The Blue Star Tattoo

A friend just sent me an email that turned out to be one of those urban legends.  It was pretty good and I almost believed it.  But, being the cynical, curmudgeonly guy that I am, I have built up am almost impenetrable shield against this sort of thing. 

I'd like to give you a few hints so that you can develop the same kind of protection against these strange email messages.  If it's legit (which almost never happens), then you can make an intelligent decision about what to do.  But if it's fake, you can save yourself the embarrassment of having the office smart-guy send you a message back saying "fake!" 

As part of this tutorial, I've excerpted a little of the message I received:


Subject: If you have or know young children....

A form of tattoo called "BLUE STAR" is being sold to school children.  It is a small piece of paper containing a blue star.  They are the size of a pencil eraser and each is soaked with L.S.D.  The dye is absorbed through......

....Please feel free to re-produce this article and distribute it within your community and work place.

From:  J.O. Donnell-Danbury Hospital Outpatient Chemical Dependency Treatment Service.


I was suspicious of this from the start.  Although it sounded good, had some detail, and an official sounding organization as the sponsor, I've seen enough of these things to recognize a potential hoax.

First of all, it preys on fears that all normal people have.  It's the kind of message that, if you got it, you'd almost instantly think, "Gosh.  I better forward this to everyone I know."  It's a message that is certain to press your emotional buttons.  However, before clicking on "forward," ask yourself if it's an interesting or sensational enough story to be covered by the mainstream media.  Your answer is probably going to be yes, otherwise why would you bother forwarding it to anyone?  If it is so newsworthy, why hasn't it been covered?  Why hasn't this been on your local TV news?  This is the kind of stuff they love.  Why hasn't our beloved president issued some sort of statement to the nation?  Maybe, just maybe, it's not true.

Secondly, it encourages you to resend the message "within your community and workplace."  Another button is pushed.  Whoever came up with this story, or who has enhanced it, knows the power of suggestion.  But it's also a clue that it just might be a hoax.  I really have to believe that the good people at Danbury Hospital can come up with better ways of getting the word out about these nefarious tattoos besides putting out an email message.  That's kind of like putting a note in a bottle and tossing it in the ocean.  I think a nicely worded press release would do a better job.  Remember, this is a sensational story.  The press would eat this up.  In Chicago, there is an investigative reporter by the name of Pam Zekman.  She'd be all over this story.  Hmmmm.  I wonder what her email address is.

Thirdly, the message doesn't give quite enough detail about the source, and therefore the credibility, of the story.  There should have been a full name, with phone and fax numbers, postal, email and Web addresses, etc.  Instead, we get two initials and a last name along with the name of the hospital.  That makes ME think twice.

Fourthly, I did an Internet search.  I copied the phrase

"J.O. Donnell-Danbury Hospital Outpatient Chemical Dependency"

into the search box for and three results came up.  Two were Web pages that treated this as an urban legend.  They were at


Snopes is a well-known urban legend page.  Their main page is at and is worth a look if you have the surfing itch.

The last result was from an email archive.  The same message in question was sent in December of 1993!

Interestingly, the person who sent it tried to make it sound credible by saying that his daughter (from whom he had received it) was smart, therefore it must be real.  This is also a clue.  If the person who sent you the message has to insist, with weak justification, that the report is credible, beware.

So what's the point?  Don't just immediately forward emails to your friends and fellow employees.  If the message is sensational or heart-tugging, encourages you to forward it, and has content that tries to make it sound credible, then do your correspondents a favor and double check it.  Drop some key words into a search engine, like I did, and you might be surprised.

By the way, I just want to let you know that I'll be sending out an email to my special friends.  It really works!  If you send it to 38 of your friends and co-workers, you'll meet Regis Philbin and become a zillionaire.  I know what I'm talking about.  Trust me.


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