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Sun Powered Key Ring Tracking Device Hoax

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Message warns that a free key holder being handed out at petrol stations contains a hidden device that is being used by criminals to track the movements of potential victims.

Key Ring Tracking Hoax

Brief Analysis

The claims in the message are untrue. In 2008, free promotional key rings were handed out at service stations in South Africa by fuel retailer Caltex. However, the key rings were totally innocuous and certainly did not contain any sort of tracking device. The electronics housed inside the key ring only operated a flasher device and have no tracking capabilities.



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December 2012:
Subject: Security Alert

Information reaching Police indicates that: There is a syndicate of criminals selling beautiful key holders at Service Stations. They sometimes parade themselves as sales promoters giving out free key holders.

Please do not buy or accept these key holders no matter how beautiful they look.

The key holders have inbuilt tracking device chip which allows them to track you to your home or wherever your car is parked. The key holders are very beautiful to resist. Accepting same may endanger your life.

All are therefore enjoined to pass this message onward to colleagues, family members and loved ones. Alert everyone in your clique, including Drivers, Domestic staff etc

September 2010:

Here are pictures of the key-holders that are being distributed

Good day
Please do not accept FREE KEY HOLDERS at service stations, it has a tracker device in it by which you can be followed. Please send to as many people as possible.

See pics attached

Key ring 2

Key ring 3

September 2008:
Subject: Warning this is for real don't take KEYRING from petrol attendance

This happened yesterday to André:

He went to fill his vehicle, and the petrol attendant handed him a free key holder. When he arrived at work, he noticed something strange about the key holder. A little copper plate was noticeable.

A sticker was on the key holder, and when he removed the sticker, a type of sim card was visible. He broke the key holder open, and inside was a small tracker working with sun power. He took it to the police, who told him that they know all about it. The criminals hand them out, follow you home and then hit. PLEASE BE EXTRA CAREFUL.BE SAFE.

My son got one of these over the weekend. After this e-mail he stripped it and found it equipped with solar panel, antenna the works!

Attached a couple of cell phone pictures.

Key ring 1

Key ring 2

Key ring 3

Detailed Analysis

This email warns recipients about a supposed criminal scheme in which unsuspecting motorists are given free key rings that actually contain a hidden, sun-powered device that can allow the criminals to track the movements of potential victims. According to the email, the scheme came to light after a driver discovered a "small tracker working with sun power" when he dismantled a key holder handed out by an attendant at a petrol station. The message also claims that the police were already aware of the scheme when the driver informed them of his discovery.

During 2010, an abridged version of the message began circulating that simply warned motorists not to accept free key holders at service stations. The 2010 version claimed to be from South African police. Like the 2008 version, the later version included photographs of a dismantled key holder supposedly showing the tracking device. A later - and equally false - version omits the photographs of the key holders and claims to be a "security alert" from an unspecified police department.

However, the warning is invalid and the claims in the message are unfounded. In 2008, free promotional key rings were handed out at service stations in South Africa by fuel retailer Caltex. However, the key rings are totally innocuous and certainly do not contain any sort of tracking device. The electronics housed inside the key ring only operate a flasher device and have no tracking capabilities. Moreover, rather than confirming that they are aware of such a scheme, police in South Africa have dismissed it as a hoax. Caltex has also debunked the rumour. An August 2008 news report about the story notes:
..police spokesperson Superintendent Vincent Mdunge said such claims were untrue and police are now investigating where these e-mails originated from.

"It is purely a hoax and motorists need not have any fears. Such assumptions are really ludicrous. We will definitely open criminal charges against these hoaxters once they are caught."

On Friday Caltex reassured customers that key rings being handed out at petrol stations do not have tracking devices on them and that this was part of a brand awareness campaign to promote Caltex's "Power Diesel brand", said spokesperson Miranda Anthony.

"We have been running a Caltex Power Diesel promotion through our service station network. Caltex branded key rings were issued to our diesel customers as part of this promotion. These are novelty items and have a flashing device meant to create product awareness."
Another report published on Mail & Guardian Online explains:
Arthur Goldstuck, media and ICT analyst and local expert on urban legends, has already recorded two variations on the story. "The first version is that people are handing the rings out at intersections and the other version is that they handing it out to specific cars at filling stations."
In any case, it is difficult to see why criminals would go to such elaborate lengths when they could simply follow their chosen targets home or hijack their vehicles directly without all the fuss and bother. It seems absurd to suggest that criminals would go to the considerable time and expense of randomly distributing sophisticated tracking devices to motorist when such a scheme would ultimately be of very little benefit to their nefarious activities.

Bogus warnings such as this are pointless and counterproductive. Warning someone to watch out for a threat that does not exist serves no good purpose. Such email forwards needlessly clutter inboxes and waste bandwidth. They can also waste the time and resources of law enforcement personnel who must answer constant queries about such false warnings. Before forwarding an emailed warning, always take the time to check the veracity of the information it contains.

Key Ring Tracking Hoax


Last updated: April 15, 2015
First published: September 2, 2008
By Brett M. Christensen
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