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Law/Police/Crime
Desperate for free porn
A man entered an adult novelty store, told the clerk that he was a detective with the Longmont Police Department's "age verification unit," and demanded that the clerk provide him with pornographic videos so that he could verify the ages of the actors in them. The Longmont Police have no age verification unit. The clerk turned him away, and then the manager called the real police. (Thanks, Bob!)

Cheesecake Box Bomb
A man entered a movie rental store, placed a box on the counter, and told a clerk it was a bomb that he would detonate unless he was given cash. The clerk refused and the man fled. The "bomb" was an empty cheesecake box.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Tue Aug 12, 2008
Comments (4)
According to internet rumor, Britney Spears is planning to star in a movie titled The Knoxville Carjacking Party, based on the brutal 2007 murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. Spears would play Channon Christian.

The story is a hoax. More specifically, it's a case of satire mistaken as news, having apparently originated as a faux news report from "celebrity snitch, Clarence Star" on the site Ghetto Bragging Rights.

Wayne Bledsoe, a columnist for Knoxnews.com, notes that the spread of the false rumor offers a case study in how misinformation is propagated by the online media. Numerous celebrity gossip sites, such as popcrunch.com, reported the false rumor as fact, without making any effort to verify it. Bledsoe writes:

By Wednesday morning, a Google search found more than 10,000 hits for "Knoxville Carjacking Party" and the rumor had been translated into Spanish and French. Not only that, but Web "reporters" often edited out the more ludicrous parts of the story, helping to make it sound more credible. Readers not familiar with the Knoxville murders simply assumed it was a new slasher film.
Some Web browsers left comments on the sites saying that the report sounded like a hoax, but others were quick to defend it. A reader at Current.com insisted: "It's not fake. I don't think so. It's all over the international scene."
The amazing thing is that out of the 10,000-plus mentions of the fictitious movie, no one had apparently contacted Spears' management or record company to check if it was real.

(Thanks, Bob!)
Categories: Celebrities, Entertainment, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Tue Aug 05, 2008
Comments (4)
I'm still catching up on all the recent hoaxes... So here's another one that a lot of people have emailed me about. The fake foot that washed up on a beach in British Columbia.

Five human feet have washed up on beaches in British Columbia during the past year, generating a lot of media interest. After all, who do these feet belong to? It's a mystery. But a sixth foot that washed up turned out to be a hoax. From ctv.ca:

A sixth foot believed to have washed ashore on Vancouver Island was not human, although it was found inside a sock and running shoe, according to the B.C. Coroners Service. "A forensic pathologist and an anthropologist have examined the shoe and remains, and determined a skeletonised animal paw was inserted into the shoe with a sock and packed with dried seaweed," BCCS said in a statement Thursday. The foot had been found inside a size-10 black Adidas shoe.

I've posted about similar hoaxes. For instance, back in 2003 I wrote about police in Crawford County launching an investigation after finding leg bones sticking out of boots found beside a lake in Arkansas. The bones turned out to belong to an animal.

New Scientist has an interesting take on the recent case. (You may only be able to read their full article if you're a subscriber.) They discuss the field of ocean forensics, which apparently is quite undeveloped. When bodies wash up from the ocean, it's usually very difficult for forensic scientists to figure out what happened to the person because there's not a good understanding of what happens to corpses floating in the ocean.

Researcher Gail Anderson is trying to change this. She's chained the carcass of a 25-kilogram pig to the ocean floor and has been recording the exact stages of its decomposition, carefully noting the crabs, lobsters, and fish that feed on it. She's already discovered that fish tend to feed on the face last. So if a body washes up with damage to the face, but not to the rest of the body, foul play is likely. I'm going to add this to my growing list of great trivia to bring up at cocktail parties.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 24, 2008
Comments (5)
Thieves used a hammer to break open a plexiglass box being used as a Drop-A-Note donation box in the Kentucky Theatre's lobby, and they stole the money inside. Unfortunately for the thieves, the money they took was fake. From kentucky.com:

"It's sad when idiots can't tell fake money from the real thing," said Steve Brown, president of Kentucky's Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ Project, a group dedicated to restoring a Wurlitzer organ and returning it to the Kentucky. Proceeds from the Drop-A-Note box, which is three wood organ pipes with a space for donations in the middle pipe, go to the restoration project. The fake bills looked similar to real ones, but they didn't have serial numbers and were black and white, Brown said. The thieves, who struck early June 2, made off with little or no money because the box had been emptied that weekend.

