In some cases, such as the colour-coded crimes, they are even able to develop elaborate justifications for belief in these urban legends.
This is a selection of the major e-mailed hoax warnings and urban legends that have appeared in recent years. Some have a long pedigree and, where relevant, links are provided to discussion of these warnings in other urban legend sites.
The Post-it Note Hijackers
This one appeared on the well-known telecommunications campaign site, MyBroadband.co.za, on two separate occasions, in both December 2005 and January 2007, word for word the same, and apparently posted by the same person:
New Hi Jacking Strategy As Distributed By The Aa !!!
Be aware of the new hi-jacking scheme. Here's how it works:
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 and you look into the rearview mirror to back out of your parking space when you notice a piece of paper stuck to the middle of the rear window.
So, you switch off the car or shift the gears into PARK, unlock your doors and jump out of your car to remove that paper (or whatever itis) that is obstructing your view...
When you reach the back of the car that is when the hi-jackers appear out of no where, jump into your car and take off!
The door was unlocked, your keys were in the ignition, maybe the engine was running, (ladies would have probably left their handbag, with their purse, cellphone etc; in the car) and they practically mow you down as they speed off in your car.
BEWARE OF THIS NEW SCHEME THAT IS NOW BEING USED!!!
Should this happen to you, just drive away and remove the piece of paper that is stuck to your window later....and be thankful that you read this email.
I hope you forward this to allyour friends and family...especially women! A purse contains all identification, and you certainly do NOT want anyone getting your home address. They already have your keys!
Tom Odaniell, AA
Except for the last paragraph and the obligatory authority figure signing it at the end, this is almost identical to an e-mail scare doing the rounds in the USA in 2004. Snopes debunked it thoroughly at the time. To the credit of MyBroadband users, most smelled the rat, and some even posted the Snopes link.
But this did not stop various people saying things like, "Heard this before, probably is true too considering we live in SA", and "Is this starting to pick up again? never the less, its good to make it available to as many as possible." The cherry on the cake was the comment: "Any crime warning of any nature is a GOOD warning."
Again, most participants in the discussion ridiculed the idea that it was a good idea to create awareness of crime - in a society where most people already feel under siege!
The converted ATMS
The following warning is notable in that the standard mail is "top-and-tailed" in this mass-mailing by an evangelist who is equally famous for his ministry as he is infamous for his spamming methods. Thus are urban legends sent to test us:
I have just received this email from a friend and believe that it was necessary to bring to your attention. It is necessary to be informed of these scams and to warn each other. Prevention is better than cure. I pray the Lord''s protection upon you, in Jesus name. Please give wide publicity !
Bank ATM''s Converted to Steal IDs of Bank Customers
A team of organized criminals are installing equipment on legitimate bank ATM''s in at least 2 regions to steal both the ATM card number and the PIN. The team sits nearby in a car receiving the information transmitted wirelessly over weekends and evenings from equipment they install on the front of the ATM (see photos). If you see an attachment like this, do not use the ATM and report it immediately to the bank using the phone on the front of the ATM. The equipment used to capture your ATM card number and PIN are cleverly disguised to look like normal ATM equipment. A skimmer is mounted to the front of the normal ATM card slot that reads the ATM card number and transmits it to the criminals sitting in a nearby car. At the same time, a wireless camera is disguised to look like a leaflet holder and is mounted in a position to view ATM PIN entries. The thieves copy the cards and use the PIN numbers to withdraw thousands from many accounts in a very short time directly from the bank ATM.
Evangelist Jarrod Davidoff
(CEO- Founder & President) Save The World Foundation
As always in urban legends, there is truth to this warning. Except that it is an American truth. CAbout.com published the same detailed warning, with photos, to show how ATMs are converted for the purpose described above. They have verified it as an authentic warning. However, there are no reports of such equipment being used in South Africa.
The flashing headlight gang
The following warning was discussed in detail on this blog in August 2007 as The Age of Half-belief:
THIS IS HAPPENING - HIGHWAY SAFETY ALERT - Gang member warning!!!
A police officer working with the DARE program has issued this warning: If you are driving after dark and see an on-coming car with no headlights on, DO NOT FLASH YOUR LIGHTS AT THEM! This is a common gang member "initiation game".
The new gang member under initiation drives along with no headlights, and the first car to flash their headlights at him is now his "target." He is now required to turn around and chase that car, and shoot at or into the car in order to complete his initiation requirements.
Make sure you share this information with all the drivers in your family!
Please share this with whomever you want.
The legend of the Flashing Headlight Gang (or The Legend of the Deadly Headlights) first began circulating in newspapers in the United States in the early 1990s, in response to the growth of gang activity in inner cities, and a rash of drive-by shootings in east Los Angeles. According to Snopes, its origins go back to the early 1980s, and began as a Hell's Angels initiation legend.
Its arrival in South Africa in 1999 coincided with a rebirth of the legend in the USA, where e-mail was ensuring its renewed popularity. This time round, South Africa was plugged into the global village, and local conditions meant that the legend fitted precisely into our jagged psyche.
Its rapid spread here also meant a rapid response by the media and their investigative reporters. The reporters, in turn, were met by a police response that, for the first time in recorded reportage, incorporated an understanding of urban legends. Several police spokesmen did, in fact, describe the rumours as precisely that: "urban legends".
At the same time, the police assisted in a better understanding of urban legends, by giving the reporters a context in which to understand the absurdity of the story. Superintendent Wickus Holtzhausen, for instance, told the Cape Talk radio station that a powerful rumour had been doing the rounds that 12 innocent people had already been shot as a result of the above rite. Clearly, he said, no one could hush up a dozen killings of that nature.
Beware of the Mall
The following are other examples of hoax warnings and urban legends that have originated elsewhere and taken root in South African shopping malls:
* Flyers are placed on windscreens in shopping mall parking lots, prompting motorists to get out of car to remove it after starting the car (a variation of the Post-it Note Hijackers, but this time on the front windscreen).
* Robbers wait in shopping mall parking lots with "sample" bottles of "perfume", offered to shoppers to try out. It turns out to be ether or another form of knock-out chemical. David Emery gave this one a thorough debunking at About.com.
* Knife-wielding robbers wait underneath cars in shopping mall parking lots, waiting to slash the ankles of motorists as they unlock their cars. David Emery provides the history at About.com, and links it to the old legend of the killer in the backseat.
* The "Change room rape" urban legend discussed previously in this blog has a long history in the USA, as outlined by Snopes.
There have been many more and there will be many more. If you are not sure, the old rules apply:
What to do when you receive an e-mail warning
Make your life easier by following these three simple rules:
1. Rule number one of e-mail:
Never, ever, send on chain letters or mass-mailed warnings.
2. Rule number 2 of e-mail:
If you receive a chain letter or mass-mailed warning that you feel is really, really important and that everyone really, really should read, refer to rule number 1.
3. Rule number 3 of e-mail:
If you seriously don't mind embarrassing yourself, and you feel that this e-mail is not really a chain letter because its contents are so vital, and there is no way something as trivial as good manners can allow you to stop yourself from spamming your address book, refer to rule number 1.
Finally, read this blog entry on how to spot a hoax or urban legend in your inbox.