Government Hoaxes

© 2002 by Walt Howe
(last revised 7 February 2002)

The Federal Government provides a rich breeding ground for hoaxes. We are willing to believe all sorts of things about the government, and the hoaxers take full advantage of it.

Postage for E-Mail. The notorious bill 602P going through Congress, sponsored by Congressman Schnell, will impose 5 cent postage on every e-mail message. The US Postal Service, seeing diminishing returns as a result of e-mail is lobbying to impose this tax to balance their budget. Or at least that is what a frequently circulated chain letter is claiming.

There is no bill 602P (Congressional bills are not numbered that way) and there is no Congressman Schnell. But the chain letter pops up so often that there is a USPS disclaimer on their own web site.

There is also a Canadian version of the same hoax.

FCC to Ban "Touched by an Angel". This is a variation of a 25 year old hoax circulated by a chain letter. Supposedly, the FCC was going to ban all forms of religious programming, because it violates the separation of Church and State. The FCC has no such powers, and it vigorously denied it way back then.

The Modem Tax. Warnings are often issued that the FCC is about to impose a modem tax on individuals. Variations of this have been circulated for years, always urging you to write the FCC or your congressman and tell everyone you know. Surprisingly, this was partially true for a while in 1997. The FCC did consider per minute modem charges on Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and entertained comments by e-mail. The issue was concluded in May 1997 with no new charges. It popped up again in 1998 and 1999 when someone apparently changed a date asking for comments by February 1997 and sent it around again with a current date instead. The FCC responded by posting the correct information in their THE FCC, INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDERS, AND ACCESS CHARGES page.

Taxes on E-Commerce. The subject of taxes on Internet commerce does repeatedly come up in Congress. Before you spread rumors, realize that most of them are false. Inform yourself before spreading any stories. One of the giveaways that it is a hoax is the frequently used address or similar addresses in Congress. This is a legitimate address to communicate with your representative in Congress, but the hoaxes usually imply that the address was set up for you to communicate on that issue alone.

The lesson to be learned here is to never pass along a scare story without checking the facts first.

Veterans Benefit Payments. Another hoax that goes back about 30 years, but refuses to die is that Congress "recently" passed a bill authorizing cash payments for dividends on military insurance (SGLI or VGLI), and all veterans are eligible to apply for it. The truth is that a special dividend was voted in 1948 for WW II veterans who held National Service Life Insurance, but it does not apply to anyone today. Congress formally killed that program in 1970. SGLI and VGLI are group policies and pay no dividends. There are some VA active policies of other types that do pay dividends, but those are automatic, and no application is necessary. [see source]

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Summary: Hoax Detection

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