OOUPS! Uniform hoax rides again

Urgent news f lash! If you see a UPS employee come to your door, do you know what he or she really is?

They’re a UPS driver bringing you a shawl from Aunt Matilda. That’s all.

Last Wednesday the craziness which is our Age of (Too Much) Information descended on Rockdale, courtesy of some wellmeaning, but gullible, bureaucrat in the Austin Texas Department of Public Safety headquarters.

He or she forwarded an eightyear old e-mail which circulates on that Internet thing.

It’s pretty well known as a hoax in sane Internet circles, assuming there still are any.

(, as usual, has it nailed with a detailed story. Go to upsuniforms.asp.)

As so often happens in these kinds of things, Internet horse hockey gets new life with every major news development.

In this case it was the death of Osama Bin Laden. Wouldn’t this be a perfect time for “the terrorists” to do something? Well, of course it would, so here comes the UPS hoax e-mail again. Here’s what happened. The DPS “warning” got transmitted to local classrooms and by early afternoon it was probably safer to wear a Cameron Yoeman letter jacket in Rockdale than a UPS uniform.

One young lady was found in her living room, all the doors locked and bolted, holding her cat in her arms, going from window to window, watching the street.

Good thing a UPS truck didn’t come along.

The original e-mails warned either that UPS uniforms had “gone missing” or that $32,000 worth of them had been purchased on eBay.

It cautioned against receiving UPS packages from “unknown drivers”—including, I imagine, any without a UPS truck!—and to report any suspicious packages. This of course got tw isted and added to several times. The version which showed up here warned of a “break-in,” and said a lot of UPS uniforms had been stolen.

At least one person called police here because they had heard “terrorists were going to deliver the mail.”

Here’s where it all started. Until 2003 you could buy old UPS uniforms on eBay. Without any evidence, some people went straight to the conclusion they were being purchased by terrorists.

The hoax e-mails followed. One specified $32,000 worth of uniforms had been purchased. That figure may be right. People who are into collecting items which are rare, and have value only to them, will pay ridiculous prices.

Eight years ago UPS actually investigated the purchases, said they had been resolved to their satisfaction and added “reports of a missing shipment of UPS uniforms are simply not true.”

Obviously, the purchase of UPS uniforms for mischievous, or criminal, reasons is a possibility and eBay stopped listing them.

In 2003.

There were major articles about the situation in The Washington Post, Louisville Courier-Journal and St. Petersburg Times, all in 2003. Please notice that newspapers got it right from the start.

And that was that. Except the whole thing got regurgitated again just before Christmas, 2006.

According to U. S. Homeland Security, two former UPS employees added to the 2003 e-mail and managed to make it sound like 1,000 UPS uniforms had just been stolen.

Then of course, there’s what happened Wednesday.

When we see Internet stuff targeting one specific company we need to remember a couple of things. Companies have competitors and absolutely anybody has access to the Internet.

So, breathe easier, we can unlock the doors and open up the blinds.

And let go of the cat.

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2011-05-12 digital edition

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