URBAN MYTHS - COLLECTING CRISPS PACKETS, RING PULLS, BOTTLE TOPS AND RELATED HOAXES
(CASH FOR TRASH, COLLECTION HOAXES & CARDS FOR BUDDY HOAXES)
These hoaxes, asking people to collect huge numbers of worthless items, are also known as "cash for trash" hoaxes. Similar hoaxes ask people to send cards to a dying child; these are known as "cards for Buddy" hoaxes. The aim of the hoax is to get large numbers of people to collect huge numbers of lightweight, worthless items such as empty wrappers or bottle tops. Collctors spend a lot of time and effort appealing for, collecting, counting and weighing the items. When the collectors have the requisite amount (tens of thousands or a target weight) they attempt to send them to the supposed good cause, only to learn that there is no appeal to get a kidney dialysis machine, life-saving operation or a wheelchair for a sick person. If you have variations on the collecting crisp packets, bottle tops or ring pulls hoaxes (or want to own up to being taken in by these hoaxes), you're welcome to email The Dragonqueen (remember to replace the [nospam] with an "@" sign)
Walkers Crisp Packets for Seriously Ill Child
Margarine Tub Lids Hoax
According to an article in The Oroville Mercury Register in 2006, people used to save all sorts of oddments (string, foil, etc) that might come in useful later on. in addition to this, "Another strange form of saving stemmed from a kind of misguided philanthropy. I have no idea how the myth got started, but a lot of people believed that if you saved enough cigarette packs, cigar wrappers or coffee can lids, you could obtain a variety of devices needed by handicapped people. Fifty thousand empty cigarette packs would fetch a hospital bed; 10,000 cigar wrappers would get you a wheelchair."
Pinning down early hoaxes can be hard as most left no record in print so we have to rely on personal recollections. From oral accounts, cash-for-trash hoaxes were particularly prevalent during periods of economic hardship, for example the 1930s Depression in the USA, when people wanted to believe that several thousand cigarette wrappers would buy an iron lung for someone even needier than them. During the 1970s global depression (the oil crisis and, in the UK, the three-day week), there were hoax collections of pull-rings to buy equipment for the Billericay Burns Unit.
In "Hoaxes" by Curtis D MacDougall (1940, 1958), the author documents a cash-for-trash hoax. "A stranger told Earl Baker, 11, of Coatesville, Pa., that he could obtain an artificial leg by collecting 50,000 match box covers. Later Earl, who lost his leg when he took a dare to hop a moving freight train, learned it was a hoax. Sympathetic neighbors took up a collection to buy him an artificial substitute."
COLLECTING WALKERS CRISP PACKETS HOAX
Walkers became associated with a long-running hoax about collecting food wrappers which could be exchanged for medical equipment. The Walkers Crisp Packet Collection hoax became so well known that it was parodied by Walkers in their Gary Lineker "No More Mr Nice Guy" series of ads. In the ad (ca. 2000) schoolteacher Lineker exhorted his class to bring in Walkers crisp packets - the catch being that the packets had to be full for the crisp-munching teacher. If you're reading this because you are have been taken in, Walkers ask hoax victims to dispose of the collected wrappers in an environmentally friendly way. Perhaps Walkers could perform an act of goodwill by printing a hoax warning on their packets. Warnings about the hoax have been published in ScoutBase (Scouts online magazine) as Scouts and similar organisations are popular targets for the hoax. In some cases, hoax victims had received a phone call from individuals claiming (falsely) to be Walkers Snack Foods representatives.
An early documented Walkers hoax appeared in a Lancashire newspaper "The Star" in October 2001. Youngsters from the Broncobusters Western Line Dance team collected the packets after hearing of a campaign to raise money to buy a dialysis machine for a little girl with kidney disease. They simply had to eat the equivalent of the girl's weight in Walkers Crisps and send the empty packets as evidence. They involved local schools and supermarkets in their efforts before learning from Walkers that it was a hoax. The Broncobusters organiser dubbed it a cruel hoax by a sick minded person. However, these hoaxes are at least 30 years old and anyone with a grain of common sense should have checked with the supposed benefactor before collecting packets!
In October 2001, police officers in Plumstead, London collected on behalf of a boy suffering from leukaemia. If they collected the child's bodyweight (6 stone) in crisp packets, Walkers would pay for his treatment in the USA. Suspicions were aroused because a policeman's wife was a school teacher who was collecting Walkers packets for a different sick child. Walkers confirmed that both collections were hoaxes. In 2002, Barming School, Kent were taken in by the Walkers hoax. Their February 2002 newsletter read "We will be collecting crisp packets again this year - but for two separate reasons! This year, we are not only collecting the corners for the Books for Schools promotion, but we would also like the rest of the packet in aid of a 12 year old leukaemia sufferer who has been promised, by Walkers, that if she collects her own weight in crisp packets, they will fund a trip to America for a life-saving operation."
March 2002: Kineton Playgroup (Warkwickshire) announced "Can you please not cut out the tokens from the crisp packets; we would like the ‘whole’ bag (empty!). Walkers are now going to pay for an operation for someone if he can collect his total weight in Walkers crisp packets – so please keep saving the packets and put them in to the collecting box." In May 2002, Poole Ambulance Station, Dorset collected crisp packets to buy a dialysis machine for a 9 year-old girl in Corfe Mullen. Posters were put up around the area and were sent to the local Echo newspaper. Echo staff contacted Walkers for more details and had to advise Poole Ambulance station that it was a hoax. Walkers' responded "It has been brought to our attention that people have been asked to collect Walkers Crisps packets to raise charitable funds for a case involving a child with a serious illness. Walkers Snack Foods extends every sympathy to the people who have collected empty packets. Although Walkers does participate in a number of charitable fund-raising schemes, the company wishes to emphasise that at no time has it been asked to provide support for these cases, nor has it agreed to do so."
In 2003, a colleague insisted that Walkers would apparently fund expensive medical treatment for a seriously ill girl if his local school collected the girl's weight in crisp wrappers. No-one knew who or where the girl was, what the medical condition was, which hospital was providing the treatment or even how much she weighed! It was, apparently, okay to clip off the Books For Schools vouchers from the packets - yet there was no 2003 Books For Schools collection as Walkers were supporting Comic Relief instead. It took 2 weeks and a phone call to Walkers for the colleague to accept it was a hoax which he dubbed "malicious". In the previous few years, other well-meaning, but gullible, souls (including local branches of charitable organisations) had been gulled by the story. Some even had large collections of crisp packets and only discovered the hoax when they phoned to ask where to send them.
The following response was received from Walkers Consumer Care Team on Friday, 16 May 2003 and similar appears on their website: We have been made aware of a situation in which consumers have been requested to collect Walkers crisp packets to raise funds for various causes, usually involving a seriously ill child. In virtually all cases the people concerned had no knowledge of this initiative, nor did they want to be associated with it. We regret to advise you that this is a hoax and has been started without our prior knowledge or consent and is not endorsed by the company. Walkers Snack Foods does donate money to a number of charities on a regular basis. We are extremely alarmed to hear that people are being misled and that our name has been linked to such a cruel hoax. Please accept our sincere apologies for the time and trouble you may have donated to this charitable work. We would welcome any further information you may have and would be grateful if you could contact us on our Freephone number. Thank you for your support in this important matter.
