core component of an optical mouse is a simple LED. Nowadays, LEDs are ubiquitous and are used in dozens of electronic devices including indicator lights in household appliances, digital clocks, remote controls, traffic lights, brake lights, television backlighting, Christmas lights, watches and fiber optics. Many of us spend our lives virtually surrounded by these tiny lights. Yet, in spite of the fact that we are exposed to LEDs almost constantly, there is no reliable information whatsoever that suggests that LED "radiation" can cause cancer or tissue damage during normal use. In fact, scientists have discovered that LEDs may actually aid healing and have other positive health effects.

Of course, LEDs can produce very bright light and ocular discomfort or damage could occur if we stared into the light for too long. Moreover, some reports indicate that blue LEDs like those on the front of many computer systems may have negative health effects, including eye strain, headaches and disturbed sleep. There is also a somewhat convoluted and unproven connection between blue light and cancer. A Texyt article about blue LEDs notes:
Blue light at night reduces our bodies' melatonin levels, which can disturb sleep – this is generally accepted. What is far less certain [PDF] is a link between low levels of melatonin, a weakened immune system, and cancer.
That said, there is no suggestion that emissions from the blue LED itself can cause cancer. And the LED in an optical mouse is typically red, not blue.

Furthermore, I could find no believable news or consumer reports that claim that optical mouse use can cause cancer, and this is compelling evidence that the claims in the message are false. According to the message, there have been thousands of cases of hand damage caused by "mouse radiation". It is simply absurd to suggest that such serious and widespread health risks would have been totally ignored by the media, consumer groups, and governments. If there were really thousands of substantiated cases, there would certainly be official, and well-publicized, health warnings about the use of optical mice, not to mention the almost inevitable legal actions against the companies that manufacture them. In fact, if the potential health risks were really so great, the devices would have likely been withdrawn from sale completely.

And, for the record, there is no information on the World Health Organization (WHO) website about the strength or danger of optical mouse radiation, nor is there any reports that Greenpeace and CNN have stopped using the devices.

In short, this warning is no more than a ridiculous piece of scare-mongering nonsense. Forwarding it will help nobody and will serve only to spread misinformation.

References:
How do optical mice work?
How Light Emitting Diodes Work
Light at the End of the Tunnel
Blue LEDs: A health hazard?
Does the LED light from an ordinary optical mouse pose a health hazard?

[TOP]

Hoax-Slayer Humour: Men DO Remember Anniversaries

A woman awakes during the night to find that her husband was not in their bed. She puts on her robe and goes downstairs to look for him.

She finds him sitting at the kitchen table with a hot cup of coffee in front of him. He appears to be in deep thought, just staring at the wall. She watches as he wiped a tear from his eye and takes a sip of his coffee. "What's the matter, dear?" she whispers as she steps into the room, "Why are you down here at this time of night?"

The husband looks up from is coffee, "Do you remember 20 years ago when we were dating, and you were only 16?" he asks solemnly. The wife is touched to tears thinking that her husband is so caring and sensitive. "Yes I do," she replies.

The husband paused. The words were not coming easily. "Do you remember when your father caught us in the back seat of my car making love?" "Yes,I remember," said the wife, lowering herself into a chair beside him. The husband continued. "Do you remember when he shoved the shotgun in my face and said, 'Either you marry my daughter, or I will send you to jail for 20 years?'" "I remember that too" she replied softly.

He wiped another tear from his cheek and said......"I would have gotten out today."

Enjoy a good laugh?
Read my review of the "That's Comedy! Joke Book"


The Hoax-Slayer Newsletter is published by:
Brett M.Christensen
Queensland, Australia
All Rights Reserved
©Brett M. Christensen, 2008