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Status: Theoretically could happen (though there's no solid evidence it ever has)
You may have received this email warning recently:

Imagine: You walk across the parking lot, unlock your car and get inside. Then you lock all your doors, start the engine and shift into REVERSE. Habit!
You look into the rear-view window to back out of your parking space and you notice a piece of paper, some sort of advertisement stuck to your rear window. So, you shift into PARK, unlock your doors and jump out of your vehicle to remove that paper (or whatever it is) that is obstructing your view... when you reach the back of your car, that is when the car-jackers jump out of no where ... jump into your car and take off -- your engine was running, your purse is in the car, and they practically mow you down as they speed off in your car.
Just drive away and remove the paper that is stuck to your window later and be thankful that your read this email and that you forwarded it to your friends.

I got it and dismissed it as a hoax, given its similarity to the false warning about people trying to sell perfume in parking lots. (They supposedly get you to sniff the perfume which is really ether and knocks you out.) But an article in the Mercury News notes that it might be worth paying attention to the paper-on-the-rear-window warning. They interview a California Highway Patrol officer who says:

I have heard of this a few times, and it is true. What makes it popular among car thieves is that it's non-confrontational (no gun or threat needed) which equals a lesser fine or sentence if they're caught. And it's a lot easier than traditional methods. Your readers should definitely heed this advice to drive away.

David Emery notes that the warning might be a bit overblown, but also cautions that: "Much more important than worrying about whether or not to remove a piece of paper stuck to your windshield, therefore — in any situation where you might be vulnerable to a carjacking — is being aware of your surroundings and taking note of who may be lurking nearby as you enter or exit your automobile."
Categories: Email Hoaxes, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 26, 2006
Comments (25)
Status: False theft report
A San Francisco woman has admitted to sending police on a wild goose chase to find a $175,000 violin that she claimed had been stolen from her car. She really does own such a violin, but it doesn't appear to have been missing. It's not clear why she said it was. Here are some details from the AP article:

The sad tale of a San Francisco music student who had a $175,000 18th century violin swiped from her towed car was a fabrication, authorities confirmed Friday... Rhee-Nakajima told police Wednesday that the violin -- along with her wallet and iPod -- were gone when she picked up her vehicle from a private tow company. She said she had locked the instrument in the trunk of her car, which had been parked too long at a supermarket parking lot in the city's Fillmore district and was towed... On Thursday, she appeared on various television stations, pleading with any members of the public who knew the whereabouts of the violin to contact police. That plea turned out to be hollow.

If I owned a $175,000 violin, I'd be a nervous wreck. I wouldn't even want it in my house, in case of a break-in. The obvious thing to suspect in this case is that the student was involved in an insurance scam, but as the article notes, insurance wouldn't cover a violin left in an unattended car. So the motive for the false theft report seems to be a mystery.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 03, 2006
Comments (9)
Status: Undetermined (reported in the news, but from an anonymous source)
It sounds like an urban legend. At the end of a work day a commuter returns to his car parked at the train station in Westborough, Massachusetts, only to realize he had left it unlocked all day. Miraculously, the car is still there, despite the numerous thefts in that area. But someone has been in his car, and they've left something: a box with a white ribbon on it, placed on the front seat. Inside is a diamond ring valued at $15,000, and a note: "Merry Christmas. Thank you for leaving your car door unlocked. Instead of stealing your car I gave you a present. Hopefully this will land in the hands of someone you love, for my love is gone now. Merry Christmas to you."

This story of remarkable generosity has been widely reported in the news. It's said to have occurred earlier this month, before Christmas. But like I said, the story has many traits of an urban legend: It fits the stereotype of the remarkable-act-of-kindness story that often circulates around the holiday time, and the name of the guy who received the ring is not known.

