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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Customers Pricked by HIV Needles at Gas Pump

by Ken Newquist / February 1, 2003

What's the one thing that can get motorists' minds off the sting of high gas prices? That's right -- the Attack of the Killer HIV Needle!

An email that I first saw in the Summer of 2000 alleges that some whacko with HIV positive blood is sticking him/herself with needles, and then "affixing" these needles to the underside of gas pump handles. Unsuspecting motorists grab the handle, and suddenly the $2.50 for super isn't the only thing they're wincing about.

Fortunately, this is a hoax. Here's the original text.

My name is Captain Abraham Sands of the Jacksonville, Florida Police Department. I have been asked by state and local authorities to write this email in order to get the word out to car drivers of a very dangerous prank that is occurring in numerous states.

Some person or persons have been affixing hypodermic needles to the underside of gas pump handles. These needles appear to be infected with HIV positive blood. In the Jacksonville area alone there have been 17 cases of people being stuck by these needles over the past five months.

We have verified reports of at least 12 others in various around the country. It is believed that these may be copycat incidents due to someone reading about the crimes or seeing them reported on the television. At this point no one has been arrested and catching the perpetrator(s) has become our top priority.

Shockingly, of the 17 people who where stuck, eight have tested HIV positive and because of the nature of the disease, the others could test positive in a couple years.

Evidently the consumers go to fill their car with gas, and when picking up the pump handle get stuck with the infected needle. IT IS IMPERATIVE TO CAREFULLY CHECK THE HANDLE of the gas pump each time you use one. LOOK AT EVERY SURFACE YOUR HAND MAY TOUCH, INCLUDING UNDER THE HANDLE.

If you do find a needle affixed to one, immediately contact your local police department so they can collect the evidence.

PLEASE HELP US BY MAINTAINING A VIGILANCE AND BY FORWARDING THIS EMAIL TO ANYONE YOU KNOW WHO DRIVES. THE MORE PEOPLE WHO KNOW OF THIS THE BETTER PROTECTED WE CAN ALL BE. ***********

Tobia E. Cuney
North Carolina State Bar
Grievance Department

This is the latest in a long line of e-mails that claim that nefarious individuals are contaminating objects commonly used by the public. In one classic, gang members are allegedly putting strychnine on pay telephone buttons. In another, HIV-infected individuals are placing needles in theatre seats. Fortunately, just like those hoaxes (which undoubtedly will be mutating into urban legends any day now), this is a hoax.

So how can we tell it's a hoax? Well, at first glance it seems very official looking -- heck, it quotes an official sounding source, and is being sent around by somebody in the North Carolina State Bar.

Update 3/21/2003 -- I just got a call from the North Caronlina State Bar asking me to remove Mr. Cuney's signature from the this hoax. Seems some folks think that Mr. Cuney wrote this, which isn't the case -- he just forwarded it, and was unfortunate enough to leave his name attached to the hoax. And I for one never meant to imply that he did ... just that he sent it out ... which apparently he did do.

I've removed his phone number and e-mail from the source material so that the Bar Association stops getting phone calls complaining about this, but I'm leaving his name and title because I think it's an important part of the hoax -- it grants a sense of legitimacy to it, and the sig's undoubtedly part of the reason people believe it and thus forward it. FYI -- Mr. Cuney has sense passed away, so do the Bar Association a favor, and don't call them about it ... they know what happened.).

Anyway, on with the debunking.

At first glance it seems very official looking -- heck, it quotes an official sounding source, and is being sent around by somebody in the North Carolina State Bar. But a little research reveals that it's just a flimsy fascade:

  • The Police debunk it: There's no Jacksonville police department, but there is a sheriff's department (strike one against the hoax). There is no Capt. Sands in the sheriff's office (strike 2) and the sheriff's office says these incidents never happened (yer out!)
  • The Press debunks it: Rather than warn people about dangers at the pump, the Florida Times-Union is warning people about the hoax.
  • No news is good news: Even without surfing around the web for the real Jacksonville authorities, there's a simple test you can do -- turn on CNN. If people were really being infected by HIV-tainted needles, you'd be hearing about it on every major news show and Web site.

Don't take my word for it -- go to the sources!