In Sept 2003 the Daily Mirror reported that a council official in Gloucester had received an email saying that Walkers would pay for treatment of a child born without an arm if children sent in the child's birth-weight (3.3 kg) in empty crisp packets. The email was forwarded to 310 local schools. Parents, children and teachers filled several dustbin sacks with empties before discovering it was a hoax. A school principal apparently said he found it "reprehensible that anyone could play such a trick on children." Personally, I find it unbelievable that not one of the 310 schools was aware of this long running hoax especially with the resources of the web at their fingertips. The continuing success of this venerable hoax is a testament to human gullibility rather than to human goodness.
In 2003, a 9 year old and his friends at Brakenhale School in Bracknell, Berkshire beat their previous record for collecting Walkers crisp packets in the belief that Walkers would donate money to fund an operation for a child in need. Evidently they had not checked with Walkers on either occasion. Milverton House School, Nuneaton, was fooled in June 2003 when a year 5 student thought he was helping a local, very poorly young girl by putting a collecting box at the school reception in order to collect 150,000 Walkers crisp packets, which would enable her to travel to America to receive necessary treatment. Rather than checking with Walkers or asking for more details, the school announced that they were pleased to support his collection and the little girl.
During 2004 I recently received news of a shopkeeper's joke based on the myth/hoax about collecting Walkers Crisp packets to get someone a life-saving operation. A poster in a convenience store invited customers to return their empty crisp packets to aid a local man who had lost his arm in a motorcycle accident - if he collected the arm's weight in crisp packets, Walkers would buy him a new arm! Unfortunately I have no details as to whether any gullible souls fell for this tongue-in-cheek version.
How can you avoid being hoaxed by the crisp wrapper scheme? There are obvious clues in this sort of hoax: the child's name and illness are usually not stated; the target weight or quantity is not stated. Phone Walkers Consumer line or visit their website. Find out which organisation is supposedly co-ordinating the collection and ask if they have contacted Walkers (most people assume someone else has checked it out!). If you can't track down the co-ordinator because the crisp packets are being passed from one individual to another then it is a hoax. The person at the end of the chain will end up with a garage full of boxes and bags of worthless crisp packets and no-one to give them to. These hoaxes stay in circulation because people don't bother to check details.
ALUMINIUM RING PULLS FOR KIDNEY DIALYSIS
COCA COLA BOTTLE TOPS FOR CHEMOTHERAPY
RING PULLS FOR WHEELCHAIRS
These very similar hoaxes have been circulating since at least the 1960s. In 1976 the first form pupils of Chelmsford County High School collected ring pulls (AKA "pull tabs" and largely replaced by "push tabs") for the Billericay Burns Unit. In 1983 fifth form pupils at the same school collected CocaCola™ bottle tops for a kidney dialysis machine. Unlike the Walkers Crisp Packets Hoax, these long-running rumours (and sometimes deliberate hoaxes) are found in the UK and USA. Once one school or society starts collecting, the word spreads via children, parents and colleagues and soon other schools, churches, companies and stores also start collecting. Only when someone contacts the Coca Cola (or whichever company is named in the variation) do they learn it is a hoax. Unfortunately, some people have collected these items for over a year before learning that they have been hoaxed.
Ring pulls are no more valuable than any other piece of scrap aluminium. Even if you collect tens of thousands, they can only be sold by weight to a scrap metal merchant - you'd be better off throwing the pull ring away and collecting the can instead. Metal recycling companies often get abuse from people who believe their ring pulls or bottle tops are especially valuable or will pay for medical treatment or equipment. Some scrap merchants have resorted to producing leaflets (sent to schools or clubs) or news items in local papers when they hear of such collections. In the USA, one firm encouraged people to collect whole cans, not just the ring pulls, and other scrap aluminium (e.g. "tin foil") or even ordianry steel food cans; the normal scrap metal value of cans would then be donated to a kidney charity. In the UK, steel and aluminium cans are collected in doorstep recycling schemes.
In 1987, USA McDonald's provided in-store drop-off points for ring pulls. This allowed people to dump their ring pull collections in a constructive manner - the metal was sold at scrap metal rates and the money helps fund "Ronald McDonald Houses" (affordable temporary family lodgings close to children's hospitals).
In Spring 1997, a Canadian news story about a crippled child in a remote community (2,500 miles north of Montreal) resulted in the rumour that if people collected 8 million ring pulls, the girl would get a wheelchair. One million ring pulls later, the community's health clinic realised they had a mountain of ring pulls, but no buyer and no way to transport the collection to a recycling centre. Everyone involved had assumed there was a programme of "ring pulls for wheelchairs". Various charity groups, scrap metal merchants and the aluminium industry had already turned away other well-meaning pull ring collectors. In this case the Royal Canadian Legion arranged transportation of the ring pulls to a recycling centre, a well-wisher donated a second-hand wheelchair and Air Canada shipped the donated chair for free.
Another instance comes from the Australian Cerebral Palsy League of Queensland. Carlton United Breweries made a one-off goodwill donation of a "Growing Scout" wheelchair to League client, Molly McGrath, whose family and community spent two years collecting beer bottle tops after hearing a rumour that the brewery would donate a wheelchair to families who collected enough bottle tops to equal the weight of that chair. The McGraths collected four dustbin sacks of bottle tops and called the brewery to claim their prize. Only then did they learn it was a hoax.
In January 2009, it was reported that an elderly couple trekked along miles of road in Cabin John, Potomac and Seneca each week, picking up discarded cans and bottles for recycling. They kept the pull-tabs because they'd heard these could be traded to give a kidney patient time on a dialysis machine. By Jan 2009, they contacted the National Kidney Foundation to trade in their 4 gallon-containers full of pull-tabs - only to learn that there was no such scheme. According to the National Kidney Foundation of the National Capital Area, the pull-tab hoax has been in circulation since the 1970s and got a new lease of life via the Internet.
The 2008/2009 economic crisis, combined with the long-standing cash-for-trash rumours, means the Montgomery Scrap Corporation were receiving around 20 calls per week from people who had been led to believe a gallon container of pull tabs could be traded in for $600 - $1,000. In fact they were worth around 20 cents per pound at the time due to low scrap metal prices. Part of the myth is that pull-tabs are "pure aluminum" and more valuable than the can. In fact the can and the tabs are made from the same material and the collectors would do better to collect the whole can for recycling! In Bethesda, USA, Pull Tabs for Charity (in association with The Montgomery Scrap Corporation will accept the unwanted pull-tabs; proceeds from recycling (by scrap metal weight) go to the Ronald McDonald House and the National Cancer Institute.
There are no schemes where ring pulls or bottle tops can be exchanged for wheelchairs or for kidney dialysis session or dialysis machines. These are hoaxes or rumours. Bottle tops and ring pulls are not worth a premium - all you will get is the scrap value based on the weight of metal you collect. You will get far more money if you collect the whole cans. Make sure you sort cans into aluminium (non-magnetic) and steel (magnetic); before you even start collecting cans arrange to sell it by weight to your local scrap metal centre.
There have been genuine "Caps for Charity " collections in Malysia, Thailand and Singapore. The high grade aluminium caps from BRAND'S Essence of Chicken and from ring pulls/push tabs has been collected for recycling into artificial limbs, walking frames and crutches by the Prosthesis Foundation (Thailand). This cmpaign was supported by a TV and poster adverts.