The Christian Science Monitor was a bit suspicious of the story, so they did some fact checking. But all they've been able to find out is that someone did report finding the ring in their car to the Westborough police. However, the name of the guy isn't being released. So this means that the story could have happened as reported, or maybe someone, for whatever reason, reported a false story to the police (maybe they thought people would enjoy hearing a nice story around Christmas). No way to know. But if the ring ends up on eBay, my vote is that the story is definitely bogus.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Fri Dec 30, 2005
Comments (6)
Status: Hoax
A news report has been doing the rounds concerning a student at UMass Dartmouth who was visited by Department of Homeland Security agents after ordering the official Peking version of Mao Tse-Tung's Little Red Book via interlibrary loan. The student needed the book for a research paper on communism, but apparently the book is on some kind of government watch list, and thus the visit. However, over at Boing Boing, suspicions have been raised that the story is a hoax. Apparently a second version of the story is floating around that places the student at UC Santa Cruz. Also, people find it suspicious that the student is unnamed, and therefore the story is basically hearsay. However, the reporter who wrote the story has responded to queries and is insisting that what he reported is true.
Update: Turns out the student invented the story about being visited by federal agents. Why he made up the story is unclear, but it's speculated that he did it simply to get attention. Details can be read in Aaron Nicodemus's follow-up article in
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 20, 2005
Comments (10)
Status: Fiction mistaken for reality
I've included many definitions of hoax-related terms in Hippo Eats Dwarf. One of these terms is the CSI Effect. I define it as "The belief that all criminal cases are solved using the high-tech, forensic science seen on TV crime shows such as CSI. Lawyers have noticed that the lack of such high-tech evidence can seriously prejudice a jury against a prosecutor's case. A manifestation of the if-it's-not-like-what-we-see-on-TV-then-it-can't-be-real mentality." And now the Star Tribune reports on a recent occurrence of the CSI Effect:

Dakota County authorities thought their felony case against a driver charged with criminal vehicular operation was solid. But jurors knocked it down to a misdemeanor, convicting the defendant of reckless driving instead. Then they told the prosecutor they were disappointed with the case. "They wanted to see a computerized reenactment," said Phil Prokopowicz, chief deputy county attorney. "It was something they expected."

The article goes on to say:

Because of the "CSI" shows, some prosecutors contend, more jurors believe every crime scene yields forensic evidence that offers conclusive scientific proof of innocence or guilt, almost instantly. When selecting jurors, Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar said, prosecutors are now trying to explain "that real life is not like a TV show ... and that just because there is no DNA evidence does not mean that there is not substantial other evidence sufficient to prove our case."
Categories: Entertainment, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 29, 2005
Comments (16)
Status: Impersonating a deity
A male police officer in India has declared himself to be the reincarnation of Radha, the female consort of the Hindu god Krishna. Naturally, he dresses the part:

Devendra Kumar Panda, a 1971 batch officer of the Indian Police Service (IPS), presents an odd sight draped in female attire - complete with nose ring, lipstick, finger and toe nails painted red - and singing hymns in praise of Lord Krishna and dancing. "Lord Krishna has himself assigned me the role of Radha and whatever I am doing is in pursuance of his wishes," 57-year-old Panda told IANS.

However, his wife isn't buying any of it:

On Saturday, Panda chose to put up a full-scale performance before a host of TV cameras in his house. "I see nothing wrong with this. After all, I am carrying out the will of almighty Lord Krishna," he said. An unimpressed Veena has declared her husband as "fake" and refuses to believe his claims about divinity. "He is indulging in all other normal activities, and even chats on the Internet. I am sure all this façade is put up by him to find some excuse for remaining in the company of women, whom he describes as 'Krishna's gopis'," she alleged.

As strategies for picking up women go, that's a pretty elaborate one. I wonder if it actually works.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Religion, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Sun Nov 13, 2005
Comments (12)
Status: Patent the A is satire; patented storylines is serious
The Ecchi Patent Company claims to hold a patent on the letter A:

The rights lie with us for all forms of the letter A, including, but not limited to, uppercase, lowercase, accented, Cyrillic, put in a little circle (e-mail users please note), in code, and in any form we may not have thought of already.

Supposedly you need to obtain a license from them in order to use the letter A in any form: "we will soon begin prosecuting people who fail to purchase a license and continue to use the letter A." Of course, this is a joke. Unless you invented the letter A, you wouldn't be able to patent it. The creator of 'patent the A' admits it's a joke on another site he's created.

