The Urban Legend: Don’t Believe Everything You Read

Urban legend #1 to #6 — all untrue…
in Internet ScamBusters #22

Have you ever received an urgent email warning of a deadly virus, read a message from organ thieves plotting over your kidneys, or Bill Gate’s plea to forward his email to a thousand people? Well, you’re not alone.

These email hoaxes — known as “urban legends” — have been making their way around the Net for a long time now. We’re going to describe some of the more famous urban legends in this issue of Internet Scambusters — and show you how to find out whether or not there’s any truth to them.

So the next time you get one of those “urgent” emails — instead of forwarding it to all of your friends and co-workers — you’ll know exactly where to find out if they are legitimate, and most likely you’ll discover where you should forward them into the trash. 🙂 (Be sure to check out our Urban Legends page for more examples of legends and resources.)

— These urban legends are untrue —

Urban Legend #1


GERBER BABY FOOD company lost a class action. Gerber has been marketing their baby food as "all natural". The baby food was found to contain preservatives. Under this settlement, Gerber is now responsible for giving every child born between 1985 and 1997 a $500 savings bond. However, Gerber is not responsible for advertising this settlement in any way.

To obtain the bond, send a copy of your child's birth certificate and social security card to:

GERBER FOOD Settlement Administration Infant Litigation, PO Box 1602, Minneapolis, MN 55480

Yes, parents, this is a scam.

Urban Legend #2

Hello everybody,

My name is Bill Gates. I have just written up an e-mail tracing program that traces everyone to whom this message is forwarded to. I am experimenting with this and I need your help. Forward this to everyone you know and if it reaches 1000 people everyone on the list will receive $1000 at my expense. Enjoy.

Your friend, Bill Gates

This is just one of the emails going around from ‘ol Bill. The other story floating around the Net is that he’s also going to send the first 1000 people who respond to his email a free copy of Windows 98.

Again, not true.

Urban Legend #3

On Saturday, 24 January 1998, Naval Air Station, Joint Reserve Base, New Orleans' Quarterdeck received a telephone call from an individual identifying himself as an AT&T Service Technician that was running a test on our telephone lines. He stated that to complete the test the QMOW should touch nine (9), zero (0), pound sign (#) and hang up. Luckily, the QMOW was suspicious and refused. Upon contacting the telephone company we were informed that by using 90# you end up giving the individual that called you access to your telephone line and allows them to place a long distance telephone call, with the charge appearing on your telephone [bill]. We were further informed that this scam has been originating from many of the local jails/prisons. Please 'pass the word.'

Strangely enough this story does have some truth to it. BUT it only works on telephones where you have to dial 9 to get an outside line AND the system allows you to make a long distance call once you’ve gotten that outside line. A lot of companies are limited to local calls only. And as one of our readers commented: “Not only do you need to have the ‘9 for outside line’ and the call facility, but for large companies which have their own internal exchanges, a lot of the more modern switching gear will not allow this to be done.”

Urban Legend #4

I wish to warn you about a new crime ring that is targeting business travelers. This ring is well organized, well funded, has very skilled personnel, and is currently in most major cities and recently very active in New Orleans.

The crime begins when a business traveler goes to a lounge for a drink at the end of the work day. A person in the bar walks up as they sit alone and offers to buy them a drink.

The last thing the traveler remembers until they wake up in a hotel room bathtub, their body submerged to their neck in ice, is sipping that drink. There is a note taped to the wall instructing them not to move and to call 911. A phone is on a small table next to the bathtub for them to call.

The business traveler calls 911 who have become quite familiar with this crime. The business traveler is instructed by the 911 operator to very slowly and carefully reach behind them and feel if there is a tube protruding >from their lower back.

The business traveler finds the tube and answers, "Yes." The 911 operator tells them to remain still, having already sent paramedics to help. The operator knows that both of the business traveler's kidneys have been harvested.

This is not a scam or out of a science fiction novel, it is real. It is documented and confirmable. If you travel or someone close to you travels, please be careful.

This urban legend sounds so true only because people aren’t aware of the intricacies of organ transplant procedures. This legend started in New Orleans during one Mardis Gras celebration and there were so many calls to the police department that a Web site was put up to dispel anymore rumors. (

UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) was concerned that this rumor would cause some people to decide against organ donation out of needless fear so they added a page to their site. (

Urban Legend #5

I am writing this to inform you of a very important matter currently under review by the FCC. Your local telephone company has filed a proposal with the FCC to impose per minute charges for your Internet service. They contend that your usage has or will hinder the operation of the telephone network. It is my belief that Internet usage will diminish if users were required to pay additional per minute charges. The FCC has created an email box for your comments, responses must be received by February 13, 1998. Send your comments and tell them what you think.

mail to: FCC

Every phone company is in on this one, and they are trying to sneak it in just under the wire for litigation. Let everyone you know hear of this one. Get the e-mail address to everyone you can think of. Since you e-mail a lot, if you are not yet aware of this effort, take time to write to the FCC and protect yourself from the TelCos.

This may have the ring of truth but… it’s a hoax. The FCC decided last year NOT to do this. (

Urban Legend #6

Subject: Free Shoes

Just a quick note to tell you about a program that Nike started to help make fields and playgrounds for the underprivileged from old tennis shoes.

All YOU have to do is send in your old tennis shoes (NO MATTER WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE) with a piece of paper that has your name and address on it, and Nike will send you a brand new pair back FREE OF COST!!! The tennis shoes you send DO NOT have to be Nike. Just as long as they are tennis shoes. It really is a worthwhile project, and
it's helping a lot of young kids. Here is the address:

Nike Recycling Center c/o Reuse-A-Shoe 26755 SW 95th Street Wilsonville, OR 97070

Please send in your shoes. Otherwise you are just going to throw them away and they go to waste. This way someone can get some use out of them.

Nike really does send you a BRAND NEW pair of shoes even if you send in K-Swiss. Pass this to anyone and everyone you know so everybody can help out.

This, too, is an urban legend. Nike *does* have a Reuse-A-Shoe program where, each year, they recycle over two million athletic shoes into sport courts such as basketball, tennis and playground surfaces for under-served neighborhoods BUT according to a representative of Nike:

“The fallacy in the chain email you cited is that Nike does not, nor has it ever, offered to send a brand new pair of shoes to replace those that are recycled. We also do not actively solicit these recycling donations over the Internet, but anyone interested in having an old pair of athletic shoes recycled can find out the proper channel to do it by visiting”

There are many more legends making the rounds on the Net, some are humorous and some are not. Some are so believable that they get passed around endlessly.

When someone asks ScamBusters to check out whether an email they received is a hoax or not we usually head to first. We can often find posts from people asking about the email and a response assuring them that it’s yet another urban legend. (Or not.)

One of the most comprehensive sites we’ve found is David Emery’s Urban Legends Web page at the Mining Company. ( This page has a huge archive of present and past urban legends and links to other sites about them. It also includes a bulletin board you can join to discuss “anything vaguely to do with urban legends and folklore.”

Here is our Urban Legends page.

Remember: If you get an email from Nike, think about it… would they *really* send me a brand new pair of shoes if I sent in my smelly old sneakers? <g>