In this edition of Hoax Central we review hoaxes spawned by the Boston Marathon bombing, evaluate Joel Osteen's religious identify crisis, debunk a sexually transmitted disease, and learn the true story beyond Mr. Roger's advice to "look for the helpers" during a crisis.
Here's a look at recent hoaxes, scams and even (shock!) a real story circulating via email and Facebook. They include a golden oldie about not pumping gas on April 15, a rant about aircraft carriers gathering in Norfolk, Va., a run down of Easter's pagan traditions, and more.
An email making its way around the internet is claiming that President Barrak Obama turned down the traditional presidential role of leader of the Boy Scouts of America and refuses to sign Eagle Scout congratulatory letters. Snopes.com explains that the email is bunk.
The thing I love most about urban legends is how they mutate over time. Snopes.com has an excellent debunking of one such debunking: "The Lost Day." It recounts a tale in which NASA scientists doing orbital calculations are startled to discover a day of missing time ... which a Christian follower is able to quickly explain by recounting the day the sun stood still when Jesus was crucified.
Is the red supergiant Betelgeuse about to go supernova, giving Earth a second sun and half of its inhabitants a nasty burn? The short answer according to astronomer Phil Plait, is that yes, Betelgeuse could go tomorrow, but if it did it's greatest impact on the Earth would be to give us a new celestial phenomenon as bright as a full moon. It's too far away to do us any real harm.
Snopes.com debunks the claim that a "dark ring around the moon" presages a cancer-causing acid rain storm. The myth starts off claiming that this is an event that happens once every 750 years but mutates to say that the volcanic eruptions in Iceland are to blame.
First: I continue to be shocked that AOL is still around.
Second, it seems those old familiar scams continue to haunt the online service. My local newspaper has a debunking of an email billing scam in which an email claiming to be from AOL arrives in the victim's email box. It says there's a problem with their account ... and that they should immediately e-mail AOL back with their account information, bank account information, etc.
At this point, I think it's safe to say we should be highly skeptical of any incoming billing e-mail, even ones we're expecting. Phishing schemes like this play with people's expectations -- they work by getting you to see what you expect to see. That causes you to trust the e-mail, and do things like mail in your credentials. If you get an e-mail from someone like AOL, your bank, Netflix or some other company you do business with, it's always best to login to their web site directly (not through any of the links in the email). If there really is an important message or account update for you, it'll be on their web site as well as in your e-mail. If you can't find it after logging in, call the company's customer service line.
Thinking of getting one of those magnets or additives to increase your fuel mileage? Keeping your car windows rolled up to reduce drag and save gas? Letting your car idle so that you don't use more gas by restarting it? Think again -- CNN explains that these and other folk remedies simply don't work.
Given the history of spider urban legends, this is sure to mutate into its own horrifying story in about, oh, 20 minutes. According to this Associated Press story (which includes a photo of the kid holding up a jar with the drowned spiders in it and quotes from the doctor involved), 9-year-old Jesse Courtney of Albany, Oregon complained of hearing crackling and popping noises in his ear.