During 2005 and 2006 churches, schools and organisations in Melbourne, Australia collected ring pulls from aluminium cans in the mistaken belief that the pulls were made of, or contained, titanium. The hoax claimed that the “titanium ring pulls” could be melted down to make wheelchairs in Australia or prosthetic limbs in some third world countries, most often Cambodia. Titanium is a valuable metal and is not used for ring pulls on low value items such as drinks cans.
Some clubs who collect ring pulls in are still caught out when they fail to check facts before starting up ring pull collections. Claims that titanium could be extracted from ring pulls has been extensively denied in printed media and on the radio. In Thailand, ring pulls are not used to make artificial limbs, but to make part of the “knee” joint in prosthetics. Thailand’s ring pull recycling project is co-ordinated by Doctor Therdchai Jivcate and the Thai Royal Family. The ring pull recycling project has never been based in Cambodia and Thailand don’t need overseas donations of ring pulls (donations of money to fund rural clinics for amputees are more useful). Rotary clubs in Australia collect ring pulls to sell as scrap aluminium. In Australia, plenty of organisations already collect drinks cans for recycling while plenty of others end up with piles of ring pulls after being hoaxed. Recycling businesses in South Australia paid a little under Aus$2 per kilo of aluminium ring pulls. The money raised is sent to Thailand to help its prosthetic limb project.
In Western Australia, the organisation “Wheelchairs for Kids” has supplied “a considerable number” of wheelchairs funded by collecting scrap aluminium for recycling – not just ring pulls or drinks cans, but also old aluminium window frames and industrial scrap. About 276,000 ring pulls sold at Aus$1 per kilo would be needed to raise $100 towards a wheelchair. Many schools supporting Wheelchairs for Kids collect only the ring pulls as they are less bulky than whole drinks cans. The only collection point was at Wangara, Western Australia. Because it is not economical to send aluminium to the organisation by post, they asked that it is sold to a local scrap metal merchant and a cheque should be sent instead. "Technical Aid to the Disabled" in Queensland also accept ringpulls to be melted down and added to the manufacture of wheelchairs, artificial limbs and other technical aids. Seven kilograms of ringpulls go into each wheelchair.
Ring pulls for drinks cans are NOT made from titanium, they are made from aluminium. They are not melted down to make wheelchairs, they are sold by the kilo to scrap metal dealers and the proceeds are used to fund various projects.
How can you avoid being hoaxed by the ring pull or bottle top scheme? Phone the consumer line of drinks companies whose ring pulls of bottle tops you plan to collect or visit their website. Phone the hospital that the collection is in aid of. Find out which company or charity is supposedly sponsoring or co-ordinating the collection and ask if they have contacted the drinks company. If you can't track down the company or charity because the ring pulls or bottle tops are being passed from one individual to another then it is a hoax. The person at the end of the chain will end up with a garage full of boxes and bags of metal that is worth only its scrap value and no-one to give them to. Check the details and stop these hoaxes from wasting people's time.
PLASTIC BOTTLE TOPS FOR WHEELCHAIRS
PLASTIC BOTTLE TOPS FOR CHEMOTHERAPY
In 2003 and 2004, "plastic bottle tops for wheelchairs" hoaxes hit the UK. In the 1950s/1960s, milk was sold in glass bottles and the washed foil milk bottle tops were collected by schools, sold by weight and the money donated to get a guide dog or a wheelchair. Hence "milk bottle tops" are associated with collections for good causes. Much milk is now sold in plastic bottles; the bottles can be recycled, though many recycling companies ask that the lids be removed. All over the UK, schools, churches, clubs, websites and well-meaning people appealed for plastic bottle tops. During 2004 I was contacted by several visitors to this webpage who believed that I was collecting plastic bottle tops! They were struggling to find the company or charity that would exchange their bottle top collections for disability equipment and wanted to know which company I was trading my bottle tops with! Here is a big free clue - if the child, the disability, the company and the weight are not identified, it is a hoax.
The company alleged to redeem the plastic bottle tops is variously "a dairy", "a plastics company" or a charity such as The Children's Society. Products targeted include Lucozade (GlaxoSmithKline), Dairy Crest (milk), the Milk Marketing Board (milk) and Evian (mineral water). These companies are not redeeming milk bottle tops for wheelchairs. The recipients of the wheelchair (sometimes an artificial limb) are variously claimed to be a child, a young boy/girl, a disabled lady or local man. Versions include "green plastic milk bottle tops", "plastic screw -on tops from pop bottles", "shampoo bottle tops", "bottle tops and jar lids" through to "all plastic bottle tops, any colour". Some tie this in with the need to remove the plastic lids when sending bottles for recycling. During 2004, British Member of Parliament Kerry Pollard congratulated a child at the Francis Bacon school who wanted 30,000 plastic bottle tops for charity to buy a wheelchair for a lady at a local church. He actually collected 90,000 bottle tops, supposedly enough for 3 wheelchairs. Lots of people with bags of unwanted bottle tops wanted to know where Kerry Pollard's constituent's bottle tops went and have contacted the MP for further information. An email to Kerry Pollard MP gets the standard reply "Unfortunately extensive enquiries by constituency office staff have resulted in no possible outlet for plastic bottle tops".
The UK environment group "Waste Watch" states there are no groups accepting plastic bottle tops for for wheelchairs or other items of accessibility equipment. Anyone hearing of such a scheme at a school etc should contact the recipient company direct to make 100% certain that they accept bottle tops. Some plastics reculers will accept bottle tops in bulk. The Rose Road Association in Southampton may still collect bottle tops. Waste Watch was aware of only one scheme accepting bottle tops - a scheme in France that only accepted bottle tops from certain French products and would not accept bottle tops from the UK. According to Recoup Recycling, the scheme's operators, Bouchons D'Amour, say that the collections are not economically viable in the UK (some groups have apparently transported bulk quantities to France in hired vans, but I have no verification or further details of this). In Germany, and some other continental countries, bottle top recycling is possible because of the huge quantities involved. The UK collects around 15,000 tonnes of recyclable plastic from households compared to 600,000 tonnes in Germany. There are no UK schemes collecting bottle tops for wheelchairs (Sept 2004).
According to Steve Webb of the waste and recycling group Waste Watch "We have had quite a lot of people that have collected them and tried to cash them in but didn't find anywhere to take them. The plastic involved is of low grade anyway and is more or less worthless compared with other plastics." In Sept 2004, the British Plastics Federation added "The recycling industry runs on a tonnage basis. You would need something like 100,000 bottle tops to make a tonne. If they could be all got together in one place they might be worth £50 a tonne as scrap but it would be difficult." One bottle top weighs 1 gramme. GHS Recycling in Portsmouth now accepts bags of plastic (polyethylene) milk bottle tops (no other types of top) and keep the details on file until it adds up to 500 kgs which means £25. They have a number of accounts for different groups across the south of England collecting to raise cash for several different charities. They produce a newsletter called Bottle Top News which lists collection sites. GHS previously recycled tops collected by Naomi House Children's Hospice in Winchester, raising around £4,000. The plastic tops are granulated and sold on to a reprocessor in the Midlands. In contrast, Smile Plastics in Shropshire was sceptical about the feasibility of bottle top collections as it takes 100,000 bottle tops to make a tonne; smaller quantities are uneconomical to reprocess. While they might give smaller quantities a trial (e.g. 50 kilos) they would not be prepared to pay for it. Collectors should note that this is strictly on a weight basis and not in exchange for wheelchairs or any other mobility aid. A tonne = 100,000 bottle tops, which must be a single type of plastic. Most recycling companies will not work with smaller quantities. Some may not accept bottle tops at all. Make definite arrangements with a recycling company before collecting bottle tops and expect only moderate (if any) returns for your efforts.
