Mars is invading. Or so claims a resurrected hoax that claims that the Red Planet will soon appear as large as the Moon in the night sky. It's a tweaked version of an earlier hoax from 2003, when Mars really was at its closest approach to Earth in thousands of years ... but remained a fuzzy red dot in the night sky. Read Space.com's new debunking or check out Nuketown's original one.
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.
It's like a scene out of a horror movie: an unsuspecting woman pumps gas into her car, only to be summoned inside by a gas attendant who informs her that -- horrors! -- a knife wielding lunatic is lurking in the backseat.
In truth, it is a scene from a horror movie -- the horror movie Urban Legend in fact -- and it far from being a horrifying new trend, this old tale's been with us for decades.
Here's the urban legend:
Date Collected: 5/27/2008
It was a big summer for Harry Potter. The seventh and final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released, as was the fifth movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. After reading the first and seeing the second, I was reminded of a hoax I've had sitting on my hard drive for a few years, just waiting to be debunked.
It's entitled "Magic Vs Jesus" and it claims that not only is are the Harry Potter books inherently Satantic, they are also causing a mass conversion to Satanism among today's youth. And it's got the quotes to back them up.
Unfortunately for the e-mail's author, the quotes it so feverishly believes in were taken from a fictional article in the satirical webzine The Onion.
Here's the original e-mail:
Subject: Fw: Magic Vs Jesus
"Jesus died because He was weak and stupid"; this is a quote from
6-year-old Jessica Lehman of Easley, SC, after reading the HARRY POTTER BOOKS!
"Hermione is my favorite, because she's smart and has a kitty,"
The following is an email sent for the American Family Association:
This is the most evil thing I have laid my eyes on in 10 years ... and no
one seems to understand its threat. The Harry Potter books are THE
NUMBER ONE selling children's books in the nation today. Just look at any Barnes
Can a prescooler get drunk and even die from drinking hand sanitizer? The short answer is ... yes, they can. The following e-mail describes swallowing a squirt of hand sanitizer was enough to make a four-year-old loopy and while it gets some of the specifics wrong -- namely that the child couldn't have had an 85% blood alcohol level, since .10% is enough to kill you, and she probably had a lot more than one quirt -- the general warning is valid. Most hand sanitizer contains a large percentage ethyl alcohol, which can be intoxicating and even deadly if swallowed.
An e-mail claims that Mars will soon be looming so large in our skies that it will rival the moon. The truth is that while Mars did get very close to Earth a few years ago, that merely turned it into a slightly brighter red star in the sky. If it actually did get as close as the email claims, the Earth would be wracked by high tides and thrown out of its orbit.
Here's the email.
Two Moons on 27th, August 2007*
*27th August; the day the Whole World is waiting for .....
An old virus hoax stumbles back to virtual life with a debunking bait-and-switch that points to a real threat, then repeats the same tired warning.
Date Captured: 8/6/07
Subject: Serious Virus Threat per CNN Report Be cautious of this. Here is a link to the snopes page: http://www.snopes.com/computer/virus/postcard.asp
PLEASE SEND THIS TO EVERYONE ON YOUR CONTACT LIST!!
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.
Ah, Bill Clinton. I'd almost forgotten about all the great hoaxes, urban legends and miscellaneous crap that was circulating the Internet back in the heady days of the Dot Boom. Now that his wife is looking to make a presidential run, it's all floating back to the surface, as is illustrated by the email alleging that Bill Clinton is the first pardoned felon ever to server as the president of the United States. It's alleged that he broke the law by dodging the draft, and then was pardoned as part of Jimmy Carter's blanket draft-dodging pardon in 1977.
Snopes.com has an excellent debunking of this e-mail, pointing out that while he may have used political favors and broken promises to avoid the draft, Bill Clinton never officially broke the law.