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The great keyring paranoia prank

Jozi is a dangerous city indeed: not only are its residents preyed upon by vicious hijackers, but the cunning criminals now plant tracking devices in their victims’ cars by handing them ”free” key rings at traffic intersections.

The tale of the techno-savvy car thieves did the rounds on email this week. ”Kindly refuse them as you would be able to be followed if you accept it [the key ring]. Please pass this on,” the message adds helpfully.

The Mail & Guardian was sent this email by Mags Naidoo, a supervisor at Chubb Security SA. Unfortunately he should have thought twice before hitting send, as the warning is simply the latest urban legend spreading among ever more paranoid South Africans

Says Naidoo: ”I received this email from a friend of mine at Nedbank and passed it on to a few of my friends. My friends sent it to their friends and then people from all over the country started calling me.”

On Wednesday he was contacted by the police, who set the record straight.

Arthur Goldstuck, media and ICT analyst and local expert on urban legends, has already recorded two variations on the story. ”The first version is that people are handing the rings out at intersections and the other version is that they handing it out to specific cars at filling stations.”

His advice? ”The basic rule is that whenever you receive such a warning, you should look at the feasibility and the implications of it. If you want to hijack a car, it’s far easier to follow it than to track a car. You also need very specific techniques. It’s an absurd idea.”

According to Goldstuck, such emails spread ”out of panic”. On his urban-legends blog, the biggest section catalogues crime warnings. These are not unique to South Africa and they often do not originate here, but, he says, South Africans appear rather easy to fool.

Many people pass on such warnings because ”in their mindset they put their friends at risk by not sending it”, he says.

Naidoo says he realises it was perhaps not wise for an official at a security company to forward the ”tracking” rumour. ”I feel very sorry and I want to apologise,” he said.

Ten rules to spot an urban legend
1. Public health and safety warnings are always issued directly by the relevant authorities. If you receive it second-hand, be suspicious.

2. Public health and safety warnings are not distributed by chain letter or by individuals emailing their entire address books.

3. Mass-mailed urban legends are almost always accompanied by the name of the supposed authority that issued it, including the name, position and phone number of the individual responsible. This does not mean it is authentic.

4. In most cases, the authority figure or individual named as the source of the legend did not issue the warning.

5. If the email urges you to forward the warning to all your friends, don’t. The more exclamation marks used in this request, the more certain you can be that it is an urban legend or hoax.

6. If the senders tell you they don’t usually forward such emails, obviously their common sense has finally given up the battle, and they have joined the ranks of the gullible.

7. If someone tells you it was received from a lawyer, doctor or historian (all real examples I’ve seen) or similar authority figure, and that this person is highly educated and/or very level-headed, you can be certain you are dealing with an urban legend.

8. Any mass-mailed warning that tells you ”This is NOT an urban legend” is an urban legend.

9. Always check on the well-known urban-legend reference sites, such as the Urban Legends Reference Pages and Urban Legends.

10. Never, ever, forward mass-mailed email warnings. Just don’t do it.


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Imke Van Hoorn
Guest Author
Riaan Wolmarans
Guest Author

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