If your email experience is anything like ours, you probably get five to 10 forwarded emails a week promising something for free, or proclaiming something that sounds insane (likely forwarded by a distant relative with whom you rarely have any other interaction).
Urban legends are, well, bizarre. And when we get wind of one, our go-to move is a swift visit to the excellent Snopes.com to get the facts.
Among Snopes' "top 25 hottest urban legends" right now, three that related to public companies stood out:
Poor Target. Its company policy is not to give out cash donations to local groups or charities, and it took a beating when one member of an Indiana Vietnam Veterans organization was rebuffed when he requested a $100 sponsorship for a travelling Vietnam Veterans' Memorial Wall exhibit. The member, Dick Forrey, wrote an, ahem, pointed letter to his organization, which was then, at his request, forwarded all across the land. Once the dust had settled, Forrey issued a letter of apology, Target made a statement of clarification on its policies, and both sides have moved on.
Variations of this story have existed for years, according to Snopes, but it seems to have stuck to Wal-Mart. Here's the alleged fraud: Cashiers somehow secretly charge a shopper for the "cash back" option, don't tell said shopper, and keep the cash. Upon investigation, though, Snopes says "cashiers had no method of initiating cash back transactions on their own." Could it happen? Sure. Is it a widespread, email-your-friends-about-it fraud? Nope.
Claim: Free laptops from Sony Ericcson! Snopes smackdown: False.
This claim should be familiar to anyone with an email account: Company X is giving away free copies of Y, if only you forward this email to Z friends within 24 hours. In this case, the email says that Sony Ericcson -- the 50/50 joint venture between Sony
The takeaways? There are two: First, bookmark Snopes.com. And second, let this serve as a reminder that the democratization of information that the Internet has provided cuts both ways. It opens up data that was previously available for costly subscriptions or in faraway libraries. But it also spreads misinformation or half-truths in a dangerous way. As you research stocks or make other money decisions using the Web, it's worth keeping that in mind.
Finally, we want to leave you with one urban legend that isn't false. Snopes highlights Xerox
Got a favorite urban legend? Let us hear it in the comments section below.