The "bottle caps for artificial limbs" variant may be related to "Caps for Charity " collections in Thailand and Singapore between 1999 and 2001. Cerebos, the manufacturer of BRAND'S Essence of Chicken, asked customers to collect the lids from its bottles, so that the aluminium could be recycled into artificial limbs, walking frames and crutches. In 1999 and 2000, BRAND'S, Thailand, campaigned to collect and recycle used aluminium bottle-caps from its products. These were sent to the Prosthesis Foundation which had previously collected aluminium ring-pulls. The BRAND'S campaign was televised and publicised on posters. It collected 2.7 tonnes of aluminium (enough to make parts for 20,000 artificial limbs) and 4 million Thai baht in cash donations. In 2001, collecting points were set up in busy areas of Singapore; the lids were sent to Thailand for recycling. Thailand apparently has a high rate of lost limbs due to moped accidents and to landmines along its border. BRAND'S bottle caps contain a high grade of aluminium suitable for recycling.
The bodies of aluminium drinks cans are generally made from Al AA3104 alloy, while the tops (which includes the ring pull/push tab) are made from the slightly harder Al AA5182 alloy. The lids of Brands jars are also made from the harder alloy. The aluminium alloys have different quantities of Manganese and Magnesium (Alu Select provides a wealth of information on aluminium alloys). The Prosthesis Foundation of Thailand has used Brands lids and other recyclable stuff to make artificial legs for amputees in Thailand and Malaysia for over a decade. In Malaysia, some girl guides groups collect the lids to send to neighbouring Thailand. According to the "News from Myanmar" section of 2bangkok.com (in 2006), a Chiang Mai based foundation, in conjunction with the Medical Science University of Chiang Mai University collected the pulls/tabs and Brands lids to make artificial limbs for Cambodians. The reason given for not accepting whole cans was the lack of metal-shredding facilities and inability to deal with the bulky cans. Around the same time, a Taiwanese Buddhist organisation, Tse Chi, supposedly offered a free dialysis for every kilo they received (I have not been able to verify this).
An early example of the plastic tops hoax is from New Zealand in November 2001. Eleven year old Ashleigh McLellan collected more than 9,000 milk bottle rings over 6 weeks before learning it was a hoax. She thought she was raising money for an electric wheelchair for a Dunedin youngster. Luckily designer Eileen Worling was able to turn many of the bottle tops and bottle rings into the "Plastic Hoax" costume for the Alexandra-Dunstan Lions Wearable Arts competition in which it won the "best use of recycled material" category. Somehow, the hoax has migrated from NZ to Britain. There are no reports of plastic tops collections from the USA/Canada. The earliest version I've found of the plastic bottle top hoax in Britain is June 2003.
In 2003, a group of sportswomen collected plastic Evian bottle tops to provide sports wheelchairs for disabled athletes throughout their European golf tour. The tops were destined for a French plastics company to be melted down and made into wheels for the wheelchairs. This may have referred to the Bouchons D'Amour scheme. Mineral Water bottle tops were also collected by a British athlete at the Athens Olympics in 2004 in aid of "sports wheelchairs". Tanni Grey Thompson's bottle top collection during the Olympics and Paralympics was allegedly sponsored by a greek water company. In the Olympic Village, athletes, officials and volunteers could donate clothes to UNHCR and were urged to collect plastic tops as a group was collecting them to raise money for wheelchairs for poorer parts of the world; apparently 3,500 bottle tops makes one wheelchair in these countries. Again, if this was genuine it referred to schemes that only operate in continental Europe and not in the UK. Unfortunately, it also gave credence to the many hoaxes operating in the UK.
Undated: A curling club member claimed that a friend knew of a child who needed a new electric wheelchair and who had an agreement with Lucozade. If the child collected his own weight in Lucozade bottle tops, Lucozade would buy him a wheelchair. A typical "friend of a friend" chain with no details about the child or the target weight and no-one had checked with the company who were supposedly paying for the wheelchair. Several companies have bottle top collections in company canteens in aid of a wheelchair; all began by word of mouth e.g. a manager had been told by one of the apprentices (a typical "friend of a friend" chain) that "a dairy" (not named) would donate a wheelchair to "a disabled child" (not named) if the child's weight (not given!) could be matched in milk bottle tops.
2003: Ysgol Gynradd, Llandeilo Primary School, Wales: plastic milk bottle tops, any colour, for motorised wheelchair. Castlederg, Northern Ireland: person's weight in plastic bottle tops or jam jar tops for a wheelchair for a disabled lady in Newtownstewart. Aldershot/Guildford Area: local parish appeal for bottle tops (from jam jars, sauce bottles, milk containers) for a wheelchair for a young friend of a grandson of one of the members. Loughborough Scout and Guide Club: bottle tops for wheelchair. South Molton Methodist Circuit: plastic milk bottle tops (any colour) for a Hampshire girl's wheelchair. Bratton Fleming Primary School, Devon: one ton of plastic milk bottle tops for girl's wheelchair. St Tudy Methodist Church, Michaelstow: plastic milk bottle tops for Launceston man's wheelchair. Bath University Students Union: plastic milk bottle tops for wheelchair for "a Bath university student's mother". Water Leys School, Leics: plastic milk bottle tops for wheelchair. Eckington Primary School, Worcs: boy's weight (unspecified) in plastic milk/squash bottle tops for powered wheelchair - the newsletter said the bottle tops would be recycled along with similar plastics, which begs the question of "why not collect the whole plastic bottle?".
2004: Group in Bury, Lancs: girl's weight (unspecified) in screw on pop (fizzy drink) bottle tops, any brand, for free wheelchair; the appeal organiser stated that 4 screw-on tops weigh under 10 grams. Church in Falkirk, Scotland: plastic tops for electric wheelchair. University of Central England, Birmingham: staff member from the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences: bottle tops "for charity" - an (unidentified) plastics company would buy a special wheelchair if a young girl with cerebral palsy collected twice her body weight (not given) in plastic bottle tops. Blagdon Parish Magazine: plastic bottle tops for wheelchair. Newport Pagnell: free special wheelchair for disabled lady if twice its weight (not given) is collected in plastic tops. Alverstoke Junior School, Portsmouth: plastic milk bottle tops collection on behalf of special needs playgroup in Portsmouth because a local dairy (not identified) would donate a wheelchair if they collect "enough" bottle tops. South Leith Kirk, Scotland: dairy (unnamed) to provide child's wheelchair in return for child's weight in screw-on milk bottle tops for recycling.
