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Fearful emails aren’t without cost.

Just don't open the email.

Just don't open the email.

You know the email. It goes along the lines of the urban legends we told each other as teens. Masked man in the back of the car (because naturally, you wouldn’t notice a MAN in the back seat of a Corolla). Delivery van full of poison, don’t open your packages.  Whatever the flavor of the week was, you heard it.  Now, instead of around a fire on a camping trip, these tales are delivered right to your inbox. Lovely.

The internet spreads so much fear. Even once my neighborhood knew the following report was false, they conceded that perhaps it is best for us to be wary of the real dangers the false story presented. Basically, they were warning each other to be aware of something that isn’t there, just to “be safe.” Well, that safety comes with a cost.

See, that’s the rub. This type of fear isn’t free. By vowing to “stay alert” at the level of an MI-6 assassin, you overlook the real petty crime that may hurt you, you give away your sense of safety and community, and you stress yourself and others out to the point that they doubt their very useful gut instincts. (These are the very gut instincts, by the way, that you need to keep you safe when something truly dangerous is going down. We don’t want to learn to ignore them.)

Yes, violent crime happens. Protect yourself. Learn when and what type of crime happens in your neighborhood and the places you frequent. Take a self-defense class. Sending around sensationalistic urban rumors won’t do crap in protecting you from what crime you more likely will face. Depending on where you live, you should probably concentrate on how not to get your purse snatched or your vehicle broken into instead of giving yourself hyper-xenophobia and a false sense of bravado because you “know” what can happen in a Target parking lot.

Why am I bringing this to your attention now? Today this email was sent to a Yahoo group I belong to. It has over 100 members of my neighborhood in it. I wanted to share this exchange with you to remind you that this type of fear isn’t free. Think twice before you mindlessly forward it on and pat yourself on the back for keeping people “safe.” It degrades community and actually supports an environment where even more violent crime will flourish. We only have each other; distancing ourselves from our neighbors isn’t the answer.

Here’s the whole exchange. Please share this widely. Let’s breed community, not crime.

My Mom sent this to me — it’s a legit story from Illinois (verified on Snopes) but who knows if it could happen here… be careful!

A new way to abduct a female . This is very scary!

Please pass on to all your girlfriends, wives, etc.
Just to be on the safe side. Please be aware and pass it on to anyone you think this will help.

Sunday afternoon around 5 PM I headed into the Target in Wheaton, IL
where crime is VERY RARE and mostly it is with bikes being stolen!!
It was still light outside and I parked fairly close to the entrance.
As I got out of my car and began walking towards Target, an older lady shouted to me
from the passenger seat of a car about 30 feet away from me.

“Ma’am you must help me, help me please, help me Ma’am!”
I looked at her in the eyes and started to walk towards her when all of a sudden
I remembered an email my Mom had sent me a week or two ago about rapists and abductions
using elderly people to lure women in.

I paused, memorized the license plate and immediately headed into Target to get a manager
to come help this lady, just in case something was up.
While the woman manager headed out there, I kept a close watch just because I was curious
what was wrong with the lady an wanted to be sure nothing happened.

As the Target lady walked up towards the car and got very close to the old woman in order to help her,
the back door of the car flies open and a large man with a stocking cap on, jumps out and sticks a gun to the lady’s stomach as he shoves her into the back of the car.

I yelled out “call 911” several times and just as I was saying that, a policeman who happened to be on the other side of the parking lot!   And who, luckily had seen the entire thing happen, raced over to the car.

He was able to stop the car and arrest the male as well as the old lady, who was involved in the scheme.
By God’s grace everyone was all right, including my self, although I think we were both shaken up.

Like many of you, I would not in a million years have left an elderly person who was yelling for help if it weren’t for the e-mail I had read last week. So, I wanted to pass this along so you all can be aware and remember that you really can’t trust anyone these days.

You just never know when something like this could happen. I would have never dreamed it to happen to m e especially on a Sunday afternoon at a Target in a safe area!

It definitely was not a coincidence that my Mom sent that email just a few days before this all happened. Please, be careful and always be aware of your surroundings.

Just because you individually don’t go over to help someone doesn’t mean you have to leave them in trouble, but don’t go ALONE, you really don’t know what might be going on.

This was checked with Snopes.com http://snopes.com/ – this is true – and they also use children to lure the victim !!

Thankfully a second member posted a reply to this message, quickly stating that it was a false rumor that was, in fact, chronicled on Snopes.com:

actually, i just checked snopes http://www.snopes.com/crime/warnings/wheaton.asp
and it said this was false!
it always pays to check yourself – but it maybe also pay to follow the advice of this email anyway.

This is great, of course. But I had to take issue with the last statement that perhaps the false advice to good to follow anyway. That kind of thinking comes a price. A price too costly to pay.

Here’s my reply:

There are a few take away lessons from this for all of us:

1. Always check Snopes.com, even if it says “verified on Snopes.”

2. Always do a general internet search on keywords if you can’t find it on

3. Make a decision about what fear is worth spreading. It doesn’t come without

Do we really want to live our lives as if ridiculous, senseless violence is around every corner? If you want to truly be fearful, inform yourself about real crime statistics. Our neighborhood is relatively safe. Sure, a certain amount of “street smart” caution is needed at all times anywhere, but there’s no reason to doubt your regular instincts. Emails like this seem helpful, but they just work to spread baseless fear and degrade feelings of community.

Do we really want to live in a world where we don’t help our elderly? Granted, if said elderly is in an effed up van and your common sense is sending off crazy alarms, by all means call 911. But let’s not build this idea that we are to be on alert for violent crime around every corner. It’s just not real. What we would pay in stress and loss of community isn’t worth it.

Actual odd crimes like this get plastered all over the world news. You will not find out about them via email, trust me.

Ok, that’s the end of my rant.

Your loving pro-community internet queen,

photo credit: mikebrown666 on Flickr.com

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jenjen 23 April 2009, 12:34 pm

    Christine, thanks for the reminder…

  • erin 20 October 2009, 9:18 pm

    thanks for this…i get these all the time, mostly from well meaning elderly internet enthusiasts….i feel these things seriously desensitize us–especially the ones about the sick kids who are doing it for make a wish etc.