The thieves were probably former convenience store clerks, fired for accepting too many George Bush and Santa Claus bills.
Categories: Business/Finance, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Mon Jun 23, 2008
Comments (1)
This morning I received an email from SueEasy, a website about which I've posted previously:

Hi,
This is Andrew Richards, Manager Operations at SueEasy.com
We would like to express our discontentment regarding your entry about our
company: http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/weblog/permalink/sue_easy/
We are NOT a hoax of any kind. We have several respected law firms and
attorneys signed up with our service & we were hand picked by Michael
Arrington
(http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1733748_1733758_1735848,00.html)
at TechCrunch.

here's some press:
http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2007/10/19/sueeasy-hey-tort-reform-this-ones-for-you/print/
http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/04/12/sueeasy-goes-live-your-class-action-lawsuit-lottery-ticket/
http://www.lawyersweeklyusa.com/index.cfm/archive/view/id/430595
http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-15046732.html
http://abajournal.com/news/new_website_plays_matchmaker_for_would_be_plaintiffs/

Please do not make sweeping statements and write false stories about things
you haven't reserached. We'd appreciate it, if you took the link down
please.

Sincerely,
A. Richards
SueEasy.com

To which I replied:

Dear Andrew,
Thanks for your email, though it puzzles me. I state a number of times in my post that SueEasy is NOT a hoax.
Can you please indicate, specifically, what you believe to be the inaccurate statements in my post.
-Alex Boese

I've run into this problem before. Companies complain to me after seeing their name on my site, because they assume that EVERYTHING I discuss on the site must be a hoax, even if I state that it's not. We'll see where this leads.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Mon Jun 16, 2008
Comments (15)
This story is a great example of the truism that no security system can be better than the people operating it. Thieves broke into a museum at the University of British Columbia and stole gold artwork worth over $2 million. They got around the security system simply by calling the guards, pretending to be from the alarm company, and telling them to ignore any alarms that might go off that night. From cbc.ca:

Four hours before the break-in on May 23, two or three key surveillance cameras at the Museum of Anthropology mysteriously went off-line. Around the same time, a caller claiming to be from the alarm company phoned campus security, telling them there was a problem with the system and to ignore any alarms that might go off. Campus security fell for the ruse and ignored an automated computer alert sent to them, police sources told CBC News.
Categories: Con Artists, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 04, 2008
Comments (4)
I've previously noted a few cases where extreme shock tactics were used to teach a lesson. (See Fake Attack at Elementary School and Fake Terrorism Drill.) The following case isn't as bad as those earlier examples, but it still comes across as creepy for officials to trick students into believing their classmate had died in order to teach a lesson about drunk driving. From signonsandiego.com:

Many juniors and seniors were driven to tears – a few to near hysterics – May 26 when a uniformed police officer arrived in several classrooms to notify them that a fellow student had been killed in a drunken-driving accident. The officer read a brief eulogy, placed a rose on the deceased student's seat, then left the class members to process their thoughts and emotions for the next hour.
The program, titled “Every 15 Minutes,” was designed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Its title refers to the frequency in which a person somewhere in the country dies in an alcohol-related traffic accident.
About 10 a.m., students were called to the athletic stadium, where they learned that their classmates had not died. There, a group of seniors, police officers and firefighters staged a startlingly realistic alcohol-induced fatal car crash. The students who had purportedly died portrayed ghostly apparitions encircling the scene.
Categories: Death, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 04, 2008
Comments (22)
An ethics panel commissioned by the Swiss government has determined that the arbitrary killing of plants is morally wrong. From The Weekly Standard:

A "clear majority" of the panel adopted what it called a "biocentric" moral view, meaning that "living organisms should be considered morally for their own sake because they are alive." Thus, the panel determined that we cannot claim "absolute ownership" over plants and, moreover, that "individual plants have an inherent worth." This means that "we may not use them just as we please, even if the plant community is not in danger, or if our actions do not endanger the species, or if we are not acting arbitrarily."
The committee offered this illustration: A farmer mows his field (apparently an acceptable action, perhaps because the hay is intended to feed the farmer's herd--the report doesn't say). But then, while walking home, he casually "decapitates" some wildflowers with his scythe. The panel decries this act as immoral, though its members can't agree why.

The author of the Weekly Standard article appears to have some kind of conservative agenda. (He's a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, which makes him suspect in my book.) However, the basic facts about the Swiss ethics panel appear to be correct. The text of the panel's report, titled The Dignity of Living Beings with Regard to Plants, can be downloaded as a pdf file.