2004 (cont): Royal Alexandra & Albert Boarding School: pupil's mother wants 7,500 bottle tops, jar tops, Pringles tops, etc for wheelchair for local lady. Newry Democrat, Ireland: plastic milk bottle tops for disabled child's wheelchair. St Joachim & St Anne's Catholic Church and Pennyland Primary School, Caithness: green milk bottle tops for child's wheelchair. Bangor University Canoe Club: person's weight in plastic bottle tops for free wheelchair. St Edmund Campion Parish, Maidenhead: young man's weight in plastic screw-tops e.g. coke, shampoo etc for wheelchair. Seamer and Irton Community Primary School and Graham School, Scarborough, North Yorks: pupil collecting milk bottle tops because a company (not named) had pledged to buy a young boy an 'all singing, all dancing' wheelchair if he collected his weight (not specified) in plastic tops. Fairview Farm Nursery, Horsford, Norfolk: left with bags of worthless bottle tops after learning that several months' effort was due to a hoax. East Anglian Air Ambulance had collected milk bottle tops in the past, but were now looking to other ways to fundraise. Southmead Hospital, Bristol had a bottle top collection in the canteen to get a wheelchair for "somebody's mother's friend". In Sept 2004, Eastern Daily Press ran an article about the bottle top scam after hundreds of schools, offices and homes across Norfolk were left with thousands of worthless milk bottle tops due to word of mouth appeals. ("Scam" in the sense of "fraudulent" even though no cash is involved)
South Tawton County Primary School, Devon spent several months collecting plastic milk bottle tops for a "wheelchair provision scheme" and took several sacks full of plastic tops to the local Lions Club. They claim that one child had already received a wheelchair, but gave no details (a white lie so as not to disappoint children?) and are still collecting! Several collectors have announced a "bottle top appeal closing date" to halt the flow. St Mary’s School, Cornwall: staff asked for no further plastic tops as they have already funded a child's wheelchair through a recycling company. Surely if they've funded one, they can fund another? Or is this a white lie to avoid hurting people's feelings? Meanwhile, a school in Rutland is still collecting the weight of a wheelchair in plastic milk bottle tops ....
The hoax has now gone full circle back to New Zealand. According to the New Zealand Herald in December 2004, churchgoers, service club members, hospital staff/visitors and other people in Palmerston North including Palmerston North Hospital were duped into collecting thousands of plastic milk top rings as a result of "an Internet hoax". For almost 4 months, they collected plastic rings in the belief that they would be swapped for wheelchairs at Auckland's Starship Children's Hospital. The collection began when a hospital worker apparently saw the bogus scheme advertised on the Internet. It ran for three to four months before being uncovered as a hoax during November 2004.
In 2005, Villiers School's newsletter stated they had been hoaxed into collecting bottle tops that Lucozade would exchange for a wheelchair. Lucozade contacted them to say there was no such scheme. Not so much as cruel hoax (as claimed) as naivete and failure to check.
In 2007, near Llandudno, North Wales, the plastic milk tops hoax spread among Carers who believed they were for Wales Air Ambulance. Wales Air Ambulance had received several telephone calls and had no idea how and why the rumour started that they were collecting them (possibly based on East Anglian Air Ambulance, who had discontinued collecting milk bottle tops?). They told callers that they’d found – on the internet - somewhere in the South collecting them for children’s wheelchairs (probably also a hoax).
In October 2008, the wheelchair bottle-top hoax caught out two women in Sunderland who had collected 26 bin-bags of bottle tops over 5 months. They'd learnt of the "scheme" to collect 1 million bottle tops for a wheelchair from a woman in The Galleries Shopping Centre, Washington. This woman collected 15 bin bags of bottle tops from them in June, but she could not be contacted by phone or email since then (having probably discovered it was a hoax).
2010: US military personnel at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan were fooled into collecting several thousand bottle caps to be recycled for prosthetic limbs (in parts of Asia, aluminium jar caps have legitimately been collected for this purpose). With no-one knowing where to ship the bottle caps, the collection was investigated by Lt Col Thomas Rodrigues (judge advocate general of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing). He contacted the largest prosthetic limb manufacturer in the USA and found that they did not recycle (or want) bottle caps; these could not be turned into prosthetic limbs or used to fund prosthetic limbs. Rodrigues found that no one on the airbase knew who the beneficiary was or what to do with the collected caps. Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, Inc's PR dept advise that artificial limbs for military personnel are state-of-the-art and do not use recycled bottle caps.
In Japan, plastic bottle caps are recycled by a non-profit organisation "The Ecocap Movement" based in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture. The Ecocap Movement began in 2007 and collects and sells plastic bottle caps for recycling, donating the sales profits for children's vaccines. It began when some high school girls in in Kanagawa Prefecture decided that throwing the caps away was wasteful (they possibly knew of the long-running hoax collections). Used bottle caps are collected by schools, community associations and companies and taken to designated collection places. When enough are collected, those collection points take them to The Ecocap Movement office who sell them to recyclers. The money is donated to the Japan Committee for Vaccines for the World's Children (JCV). By July 1, 2009, 589 million caps had been collected. 800 plastic bottle caps earn 20 yen, roughly the price of a single polio vaccination. Japan uses a massive number of plastic bottles. Because the bottles and the caps are made from different plastics they cannot be recycled together. Japan segregates waste into that which can be incinerated and that which can't can't (due to CO2 or dioxin emissions). When collected and recycled, the hard plastic from the caps can be used in concrete panels, ballpoint pens, and chopsticks. It's a nice way of turning a long-running hoax to doing some good, but what about all those plastic bottles that could be recycled?
How can you avoid being hoaxed by the plastic bottle top scheme? These hoaxes spread by word of mouth. Find out which company or charity is supposedly giving the wheelchair - contact that company or charity. If you can't track down the company or charity because the bottle tops are being passed from one individual to another, then it is a hoax. The person at the end of the chain will end up with a garage full of boxes and bags of worthless bottle tops and no-one to give them to. Plastic bottle tops are worth about £50 per tonne if you can find a recycling company willing to accept them (and if you can collect a tonne). These hoaxes stay in circulation because people don't bother to check details.
PLASTIC BOTTLE CAPS FOR CHEMO (2008)
Caps For Chemo is a widespread and still-spreading bottle cap collecting hoax with dozens of people in denial about it being a hoax. No-one was certain of the identity, age of gender of the child who would supposedly benefit from the collection. Details of the quantity of caps required were equally vague: 1000 caps per treatment; 1500 per treatment; one minute per plastic cap or one minute per ten/fifty/hundred caps. Various hospitals were named, but all denied any involvement and some were collecting and passing on caps to some other hospital. Numerous sceptics saved bottle caps just in case it was true. Eventually, US hair and skin-care company Aveda found a use for the thousands of useless collected bottle cap: it recycled them into packaging. The American Cancer Society has told hundreds of telephone callers that this scheme not genuine.
May 24th 2008: A resident of Beckley, WV, USA posts to internet that s/he's heard of a hospital in North Carolina with a bottle top collecting program for cancer patients requiring chemo. Between May and August 2008, the hoax spreads to Pennsylvania, Delaware and South Carolina with collectors adamantly refusing to believe it was a hoax in spite of having no details as to the ultimate destination of the bottle caps. It is spread by word of mount, phone calls, store noticeboards and church flyers/leaflets.
July 2008: A columnist for the Coal Valley News in Boone County, WV, wrote about a local bottle caps drive. She believed 1400 bottle caps would pay for treatment for a local 10-year-old boy with leukaemia after her church was one of several that received leaflets about the bottle caps collection.
