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Aussie hoaxer strikes again

Are Australian police really like this?

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Updated Update: This story has been rewritten to indicate that the blogger-cop exchange is likely a hoax. Our original story assumed it was genuine.

An amusing exchange between an irreverent blogger and a humourless cop looks like the latest in a long line in ingenious hoaxes to set the blogosphere buzzing, courtesy of australian prankster David Thorne and his satirical website, 27b/6.

This is a shame as, even if it is untrue, it really does read the way many of us might expect the forces of law and order to react to a good internet poking.

The departure point for this latest journey into the surreal is a supposed business plan, put up by David Thorne, detailing an "investment opportunity" that would allow investors to invest in David's new drug dealing business.

The site then publishes a letter, purportedly sent by one Michael Harding, Acting Officer in charge of e-crime with the South Australian Police.

The exchange continues through a series of increasingly irreverent e-mails, accompanied by gradually escalating threats from the police. Finally, David backs down and converts his business into one centred on the exploitation of cats instead.

But is it genuine? We suspect not. First, because David Thorne has "form" when it comes to pulling off elaborate internet hoaxes. Just last year, McDonald's Australia were forced to run an official denial on their website following publication of a fake memo on 27b/6 alleging that McDonald's stores deliberately ripped off customers.

Before that, he gained media notoriety with his claim that he had attempted to settle a bill with his landlord by means of a drawing of a seven-legged spider.

The "modus operandi" in this case has a remarkably familiar ring to it

Second, there are a host of details that don't quite match up. Try to call the number for the South Australian Police printed on the letterhead posted on Thorne's site - and a recorded message explains that the number is no longer in service.

Could the SA Police have a surfeit of stationery? A bit of online sleuthing suggests that the police force in question do not have an officer called Michael Harding - and whilst we have looked very hard, we can't quite lay our hands on any Australian e-crimes legislation dating to 2006, as referenced by the alleged police officer.

Then there is the technical argument. Following the initial report of this story, David Thorne claimed that his site had been suspended. Not so, according to the techies on at least one blogging board. Unless, of course, they are also a hoax, in which case we no longer know what to think.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the story is amusing. If it were true, it would say much about the australian approach to online law and order. If, as we now suspect, it is not, then it is funny all the same.

And if it is untrue, it has already claimed its first victim - this journalist - when it comes to credulity. ®

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