Don’t Trust Internet warnings


By Jerry Lincecum

Guest columnist

Most readers have probably read or heard about the prominent college football player who carried on a three-year Internet romance with a woman who did not exist. That story made me think about another kind of hoax that Internet users should watch out for. Ironically, it takes the form of a warning that is scary but untrue.

Recently I received a forwarded email that seemed credible. It was headlined “Warning from Harris County Constable,” with an official-looking image of the appropriate badge. The essence of the message was: “Beware of criminals at gas stations who are handing out free key rings. The nice-looking key rings have hidden transmitters that enable them to track you so they can burglarize your home.”

Sounds scary, doesn’t it? But it is NOT true. Fortunately, there is a website devoted to exposing Internet lies, frauds, and hoaxes. By visiting “snopes.com” and searching for “key rings,” I found that this particular Internet myth first began circulating in South Africa in 2008. It began when a gas retailer there started distributing free key rings as a promotional device. They did not contain any transmitting chips or devices.

Soon email warnings about these dangerous “tracking devices” being handed out at “petrol stations” spread to Pakistan, where someone added the idea that “bazaars” were also a favored site for the “criminals” passing them out.

In Nov. 2010 someone Americanized the warning by substituting “gas stations” as the place to be wary, and it circulated widely by cell phone messages and Facebook postings.

In order to make it seem even more (falsely) authoritative, in April 2012 signature blocks for a South Carolina Clerk of Court and an Illinois Sheriff’s office were added.

Internet fakers just love to give new life to old lies. Now comes the Jan. 2013 version (forwarded to me) as a warning from “Harris Co. Texas Constable.”

Like the snake in the Garden of Eden, these liars feel good when their falsehood succeeds in getting forwarded by some well intentioned person like the one who sent the warning to me.

Happy birthday Monday to Dwana Brewer, Debbie Portman, Willie Oliphant, Mary Tillis and Richard Green, all of Sherman; John Arnold of Denison; Craig Hannan of Stillwater, Okla.; Pete Hickman of Southmayd; Larry Blair Hodge of Weatherford; Randle Beaty of Van Alstyne; Trey Pye of Leonard; Henrietta Sturdivant of Fresno, Calif.

Happy anniversary Monday to Ronald and Debbie Jackson of Sherman, 1 year.