July/August 2008: The American Cancer Society had been fielding calls from Parkersburg, Bluefield, Clarksburg, Beckley, Wheeling and Preston County. In August, collectors received hoax reports of a man near Bluefield who collected bottle caps to pay for treatments at an unnamed Pittsburgh hospital. Girl Scouts Troop 650 of Ellerslie, Maryland, collected sackloads of plastic bottle caps for Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, WV, believing it provided one free chemotherapy treatment for a patient.
August 2008: Details of the hoax finally hits local newspapers. The Register-Herald (WV) amd The News and Sentinel (West Virginia) both debunk it with statements from the American Cancer Society. Stores and business in the area had set up collection bins, some containing thousands of bottle tops. Wal-Mart Vision Center in Beckley began collecting the lids in June after the minister of Maynor Freewill Baptist Church in Sweeneysburg announced he had heard by phone of a young boy who would get a free chemo treatment if he collected 1500 bottle tops. Other area churches were already participating and more joined in. Within a few weeks, the Beckley Wal-Mart was collecting 2500 bottle tops per week, supposedly to be taken to Raleigh General Hospital. Other collectors included Sam’s Club on Eisenhower Drive, Beckley and CVS pharmacy on Harper Road, Beckley. In some cases the caps were picked up from collectors by a church. Collectors then learnt that Raleigh General Hospital has never been involved in such a scheme although an employee there had collected several van loads of bottle tops. This employee was collecting on behalf of another employee who was apparently just part of a chain passing them to someone else. The Raleigh County Solid Waste Authority said the caps were the wrong form of plastic to be recycled and are not collected at that facility.
I heard about the hoax in August 2008 a hoax from Richwood, WV where it had spread by word of mouth to collect 1500 bottle caps (any brand) to get a free chemo session for a sick child. There were no details as to which charity sponsored the collection nor details of the patient or medical facility in WV that were involved. The American Cancer Society in WV revealed had received around 100 phone calls about the bottle cap collection. Their office manager had called non-profit organisations trying to get more information. No non-profit organisations were involved and the collection was a hoax. One collector high up the chain worked at a cancer centre and claimed they were collecting on behalf of a colleague and that the bottle tops were given to an unknown professor at a WV college who personally delivered them to the family whose patient wished to remain amonymous. The professor and the family could not be traced i.e. those at the top of the chain did not want to admit to being hoaxed. Jeff Gettelfinger reports a similar word-of-mouth version of the plastic bottle tops chemo hoax circulating through East Tennessee: 750 plastic bottle tops (any brand) exchangeable for one chemotherapy session for an unnamed child. The tops were to be taken to Food City grocery stores, owned by KVT Food Stores of Kentucky.
Some victims remain unwilling to admit to being taken in by the bottle cap hoax. They claim to have delivered quantities of bottle tops (e.g. 16,000, 20,000) bottle caps to an individual who used them to pay for cancer treatment. As with all such hoaxes, the recipient was someone in another state (Virginia, Pennsylvania) whose physician was the one that initiated the drive (physicians and hospital directors get hoaxed too!). Statements such as "You just need to know where the caps need to be delivered" are naïve and false since sacks of bottle caps have been delivered to those hospitals supposedly giving the treatments only for the recipient hospitals to have to tell the deliverer that it is a hoax (some hospitals are passing them on to other hospitals in the belief the other hospital is collecting the bottle caps). Those lower down the chain of collectors may never realise it was a hoax. One variation from West Virginia claims the bottle caps are used to help cancer victims in Uganda. Another variation is that caps with wording on (e.g. logos) are worth 1 minute of chemo each. The common theme in these tales is that the beneficiary is in a different state or county; it being harder to verify the details across borders.
In September 2010, the bottle caps for chemo hoax surfaced in Indianapolis, Indiana. A Christian community center was taken in by a word-of-mouth message about a little girl who got free chemo (needed weekly) for every 1000 caps collected.
Also in 2010, US military personnel at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan were fooled into collecting several thousand bottle caps to be recycled for prosthetic limbs. With no-one knowing where to ship the bottle caps, the collection was investigated by Lt Col Thomas Rodrigues (judge advocate general of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing) who determined it to be a hoax.
In September 2011, the hoax hit Orangeburg, South Carolina. A primary school teacher believed the bottle caps could be redeemed to fund chemotherapy treatment for a child in Columbia. The American Cancer Society confirmed it was a hoax. The teacher, or pupils' parents, could very easily have avoided the hoax by checking out the story online or by phoning the American Cancer Society.
Caps for Chemo hoaxes should not be confused with special offers whereby a large company "redeems" a set number of lids (or labels, vouchers or other detachable part) from a product's packaging for a cash amount to be donated to a good cause. In the USA, Yoplait runs an annual "Save Lids to Save Lives" campaign donating 10 cents per special pink lid collected to breast cancer research, up to a maximum donation of US$1.6 million. Such campaigns are also a form of advertising and are restricted to lids bearing special logos. Any company that runs such a promotion knows exactly how many collectable lids are out there.
As with the other cash-for-trash collecting hoaxes, don't be taken in and don't go into denial by claiming your particular collection is genuine: yours won't be any more genuine than those in West Virginia news reports. Well-meaning individuals have turned up at hospital loading bays with vans that contain thousands of bottle tops convinced the hospitals are giving free treatments for cancer victims. Clinics, hospitals, physicians, medical staff and cancer sufferers' families have been fooled into collecting bottle caps. The American Cancer Society has had to inform a growing number of well-meaning (and disbelieving) individuals that it is a hoax.
CD-ROMs/CDs FOR ELECTRIC WHEELCHAIR
So far, I have only had this one via word of mouth. It runs something like this:
"Don't throw away your old CDs. A recycling company has promised a local disabled man who was injured in motorbike accident an electric buggy if he can collect its weight in scratched music CDs, old computer CDs or DVDs or internet CDs. But take them out of the cases or sleeves first as they can't be recycled if they are still in the packaging. There's a collecting box in the first floor admin office."
It has the typical hallmarks of a hoax. CDs are lightweight so you'd need to collect hundreds of them. Computer CDs/DVDs are low value and frequently given away free on magazines and by internet providers and they seem to have limited recycling options. Customs and Excise destroy - not recycle - hundreds of seized pirate CDs and DVDs.
COLLECTING PRINGLES FOIL TOPS FOR CHARITY
COLLECTING PRINGLES PLASTIC TOPS FOR CHARITY
In 1998/1999, Pringles apparently ran a promotion where Pringles foil tops (these are marked with the Pringles logo, so easily identifiable) could be collected and exchanged for sports equipment. I have received one report of a Pringles foil top hoax where an ill individual would supposedly receive treatment if he collected his own weight in Pringles foil tops. Given the cost of a tube Pringles (costlier than a packet of Walkers crisps) and the light weight of the foil top (lighter than a crisp packet), this hoax does not seem to be widespread and may have been a malicious joke. In 2003/4, Pringles plastic tops sometimes featured in the widespread hoaxes that asked people to collect plastic tops in exchange for a wheelchair.
MARGARINE TUB LIDS
Back in the early 1990s, one of the margarine manufacturers ran a promotion where you sent 10 peel off foils (the "foil" liner beneath the plastic lid) and received a voucher for a free tub in return. I don't remember the brand that ran it (possibly Flora), but I remember the promotion as I briefly worked at the warehouse where the envelopes of foils were delivered and the claims processed (the company contracted to process the claims paid slave labour rates and their hiring contracts were basically scams). At least this was a genuine collection. Later in the 1990s, a range of butter-tasting margarine spreads were launched: "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" and "Utterly Butterly" were the main ones, but supermarkets soon released their own versions, all in similar yellow packaging.
