WILLMAR -- Local law enforcement officials are urging citizens to stop forwarding a hoax text message warning people about going to Wal-Mart because there is supposedly going to be a gang-initiation shooting that will target innocent women and children.
A news release from the Willmar Police and Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office says that several area residents have reported receiving urgent text messages on their phones. The matter has been investigated and is not credible. The public is urged to stop forwarding the message and delete it.
This rumor has been around for about four years but is making its first appearance as a text message, according to the release. Details of the hoax can be found at www.truthorfiction.com and www.snopes.com. Willmar Wal-Mart employees are aware of the rumor and its investigation, and were able to confirm its status as an urban legend.
"This is not to say that people should not exercise normal caution when shopping," said Willmar Crime Prevention Officer Marilee Dorn. "Lock your vehicle doors, stay alert to unusual situations, and don't hesitate to call for help when suspicious or harmful things really do happen."
Officer Dorn points out that many urban legend crime warnings contain a tiny kernel of good personal safety advice concealed in a fictional, sensationalized story. The rumor will often quote law enforcement officials who may or may not exist.
Use your keyless remote
A second rumor, which the police department has received numerous inquiries on this month, is the warning to not use your car's keyless remote to lock the doors. While it is theoretically possible for a criminal to "grab" the radio signal code for older vehicles' locks, it's extremely improbable--doing so would take sophisticated equipment, lots of time and being in the right place at exactly the right moment. Local thieves are more likely to look for unlocked vehicles with items in plain view to steal. Drivers are actually safer using their remote lock system from outside the vehicle to avoid locking the keys in their car, and because the keyless system allows a driver to open the door easily, get in and quickly re-lock the door for safety when returning to the vehicle.
Now for the real scam
Local officials have received reports of attempts to scam citizens by calling and claiming to be their grandchild or relative. The caller will say he or she is on spring break and needs to have money wired to them for bail, an insurance deductible, medical treatment, lawyer fees, or other costs which could be incurred by a student who is in trouble. The caller will plead with the "grandparent" to not call their parents because they're embarrassed. The money is wired to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or other spring break locations.
Unfortunately, this fraud is real and the money is gone once sent, and recovery of the funds and prosecution of the scam artists is highly unlikely.