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Text-message hoax threatens death by Wal-Mart

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Text messages are appearing all over the US that warn women to stay away from Wal-Mart stores or risk being murdered.

Fear not. This swarm of quasi-lethal smarm is a hoax, patterned after similar floods of cyber-crap that started back in 2005, according to überdebunker Snopes.com.

On example of this fear-mongering was reported by WPBF-TV of Palm Beach, Florida: "Police are asking all women not to go to any Wal-Mart tonight. There is a gang initiation and three women will be shot. This is not a joke. Please forward."

Comments to a hoax-alert post on NowPublic that describe similar text messages come from Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, Nevada, Hawaii, Nebraska, Alaska, Illinois, Colorado, Virginia, Oregon, California, Washington, and Georgia.

A report by AdvertisingAge adds Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina, Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa, and Indiana to that unfortunate list.

Either this is all a hoax or we're dealing with a gang that's far better organized, funded, well-entrenched, and widespread than Al-Qaeda.

Sharp-eyed Reg readers might have noticed that an article we mentioned above is from the ad-market watcher AdvertisingAge - hardly the rag one would normally consult for the latest news in infantile cyber-stupidity.

Why should AdvertisingAge care?

Simple. Wal-Mart is planning a 2,400-store midnight promotion this Saturday to flog the DVD release of "Twilight," the puzzlingly popular teen-loves-vampire movie that fluttered many a juvenile heart late last year.

Any hoax - however hoary - that might put a dent in the US's largest retailer's marketing efforts would surely cause a shudder in the advertising community.

A Wal-Mart spokesperson put on a stern but confident face, saying "While we take these types of situations seriously, we regard [the text message] as being only a rumor, much like similar rumors that have circulated via e-mail in previous years."

Although the text messages are simultaneously puerile and distasteful, we're more concerned about the naivete of their recipients. We agree wholeheartedly with one of the NowPublic posters, who wrote: "You people should be more worried about your email address or cell number getting into the wrong hands when you accept and send out forwards than worried about a 'gang' initiation at a Wal-Mart."

Oh, and did we mention that the uncle of a friend of a co-worker heard about some guy who woke up in an ice-filled hotel bathroom only to discover that his kidneys had been stolen by organ thieves?

Now that's chilling. ®

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