Some time around 2000/2001, a rumour went round that one of the big companies would send you vouchers for a free tub of their product in return for a tub lids from butter-type spreads. Apparently it was part of their market research and the lids could be from any butter-type spreads: their own brand, their competitors' brands or supermarket own brands and from any size tub. They must not be lids from ordinary margarine, butter or low fat spread tubs. That way they could see what market share the various products were getting. You had to collect 10 or 20 tub lids to claim the freebie and the promotion was not advertised on tubs in case it skewed the market research results.
As it wasn't for charity, nobody went round appealing for tub lids to be taken to schools or societies though quite a few people ended up giving their tub lids to neighbours. I wonder how many people collected up 10 or 20 tub lids then found they didn't know where to send them, or which company wanted them. It makes me think it can't be long before someone starts off a rumour about collecting an unspecified quantity or weight of plastic margarine tub lids to raise money for an unidentifiable person to get much-needed medical help for an unspecified medical condition.
CIGARETTE CARTONS FOR SEEING EYE DOGS OR WHEELCHAIRS
I haven't seen any recent instances of this hoax in the UK, but many thanks to some US correspondents who mentioned collecting cigarette cartons (or to use the UK vernacular, fag packets) to help a blind person get a seeing eye dog (guide dog). I vaguely recall school friends collecting the foil inserts from their parents' cigarette packets, but have no idea whether it was related to a supposed appeal. George Speller wrote "I worked in a warehouse in Gargrave, North Yorkshire in 1967. One of the workers there collected empty cigarette packets 'to get a wheelchair'. He was duly supplied with all the packets the staff could muster. His dismay knew no bounds when he discovered that it was a hoax. I've no idea where the story came from in the first place. "
CARDS FOR BUDDY
CARDS FOR CRAIG SHERGOLD
CHAIN EMAILS FOR A DYING CHILD
The earliest documented version of the "Cards for Buddy" genre was in the "Illustrated London News" of 18th May 1850. The story ran "Some time since, there appeared in the public journals a statement to the effect that a certain young lady, under age, was to be placed in a convent, by her father, if she did not procure, before the 30th April last, one million of used postage stamps." The stamps had duly been sent in boxes and bales to various English post offices. The veracity of the tale has never been established (possibly it was a fiction intended to encourage people to use the postal service).
Back in 1982 there was a little Scottish boy called Buddy in hospital in Glasgow, dying of leukaemia or cancer. Buddy liked to use a CB radio. Before he died, Buddy wanted to collect as many postcards as possible and get in the Guinness Book of Records. At the time, there was no category for "most postcards received". Buddy's appeal was picked up by a Scottish lorry driver and spread by "breakers" (CB radio users - this being the 1980s craze); soft-hearted truckers who travelled to continental Europe spread the message there as well. Soon it had found its way into newspapers and radio stations around the world. The Scottish town of Paisley was deluged with thousands of cards, all addressed to "Little Buddy, Glasgow". In September 1982, the Paisley Daily Express picked up the heart-warming tale and ran a headline "Breakers Boost Sick Boy's Dream"; in February 1983 the same paper reported it as a hoax under a headline "Nightmare in the Post". It was still reporting deluges of cards in 1985. In 1986 and 1987, the "Cards for Buddy" story was rife in the American midwest, being posted on library and church noticeboards. In 1987, Make-A-Wish foundation was apparently sending out "Little Buddy" notices and by September 1987 it was apparently finally debunked and laid to rest.
Throughout the 1980s, churches, businesses, schools and others arranged "Cards for Buddy" campaigns that almost swamped some Scottish post offices. From 1983 onward, postal officials were issuing statements about the Little Buddy hoax and asking people to stop sending cards. Where cards had been donated in boxes with return addresses, the Scottish post office returned them with copies of disclaimers about the hoax. With no address to deliver the cards to, those postcards without return addresses were auctioned off to card and stamp collectors. The postmarks showed the cards to have come from all over Western Europe, the Commonwealth, the USA and parts of Asia, Africa and the Pacific. None of those cards were ever deliverd because "Little Buddy" never actually existed, although some people believed it to be the CB "handle" of a real boy called Paul. Possibly the original message was a prank. In some versions, "Little Buddy, Glasgow" became "Little Willy" of either Aberdeen or Paisley. Buddy's appeal was eclipsed a few years later by the more famous case of Craig Shergold.
The most famous "Cards for Buddy" hoax, and the one by which all similar hoaxes are judged, was that of Craig Shergold of Shelby Road, Carshalton, England in 1989. 9 year old Craig had a terminal brain tumour and wanted to be in the Guinness Book of Records for receiving the most greetings cards. By 1990 he had received a record-breaking 16 million cars and by 1991 he had 33 million cards. He also had a life-saving operation in 1991 ... but the cards kept on arriving. The volume of mail, an estimated 350 million to date, resulted in his home getting its own postal code (equivalent of a US Zip code). Craig's case spawned several entirely fictitious versions of the "Cards for Buddy" appeal, some requesting greetings cards, most asking for business cards and some asking for compliments slips or greetings on company headed paper. "Shergold" has mutated into "Sherehold," "Shelford," "Shelton," "Sheldon", "Stafford," "Sheppard," "Shepherd" and "Sherwood" and other variations; sometimes he is "Greg," "Kelly" or "Brian" instead of "Craig" or becomes "John Craig" or innumerable other disguised versions of the original name. The address is generally a variation of "Shelby Road" e.g. "Selby," "Selsby" or "Salford" (or via the Make-A-Wish Foundation in the USA or the Royal Marsden Hospital in England) and the age ranges from 4 years old to 18 years old.
As a footnote to the Craig Shergold appeal, eight-graders at Finley High School, Eastern Washington spent 3 months collecting 57,555 business cards by mistake 2 years after the campaign had ended. A spokesperson said "I think it's stupid. We collect all these business cards, and it turns out nobody wants them". They collected 5 giant garbage bags worth of cards, no two alike, including cards in Braille, on microfilm and in Norwegian. Some looked like envelopes, other like chemical waste drums and they were printed on a variety of materials including paper, wood and metal. The Craig Shergold chain-letter had arrived at a fax machine at the Boise Cascade Container Corp plant in Wallula and had read "One of [Craig's] greatest wishes is to be included in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the largest number of business card ever collected by one person". The recipient passed it to his school-teacher wife, but neither realised that the appeal had ended 2 years previously and that Craig had actually been collecting Get Well cards.
As a damage limitation exercise, the Guinness Book of Records has retired the category for the most get-well cards. It says, "This record attempt has ceased. Many years ago, a boy fighting cancer started a campaign for people to send him get-well messages in order to set a record for the most items received. Not only was that boy successful in getting a mention in the 1991 edition of the Guinness World Records book, he also made a full recovery. However, since then chain mails have started up with variations on the original story, some requesting business cards or compliments slips rather than get-well messages. If you get any such request, please destroy it, and if anyone asks you about it, please tell them it is a hoax." Some of the later "Cards for Buddy" appeals turn out to be pranks or even attempts to swamp an address with items of mail (in the case of email versions swamping an account with items of email) so it can no longer operate effectively.
