Urban Legends and Hoaxes Straight from the News Headlines

The Internet teems with celebrity death rumors, disaster photo hoaxes and recession myth urban legends: Internet Scambusters #347

To celebrate summer, we opted for lighter fare this week. So this week’s issue has the lowdown on the latest bogus urban legends and hoaxes circulating, mainly on the Internet.

And in addition to our own urban legends update, we also have a countdown of what are said to be the 13 most enduring urban legends.

On to today’s main hoaxes…

Urban Legends and Hoaxes Straight from the News Headlines

As we warned in Scambusters Issue #342 last month, the deaths of top celebrities like Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett always prompts a surge of hoax and urban legends emails, often with links or attachments that you should never click because they’ll download malware onto your PC.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg, as you will know if you’ve ever visited our Urban Legends and Hoaxes Resource Center.

And it’s not just lately-deceased big name stars who become the subjects of hoaxes, rumors and legends either. Sometimes, death hoaxes hit celebrities who are still very much alive, as our review of the latest urban legends and hoaxes shows.

We’ve put together a list of the latest — or at least the hottest — urban legends currently doing the rounds, plus some guidance on what you should do when you come across these or other stories that either stretch credibility or ask you to take some sort of action.

Celebrity death hoaxes

After the tragic deaths of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, rumors of the deaths of other celebrities began flying around.

Oprah Winfrey, Britney Spears, Rick Astley, Miley Cyrus, George Clooney and P. Diddy are the current top-rankers. And you can always count on presidents and other political leaders to be up there in the death-hoax charts too.

These may or may not be attempts to get you to load viruses and other malware on to your computer. If not, why on earth would anyone start these tales in the first place? Beats us.

Disaster photo hoaxes

Rumored existence of photos of the body of Michael Jackson immediately after his death calls to mind a similar tale following the assassination of John Lennon.

The latest hoaxes involving non-existent photos include an email about the Air France flight that crashed into the Atlantic on June 1.

The email has two photos supposedly taken inside the passenger cabin just before the crash, claiming they were recovered from a memory stick found in the debris from the crash.

In fact, the photos are publicity shots from the TV series Lost. They’ve been circulating since 2006 and have been used in hoaxes about other air disasters.

Are state governments banning business trips to resorts?

In the wake of the recession, reports are circulating that several states have banned their employees from traveling out of state on business or even within the individual states themselves if the destination is a resort area.

Allegedly, they don’t want employees to be seen having a good time while the rest of us are suffering.

Most recently, California’s State and Consumer Services Agency (SCSA) denied a widely circulated email that said SCSA employees had been banned from making such trips.

Tourist industry officials are worried the rumors will lead to a drop in business. No such bans have been put into effect.

Trump publicity stunt was believed to be real

Wrestling fans and investors were excited or angry — depending on their point of view — about a recent story that billionaire Donald Trump had bought the TV show RAW from World Wrestling Entertainment promoter Vince McMahon.

The rumor gained credibility when McMahon and TV’s USA Network announced just such a deal.

Later, they admitted it was just a fictional storyline for the show, but not before the story was flying around on the Internet and some WWE investors had bailed out of the business.

New lease on life for gas myths

It’s been around for a while, but the recent vacation time surge in gas prices has revived a well known email that claims gas station owners are rigging their pumps to give short measure.

The message claims that if you watch the pump figures changing, you’ll find that the total volume of gas pumped into your fuel tank exceeds its capacity.

Mostly this story is untrue, though some old pumps may be faulty. County and state officials regularly check measures (but it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on the pump reading when you buy gas!).

Reminds us of another economy-related gas myth that goes back to the early days of motoring — the idea that if you leave the cap off your gas tank, the fuel will last longer. Not true and dangerous.

Spider’s deadly but can’t sink his teeth into you

According to this urban legend, the group of spiders we call “daddy longlegs” which are found in or near most homes, have a poisonous bite that means certain death.

Only problem, so the story goes, is that these guys’ fangs are too short for them to penetrate human skin. But, says the message, you never know if one might get “lucky.”

Well, the species certainly does exist — but the suggestion that they’re poisonous is just not true.

This story is a variation of another well known urban legend which has the victim being bitten by a spider or snake in the produce section of a grocery store.

The bottom line for all of these tales is quite simply that you should never take stories you read or hear at face value.

That even goes for those that claim they’ve already been checked out and confirmed by Scambusters, Snopes or any other site dealing with hoaxes and urban legends.

Anyone can claim a story has been proved or declare that it’s not a hoax — it happens frequently. You should always check them out for yourself. Be especially wary of an email that starts with something like, “This is a true story….”

We’re also opposed to any type of alarm story delivered in an email that you’re asked to pass on to others. Simply, don’t. Or, if you think it might be important to others, Google, Yahoo! or Bing it first to find out if it’s true.

And certainly, you should never take any action which puts yourself, other people or even your computer at risk on the basis of an unfounded rumor.

13 Most Enduring Urban Legends

Finally, a British newspaper, The Independent, just published a list of the most enduring urban legends. Here they are:

1. Alligators live in the sewers, especially in New York.

2. Repeating “Bloody Mary” three times in front of a mirror brings up a ghostly image of Mary Queen of Scots.

3. Human organ thieves hit on tourists — read about this in our recent travel scam article.

4. A hitchhiker suddenly vanishes into thin air when you stop to pick him up.

5. A camper disappears while using a chemical toilet in the middle of the night.

6. Bodies inexplicably burst into flame (so called spontaneous human combustion).

7. A pet dog is mysteriously decapitated while its owner sleeps.

8. A babysitter receives a threatening phone call and is told by police to lock herself in — but the caller is inside the house.

9. A lottery winner commits suicide after losing his winning ticket.

10. Hair and fingernails of some people continue to grow after death.

11. Chewing gum stays in the body and can take 7 years to digest.

12. A flower exists that looks exactly like a parrot — an email urban legend usually accompanied by a photo.

13. Mars is moving closer to earth.

Oh yeah? Happily, none of them are true either, though they would make good movie plots. 😉

Time to close — we’re off to take a walk. See you next week.