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Some hoax emails turn out to be real!

October 16, 2007

Who hasn’t received an hoax email? Whether it’s about cell phones exploding or hotmail closing down? Well, most of these emails are rubbish and that is why it makes me uneasy when a hoax turns out not to be an urban legend after all, but a story with more than just a grain of truth.

The cell phone exploding story turned out to be true. So did the water-explodes- in-the microwave “hoax”.

And now we hear that lipsticks can contain lead. The full report can be accessed here. It says:

…one third of the 33 products tested contained an amount of lead in excess of 0.1 parts per million. And this limit is the U.S. Food & Drug administration’s upper limit for allowable led in candy.

As India isn’t too particular about lead limits even in food and medicines, it’s best not to talk about lipsticks. I am just thankful that I rarely use lipsticks or in fact any make-up.

Some urban legends
On a lighter note, here are some really crazy email hoaxes:
Cyanide laced envelopes…and email went around saying that a woman died from licking the deposit envelope at a Bank of America ATM as the envelope was laced with cyanide.

Rat virus…an email warned of a virus which lived in dried rat and mouse droppings. These droppings supposedly turned into dust once they dried, and could be inhaled or ingested. The email actually suggested protective gear!

Genetically engineered KFC chickens…yeah, that’s what one email declared. These chickens were sans beaks, feathers, and feet…just pure flesh! 😀

Bananas infected by flesh eating bacteria…an email warned of bananas imported from Costa Rica which were infected with “necrotizing fasciltis”, or flesh eating bacteria!

If you want to know more about such hoaxes and chain emails, check it out here.

The Lipstick Scare (lipsticks cause cancer) was debunked by reputed sites…but it never did sound as bizarre as the ones above. It’s not bizarre to imagine that lipsticks contain toxic metals or chemicals and it is also proven that lead is cancer-causing. Ofcourse more detailed studies need to be done…but as of now, even if I do use lipstick I won’t do it if I am going for a meal.

By the way, did you ever hear of that story of a lizard getting stuck in a lady’s wig? A lizard which more or less chewed up her head? This spread by word of mouth during a time when emails weren’t common…

Urban legends have this habit of spreading like a disease. The only difference now is that they spread like wildfire…at the press of a key. Think twice before forwarding…

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. October 16, 2007 1:27 pm

    Nita: That cyanide laced envelope story may have been false in the US, but it was true in Sri Lanka where Tamil Tigers are said to have contaminated a whole bunch of postal stamps once. One man’s hoax is another man’s untimely death pass :-/

  2. October 16, 2007 2:25 pm

    Whenever I get an apparent email hoax, I check two sources:

    This is the oldest one on the net, and fully guaranteed to be authentic.

    The second, newer one is

    The archives on these sites are worth checking out, they’re fairly entertaining! 🙂

    The lipstick one was on TV last night…

  3. October 16, 2007 2:57 pm

    Hmm.. dunno about the rest, but Im thinking of trying that Coke+Mentos thingie.

    BTW, I replied to one of the emails from a member of some royal family of Burkina Faso regarding some business opportunity. Awaiting reply 🙂

  4. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    October 16, 2007 3:33 pm


    //This spread by word of mouth during a time when emails weren’t common…//

    It is heartening to know that if the entire IT bubble were to burst, that would not be the end of life as we know it 🙂

    Re. the cyanide on envelope story, the woman in question had obviously neither read Emily Post nor been to finishing school, so she did not know that licking envelopes was unladylike. Serve her right 🙂

    BTW, I did not realise until now that the term “urban legend” was just a grand-sounding expression for “rumour” or “hoax”. I suppose the only way to make it sound grander is to latinise it (like “gluteus maximus”).

  5. October 16, 2007 3:54 pm

    Shefaly, didn’t know about that Tamil Tigers story…hope you didn’t get in the info by email! 🙂

    Mahendra, thanks for the links. One of them is mentioned in my post. My quote is from there.

    Harsha, as long as you didn’t answer the email from Nigeria!

    Vivek, thanks. 🙂

  6. October 16, 2007 5:12 pm

    Nita: I had read it many years ago in the newspapers… Who knows? 🙂

    I think the crux of the issue is basic illiteracy re science in the general public. People who buy and use cosmetics, for instance, do not read labels and if they do they have no clue what the words mean. India’s uneven labelling laws may also play a role.

  7. October 16, 2007 6:22 pm

    A post about email hoaxes with no snopes links? Snopes is the definitive word on urban legends! Snopes on lipstick causing cancer: False!

  8. October 16, 2007 6:42 pm

    Nita: Thanks. I’m sorry I didn’t check your links…:-)

    That leads me to observe a difference in our writing. While I tend to cite the source of the link within my post, your links are generally referred to as “It says here”, or simply “check it out here”.

    Nothing wrong with that…I was just observing a difference.

  9. October 16, 2007 6:57 pm

    Mahendra, it’s not important i feel, to always give the source or not. But I do give it sometimes… I have no hard or fast rules.

    Anshul, thanks for the snopes link. I had seen that site during my research ofcourse.
    But if you are saying that they are the last word on urban legends…well if they have not updated their site on the latest information then obviously they can’t be. 🙂

  10. madhurisinha permalink
    October 16, 2007 7:04 pm

    Hi Nita,
    Actually virus present in rodent dropping is quite true.
    Thanks for spreading the topic.
    About the lead scare,
    I remember my previous apartment owner in LA asked me to sign a form which specifically said that the person/s renting the apartment wont lick the walls containing paint that may contain lead. 🙂

    Madhuri, thanks for that additional information! It’s amazing that these so-called urban legends sites do not bother to update themselves! – Nita.

  11. October 16, 2007 7:17 pm

    Nice thoughts, why dont you share your blogs on rambhai.?

  12. October 16, 2007 11:57 pm

    Hey! Any of you know if that wonderful movie of wildebeest fighting back African lions and getting back an injured calf is true or false? I tried Snopes but failed.

    You have a sense of humor, too?

    Great topic! (desi-speak) You are rocking, no?

  13. October 17, 2007 1:49 am

    Doc, I think I have a post on my blog. Check under “Animal Behavior.”

  14. October 17, 2007 4:07 am

    I think the most irritating and repetitive hoax mail was that orkut is being shut down and you have to forward a message to all your friends to avoid that. I was so irritated that it had forced me to write a post on that:

    One of the most earliest hoax mails that still amuses me is Divya Singh’s huband (from Siemens) having cancer!

  15. October 17, 2007 7:05 am

    Did someone mention Snopes? 😀

    Randall Munroe is a genius and writes/draws the greatest webcomic in the history of the IntraWebs. This article begs for the link:

  16. October 17, 2007 7:52 am

    Thanks to all for your comments 🙂
    All of you have added value to this post…thanks.
    Nouman that was hilarious!!

  17. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    October 17, 2007 10:05 am


    You needed two smileys from me and one from Nita to figure out that? Maybe the software geeks (if they have a sense of humour) should figure out a way of lacing posts with canned laughter.

    I suppose you know that humour is an essential part of one’s survival kit.

  18. October 17, 2007 10:05 am

    Haha! Hey rambodoc, jokes apart, if it’s (in)famous enough, it will be on snopes. Snopes has a very active forum and a large contributing user base.

    I don’t know of any competing site which maintains the quality, reliability, consistency and research that snopes does. Do you?

  19. oemar permalink
    October 17, 2007 10:37 am

    Nice post.. I do the same thing as Mahendra…. Urbanlegend and Snopes…. in fact in my free time, I just browse through the absurdities in there….

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