Another "Cards for Buddy" hoax used the address of the Children's Wish Foundation at Perimeter Center East, Atlanta, USA. The deluge of unwanted cards resulted in the Foundation moving to a new address to escape the hoax. Over 100 million unwanted, unclaimed cards from the hoax have been pulped in Atlanta. The Make-A-Wish Foundation of America has never been involved with this appeal, but is now a permanent fixture in the appeal in spite of repeated requests asking people to stop sending cards for Craig Shergold c/o of Make-A-Wish Foundation. Requests to end the deluge appeared in the New York Times (19 July 1990), People Magazine (1 June 1991). . Craig and his parents have even appeared on Good Morning America, ABC network, 26th Oct 1997 asking people to stop sending cards.
Another "Cards for Buddy" hoax used the name of Ryan McGee of Virginia (sometimes rendered Ron McKee/Myan McKee). Ryan was battling cancer, but he had never asked for cards in order to get into the record books. Somehow he ended up in a version of the "Cards for Buddy" hoax. The McGees ended up moving house to escape, but an unrelated person called McGee in the same area gets dozens of phone calls from people wanting information about Ryan McGee.
The internet allows these hoaxes to spread faster than before. In 1999 a hoax appeal went out on behalf of a real life 10 year old multiple amputee called Faith Hoenstine (sometimes misspelled Faith Hoemspine). Though the little girl was real, her wish to get into the Guinness Book of Records for receiving the most "Get Well" cards was fictitious. The appeal asked for cards to be sent to Faith c/o Shriners Hospital in Ohio. According to the appeal, Faith's arms and legs were amputated due to cancer (they were not, her partial amputations were due to bacterial infection), she was dying of cancer (she was not) and she was 10 years old (she was actually 13). In 2001, the hospital were receiving 50,000 cards per week for Faith.
Also in 1999, a dying child's simple comment turned into a full scale "Cards for Buddy" internet appeal. Four-year old Paige Lane of Cookeville, Tennessee died of cancer a few days after Christmas 1999. While in hospital she told a nurse that she would like to get Christmas cards just like some of the other children were getting them. She received hundreds of thousands of cards.
Another internet version of the "Cards for Buddy" hoax used the name of Anthoney Hebrank, a sick or dying 9-year-old boy from Garland, Texas. This hoax requests a record-winning number of Christmas Cards and uses the name of Make-A-Wish Foundation. The foundation have never been involved with a child called Anthoney Hebrank. Entirely chain email hoaxes involve children named Amy Bruce, Jeff DeLeon, Rhyan Desquetado, LaNisha Jackson, Nikisha Johnson and Jessie Anderson. These internet hoaxes claim that the 7 year old child (in the case of Amy Bruce) has a brain tumour and lung cancer and will receive 7 US cents from Make-A-Wish for every time the chain letter was forwarded by email. Sometimes the "dying child" expresses a wish to be immortalised by the chain letter. Another version is little Jessica Mydek who is dying of a rare form of cancer. She wants to make everyone aware of her disease and urge everyone to live life to the fullest. The American Cancer Society (ACS) will donate 3 cents to cancer research for everyone the email is forwarded to. The recipient is told to send a copy to the ACS so they will know how much to contribute. According to the ACS, the story is completely false; the doctor whose name appeared at the bottom of the email was not the originator. Maybe if everyone who received the email sent 3 cents in an envelope to ACS it might do some good.
Another twist on the "Cards for Buddy" hoax was a "Caps for Buddy" version. A young lad, whose name eludes me, suffering from leukaemia took to wearing baseball caps after chemotherapy caused him to lose his hair. He was featured on a local TV station and happened to mention that he enjoyed wearing different baseball caps. Although it didn't spark the unmanageable proportions of a "Cards for Buddy" appeal (caps being somewhat harder to package and post), he was soon receiving caps from as far afield as Canada and the USA. The last I heard was that he was auctioning many of them off to raise funds for leukaemia research.
How can you avoid being hoaxed? The chain emails either don't list a medical condition at all or they involve conditions so rare that they aren't even listed in a medical encyclopedia! The "support organisations" cited on the email are frequently non-existent; if it does exist it probably has a web page debunking the hoax chain email. If you are asked to send a card to help a sick child get into the Guinness Book of Records it is an obvious hoax. There is no longer a category for "most cards received". The organisations named in such hoaxes e.g. Make-A-Wish Foundation have webpages that warn people of hoaxes that fraudulently use their name.
TOOTSIE POP "INDIAN" HOAX
This long-running American variation on the "collecting food wrappers" legend doesn't involve collecting a child's weight in wrappers. Tootsie Pops are a type of lollipop produced by Tootsie Roll Industries since 1931. The tale went that Tootsie Pop wrappers bearing a picture of an Indian shooting an arrow at a star could be sent to the manufacturer who would send a free bag of sweets in return. The lollipops came in various wrapper styles, including the Indian wrapper and this probably led to tales of some wrappers being rare or special.
There was never a Tootsie Pops "Indian wrapper" promotion scheme, but back in the 1930s other children's products had contests and prizes. Since those days, a steady stream of consumers have sent the supposedly special wrappers to the manufacturers in expectation of a free bag of sweets or free Tootsie Pop. The tale of the special wrapper gained more momentum when kind-hearted store managers who took it upon themselves to redeem the wrappers in their stores (something not sanctioned by Tootsie Roll Industries). During the 1990s, the company received around 150 prize-seeker letters each week. Originally they responded with a form letter regretfully explaining that there is no "prize" and in 1982 they started sending "Legend of the Indian Wrapper" inserts with their form letter.
CHOCOLATE WRAPPERS FOR SPORTS EQUIPMENT
This sounds like it ought to be a sick hoax, but was a bona fide collection. Starting in May 2003, schools could collect special "Get Active!" vouchers from certain Cadbury chocolate wrappers and redeem these for sports gear. The scheme even got the buy-in of the Sports Minister. If you did the arithmetic, the sports gear was far from free. A ten-year-old child consuming enough chocolate to earn a basketball would need to play basketball for 90 hours to burn off the calories consumed and would have consumed his own weight in fat (if it was a team effort, the team would have to play basketball for 18 hours). A volleyball team would have to eat 900 chocolate bars each, at a cost of £2285 to get a volleyball net worth £350. Vouchers from £38 worth of chocolate would enable schools to get a netball worth £5. In contrast, if you put 40p into a jar instead of buying the chocolate bar, you would only have to forego 12.5 chocolate bars in order to buy the same netball. By the time the youngsters had "earned" their sports equipment they were likely to be too obese to use it and at risk of developing late onset diabetes. The scheme was widely condemned and will not be repeated.
Similar genuine "junk food for educational items" schemes include Walkers "Books for Schools" where vouchers from Walkers crisps packets are redeemable for books. This has been superseded by a "for every packet bought we will donate 1p to Comic Relief" type schemes, though these often relate to specific flavours of Walkers crisps.
DOMINO PIZZA DIP TOPS
In November 2004, there was an apparently genuine, but local, appeal for the "foil" tops from Domino's Pizza dip tubs. Domino and the Blackpool Gazette ran a joint promotion to provide funds for local childrens' organisations. The Gazette printed tokens; the Domino foil tops were worth 5 tokens. As far as I know, this was a local event only.
OTHER HOAX-BUSTING SITES TO VISIT
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