But in a similar case, Andrew Knight has filed an application to patent a fictional storyline (he says it's the first time anyone has ever sought to patent a storyline), and he doesn't seem to be joking about this. Here's the highly original story Knight seeks to patent:

The fictitious story, which Knight dubs “The Zombie Stare,” tells of an ambitious high school senior, consumed by anticipation of college admission, who prays one night to remain unconscious until receiving his MIT admissions letter. He consciously awakes 30 years later when he finally receives the letter, lost in the mail for so many years, and discovers that, to all external observers, he has lived an apparently normal life. He desperately seeks to regain 30 years’ worth of memories lost as an unconscious philosophical zombie.

Seems to have shades of Rip Van Winkle, to me. Anyway, I truly hope Knight doesn't succeed in his effort (if he is actually serious about it), since if authors are able to patent storylines, it would seem to me to spell the end of literature. Plus, it's often said that there are only three basic storylines: man vs. man, man vs. nature, and man vs. self. So no story is truly original, and therefore shouldn't qualify for a patent.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 04, 2005
Comments (14)
A week or two ago papers were reporting the final verdict in the class-action suit against Sony stemming from the David Manning phony critic case. Sony got slapped with a $1.5million fine that was supposed to compensate moviegoers who felt defrauded by the fake ads. But William Booth of the Washington Post did some research and found out that not all was as it seemed with the payout:

News of the settlement created a stir in cyberspace and the entertainment press, with visions of tens of thousands of chagrined rubes lining up around the studio with their palms outstretched. Like, right on! Multiplexers unite! We did some follow-up and learned that Sony paid out $5,085 — total — to 170 real, honest-to-goodness ticket buyers. The rest of the cash? Brace yourself, Virginia: According to court papers, the attorneys for the plaintiffs got $458,909. Sony paid an additional $250,000 for administrative fees and costs associated with alerting moviegoers to the settlement and processing the claims — all 170 of them. Not a bad payday. The settlement, in which Sony conceded no wrongdoing, stipulated that any money left over from the $500,000 the studio set aside for claims would go to charity. And indeed it did, with $494,915 donated to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and the Women’s Care Cottage in Los Angeles.
Categories: Entertainment, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 14, 2005
Comments (2)
image Jelena sent in the image to the right, asking "Americans do have a reputation, but this can't be for real, can it?" By real, I assume she means--is the RIAA really distributing this poster? The answer is no. Looking at the fine print on the side of the image, I can see that it's author was
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 08, 2005
Comments (8)
image David Emery gave me a heads up about this soviet-style poster that has supposedly been sighted on the MARC trains that go between Baltimore and Washington DC. It urges passengers to: "Report any unusual activities or packages to the nearest conductor. WATCH, RIDE, AND REPORT."

The poster seems so Big-Brother-like that a lot of people suspect it must be a hoax. David Emery comments: "the logo on the poster reads "MARC Marshals" which, as far as I can tell, don't exist. MARC trains are patrolled by MARC Police. Folks are speculating it's probably some sort of guerrilla art project."

The photo caught the attention of bloggers when it appeared on the Articulatory Loop blog. However, I think it appeared earlier on MDRails, which is a website of photos taken by Maryland train enthusiasts (although when I checked the Wayback Machine, I could see that the poster wasn't on there as of October 2004).

It actually wouldn't surprise me if the poster was real, but the only way to confirm this is if (1) other MARC riders report seeing this poster, and (2) MARC confirms that they put this poster up.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 08, 2005
Comments (10)
image Apparently the latest fashion with kids is fake bullet-proof vests. They're called 'Raid Vests'. According to the Boston Globe, "Some parents are even buying the $50 faux vests for their toddlers and their dogs." The vests come in suede, nylon, and denim. Personally it wouldn't make me feel very safe to wear one, because I would worry that someone would think they could take a shot at me.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 08, 2005
Comments (32)
Wal-Mart has threatened to sue a student who designed a parody web page that used some images from the Wal-Mart Foundation's website. The student has taken the images off his page. He's just 20 years old. What is he going to do to fight off Wal-Mart? However, I don't think he should have removed the images. He's in the right. The law gives very specific protections to parody, since parody inevitably depends upon borrowing elements of the original. I think the guy should put the images back up and counter-sue Wal-Mart for fraudulent claim of copyright. Well, he probably wouldn't get away with that. But put the back images up, at least. By removing them he's giving up his rights without a battle. And if Wal-Mart did go through with some kind of litigation, I'm sure he could find someone to represent him.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 29, 2005
Comments (5)
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