From my point of view, what makes this interesting is that it represents the fulfillment of a satirical prophecy. Back in 2004 I posted about the spoof Society for the Protection of Plants. It only took four years for the satire to become true.
Categories: Food, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Wed May 14, 2008
Comments (16)
One of the big problems in modern America is that there are simply not enough lawsuits. A new website promises to end this. It calls itself "Sue Easy," because it makes it so easy to sue someone.

The concept is that instead of litigants trying to find a lawyer, which is the traditional way these things are done, the lawyers should seek out the litigants. So if you have a case, or even just an idea for a case, list it on SueEasy, then wait for attorneys to contact you. The site promises "instant legal bliss."

Some of the proposed cases that people have listed so far:

Hotdog and Bun Mismatch
Currently buns are sold in packages of 10 but hotdogs come in packages of 8. Thus, it is impossible to perfectly match the number of hotdogs to the number of buns without buying 4 packs of buns and 5 packs of hotdogs.

Circumcision is sexual abuse, torture and mutilation
Any man that was circumcised is due reparations for the lost sexual functioning he inevitably suffered since circumcision removes the most sensitive part of the penis.

These sound like real winners.

As bizarre as the site sounds (note that I was being sarcastic about there being too few lawsuits), it's apparently not a joke. It's the creation of a guy named Sahil Kazi, whose other projects include webtronaut.com.

If SueEasy proves to be a success, eventually someone will sue it for encouraging frivolous litigation. That's inevitable.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 18, 2008
Comments (12)
The BBC reports that police in Italy are searching for a thief who hypnotizes checkout staff and orders them to hand over money.

In every case, the last thing staff reportedly remember is the thief leaning over and saying: "Look into my eyes", before finding the till empty... A female bank clerk reportedly handed over nearly 800 euros (£630)...
Italian police believe the suspect could be of Indian or North African extraction.

The BBC has a video of the thief in action. It's interesting, because he pulls off his heist in full view of other customers, who are apparently oblivious about what's going on.

This is not a new method of robbery. Back in Oct. 2007 I posted about a thief in New Hampshire who was said to be using hypnosis to rob convenience stores. In that case, the thief was also Indian, which is significant because the art of hypno-robbery seems to have originated in India.

It sounds like a method of robbery that's too good to be true, but I think it is real (i.e. the store clerks aren't secretly in collusion with the criminal. They really do unwittingly hand money over to him). But I don't think the criminal is actually hypnotizing the clerks. They don't go into a trance. Instead, the method takes advantage of a psychological trick -- that if you catch people off guard, they'll often do whatever you tell them to. The British magician Derren Brown demonstrates the principle in a number of his videos. I think you need a combination of a very self-assured thief who projects an air of authority and a highly suggestible victim to get this to work.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Psychology
Posted by Alex on Sun Mar 23, 2008
Comments (9)
Excuse of the Year
"A German lorry driver escaped a rap for driving while using a mobile phone - after claiming he was using it as an ear warmer."

Woman foretells future with asparagus
"Jemima Packington throws asparagus on the floor and makes her predictions based on the pattern. She said that some years ago she made a prediction that came true based on an asparagus pattern and realized she was on to something." Seems to me like it's as good a method as anything else.

Nostradamus delusion ends in murder
Matthew James Woodroffe-Hill believed he was Nostradamus' "son of the west". After suffering from increasingly paranoid delusions involving "spies, terrorists and mythical creatures" he stabbed a friend with a bayonet and then decapitated him.
Categories: Future/Time, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 19, 2008
Comments (1)
Local 6 News in Orlando recently conducted a test to see how quickly people would respond to a crime. They arranged for an undercover police officer to pretend to be a burglar trying to break into cars and homes in plain view of bystanders. The results:

most bystanders ignored or just watched the crime -- and some even helped the thieves...
people were ready to help the mystery man break into a car.
A third test had the fake burglar enter a home through a window and then go out the front door. During the staged crime, some golfers gave a friendly wave and a technician ignored the incident.

These results aren't surprising. Psychologists have long been aware of the "unresponsive bystander" effect. Witnesses to medical emergencies or crimes often do nothing, either because they assume someone else will do something, or because they fail to correctly interpret the situation.

In Elephants on Acid I describe an experiment that was conducted at Columbia University in 1968. Subjects were led to believe they were participating in a group discussion over an intercom system, with each participant sitting in a separate cubicle. Suddenly they heard one of the other participants having an epileptic seizure. The seizure was fake, but the subjects couldn't know that, and most of them did nothing to help, because they assumed someone else would help.

Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Psychology
Posted by Alex on Tue Feb 26, 2008
Comments (13)
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