Jessie Raymond: One weird fact: Online info false!

Recently a Facebook friend of mine shared a terrifying post, ostensibly written by her cousin’s co-worker, about a dangerous new car-jacking trend. The incident in question happened to the friend’s cousin’s co-worker’s daughter in a Walmart parking lot and, the post warned, it could happen to you.

The poor young woman came out of the store and got in her car. When she checked her mirror to back up, she noticed a sale flier tucked under the rear wiper. So, with the car running, she got out to remove the flier.

Just then, two bad guys appeared and jumped into the car and sped away. To make matters worse, her purse was still in the car.

So be careful: If you see a flier on your rear window, just keep driving (even though the view-obstructing flier may cause you to back into other vehicles and stray shopping carts).

Now, my first thought was that this could never happen in Addison County. We don’t have a Walmart. Furthermore, this is a small town; if I saw a couple of guys loitering in a parking lot, I’d probably say to one of them, “Oh hey, Steve, is your mother feeling better? Did she get the soup I dropped off?”

Beyond that, the logistics of the story were bothering me. (Keep in mind I can’t enjoy superhero movies because I obsess over the plausibility of every detail. For example, where did Superman get his costume? Did he sew it himself? I don’t care if you are more powerful than a locomotive; Spandex is really tricky to work with.)

First of all, when I come back to my car in a parking lot, I typically approach it from the rear. It seems to me that most normal people do the same, and would thus see the flier before they got in. Furthermore, if I had just been shopping, there’s a good chance I’d need to put something in the back. Wouldn’t I see the flier then?

I suppose a few people might choose to thread their way around the front, balancing along the curbstones that narrowly separate the two rows of facing vehicles in a typical parking lot setup, but it’s not the simplest route, particularly if you’re pushing a shopping cart.

And what are the carjackers doing at this point? Parking lots are expansive; how do they know which car to loiter around?

Whatever. Let’s say that when I do get in the car I avoid the back end, like a rider about to mount a skittish horse, and start the engine. “Oops,” I say, checking the rearview mirror, “there’s a flier oddly placed under my rear wiper. I will remove it.”

I exit the idling vehicle, oblivious to a couple of suspicious-looking characters who by this point must be within a few feet of my car and are probably down in a sprinter stance, poised to jump in at the exact moment I get out.

And jump in they do, slamming the vehicle into reverse and, I assume, committing vehicular manslaughter, since at that moment I am standing behind the car, reaching for the flier.

Nope. It didn’t add up for me.

While Facebook etiquette called for me to share the story with hundreds of people because there was a chance it might be true, and because fear mongering is fun, I hesitated. Instead, I took a moment to visit snopes.com, a website devoted to debunking (or confirming) stories like this one.

And here’s what I learned: This urban legend has been circulating via email and Facebook since 2004, but there have been no legitimate news reports of it actually happening.

Bummer. If you can’t trust your Facebook friend’s cousin’s co-worker’s daughter, who can you trust?

While on snopes.com, I also learned that, no, you are not going to wake up in a bathtub full of ice, missing a kidney; no, Mr. Rogers was not actually a Vietnam War sharpshooter with 150 kills under his belt; and no, thousands of baby spiders are not going to erupt from the cactus you keep as a houseplant (though I will never own a cactus, just in case). On the other hand, there actually have been numerous confirmed reports of hotel guests complaining of a bad smell, and ultimately discovering a dead body under their bed.

I know it goes against the basic rules of social media, but I’m going to say it anyway: Do your Facebook friends a favor and check your facts before you share. The truth is frightening enough.

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