Of Shams, Scams, Hoaxes and Stupidity

Funny how “texting” has evolved from its arrival in the late 90s.  Honestly, I didn’t really think it would catch on.  I even remember the old Globe Handyphone TV commercial.  It featured 2 (I presume) deaf people talking through text messages while they were on a date.  While the ad was “cute,” it was also kind of silly for me.  However, this was not what the rest of the market was feeling.  A lot of my co-workers were switching!  I knew I was getting left behind.  Plus, they had better-looking small phones while I had a big phone that looked like an ice shaver.  I tried to fight the urge to use text messaging but I ended up switching to the service before the 21st century.  I am only human…and someone was silly enough to ACTUALLY steal my ice shaver of a phone.

Anyway, from that time of my big switch to the present, I’ve had a good share of sending and receiving messages.  I’ve also had my fill of receiving spam — forwarded junk messages, scams, stupid ads and hoaxes.  There have been scam messages asking for prepaid cell phone “load” from an unknown mobile roaming number, whose owner was supposed to send you balikbayan packages.  There have been forwarded messages telling people to stop using their cellphones at a certain time of the date at a specific date because a burst of radiation was supposed to go through the system.  I probably received that message more than 5 times, and in 5 different dates.  Of course, there’s also that famous (and now dead) scam text message from an unknown number that tells you that you’ve just won a car. Now it isn’t just scams.  There are even spam messages from politicians.  Add the spam messages promoting VP Binay and his opponent last May 2010 — Mar Roxas.  The junk keeps on coming.  Some are funny.  Some are just disturbing.

Usually, I just disregard the crap floating in the cellular phone networks.  However, last Monday’s batch of forwarded messages was just downright irresponsible.  The message preyed on the valid fear of people from suffering from radiation fallout from the nuclear plant damaged by the last week’s earthquake in Japan.  One message, supposedly from the BBC, read like a warning for people in the Philippines to stay indoors because a radioactive cloud from Japan was headed towards the country.   There was a warning to wear rain coats against the coming acid rain.  There was even a silly piece of information there that you have to swab some Povidone Iodine (Betadine) on your skin and neck — your thyroid area is supposed to be first affected by radiation.  Strange remedy for radiation.

Now here’s how the hoax grew.  Normally, if you have access to information, you’ll try to verify it first before sending.  As reported in the news today, there was even a school that suspended its classes because of the text messages.  Oddly enough, a bastion of learning was the biggest to fall prey to this hoax.  I just don’t know if people really did put that red Betadine stuff on their necks.  I also don’t know if Betadine is supposed to prevent radiation.  Sadly, for some people, the gag of getting people to act stupid with red stains on their necks was too much to pass up.  If people do not think of what they do before they do it, chances are, they’ll do something relatively silly, like participate in the spread of a scam.

SMS hoaxes, there have been aplenty.  In Typhoon Pepeng, a couple of years ago, there was also a similar incident.  The typhoon brought a lot of rain and flooding which damaged a lot of property.  Someone started sending out false text messages to people in a town in Pangasinan.   The message that started spreading caused wide panic as it said something about the nearby dam in that town was about to collapse because of the heavy rains.  The text message and  its effect on people were shown in TV news — people were leaving the area in panic.  Some were even running away, as if they can get away from the sudden burst of water from a collapsed dam.  It’s a good thing that it was just a hoax.  But still, in areas where the people are already jittery, it’s certainly better not to add to the confusion.

Are people really that gullible that they have to forward messages?  Whenever you forward or share something with someone, you usually have to believe in the material.  If people forwarding junk are not gullible, then what are they?  Just stupid?  Why spread unconfirmed “information”?  I think that there will always be a lot more believers than skeptics.  After all, people are easy to commit to something that isn’t hard on the brain.  In last Monday’s case, who didn’t have time to verify? Who didn’t want to be safe?  A classic scenario for a successful quick scam from pranksters.

Phone pranksters have certainly come a long way from the old fake Meralco “Is your meter running? If yes, you’d better go after it” gag.  All these hoaxes preying on the lazy brained folk used to be “clean” fun — good for laughs.  Now with technology making phone scams faster and easier, it’s certainly become a real nuisance.  Again, the idea of seeing a lot of people with red stains on their necks?? Come on.  Honestly — and secretly — I wanted to follow it up with a message of my own telling people to find bottle caps and fashion an apron out of it.  That would have been perfect — red necks and a bottle cap apron?  Only a real loon will follow that advice.  Naturally, I dissuaded myself not to do it (EQ kinda gets to you as you get older).  Plus the last time I checked, I wasn’t as tasteless as the people who started that SMS hoax.  :>

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Postscript:  Betadine made a killing last Monday.  I am not sure if raincoats flew off the shelves last Monday, too.  Makes you wonder where those messages started…hmmm.

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Moral lesson:  Don’t just believe everything you hear, see or read.  You don’t “apply” a bastardized/customized/personalized version of Pascal’s wager on everything, especially on text messages.

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Post postscript:  Wasn’t Monday’s message and its effects a bit like what happened in Orson Welle’s “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast?

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