A PUBLISHER WRITES: Before you start sharing links with your friends about car thieves putting phony $100 bills under windshield wipers in an attempt to lure drivers out of their running vehicles, share this instead.
The first phony-bill car theft warnings cropped up online about 10 years ago. They’re back again this holiday shopping season thanks to one person — not to mention the media who bought her story.
A Maryland assistant attorney general for consumer protection named Karen Straughn admitted that she hadn’t seen a single police report of such an incident but was told by a single resident whom she met at a meeting that one happened.
One person’s story. One alleged incident. Not vetted by the assistant AG.
She didn’t even get the person’s name.
Instead, Straughn talked to a TV reporter.
“With the fact that the holidays are coming up and more shopping, we believe this is something that could occur in this period of time,” she told ABC News.
Before long, other ABC affiliates, networks, newspapers and online media sites began republishing the initial report.
Do a Google News search and you’ll find either the original or a rewritten version, as of this afternoon, on no fewer than 48 news sites that took the bait, including USA Today, The New York Daily News, Patch, The Examiner and the Daily Mail.
None of them features independent reporting — just a rehash of the original.
You can also Google “$100 bill windshield” and find the definitive word on all urban legends from Snopes.com:
“Ever since the earliest warnings of this putative form of crime hit the Internet, we have been following news reports for any documented instances of an actual car theft (either perpetrated or merely attempted) that followed the script outlined in the widely-spread e-mailed caution, but we have yet to turn up evidence of so much as one.
“Nothing rules out there having been a few thefts carried out in the manner described that we have yet to hear about. But even if that proved to be the case, there is clearly no crime wave, no ever-present danger to motorists everywhere, no flyer-armed menace lurking in the nation’s parking lots.”
Snopes goes on to say that some police WORLDWIDE have had to issue “not true” statements to similar reports.
(Ironically, some of the “not true” posts are incorrectly attributed.)
I was involved in quashing an urban legend a decade ago.
It was before Halloween, and some guy had bought up thousands of dollars in candy from a couple of Costcos in the area. The warnings immediately went out: CANDY COULD BE POISONED!
One of my reporters at the newspaper where I worked stayed with the story until police found the mystery man — who bought the candy in bulk and then sold it individually at flea markets.
If by chance you do find something that kinda resembles a big bill, it’s an ad for a local business pretty much all of the time.
Think about it for a second: Most car thieves target parked vehicles. Those who swipe vehicles from their drivers are taking advantage of an opportunity for a quick source of cash, an escape from somewhere or a joy ride.
They wouldn’t produce and position phony bills, wait for owners to return to their cars and and hope that they see it — AND fall for the trick — before going very far.
If someone really wants your car, they’ll pull a gun or a knife, not a counterfeit C-note. Or they’ll just yank you out.
Warn your friends about that.
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