Will Text Rumor Scare Off Walmart Customers?

Messaging Hoax in at Least 16 States Warns Women They Could Be Killed

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BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- A text-messaging hoax that apparently began making the rounds yesterday in at least 16 states warns women to stay away from Walmart stores or risk being killed.

The outbreak appears to riff off an urban myth that dates at least to a 2005 e-mail scare that originated in Memphis, Tenn., according to About.com. But it comes in a particularly inopportune time and medium for Walmart, which is gearing up for parties at more than 2,400 U.S. stores at midnight on March 21 to back the release of the "Twilight" DVD and related merchandise.

The events, which include giveaways to the first 50 customers through the door at each store after midnight and have been widely promoted via digital and social media, are expected to attract thousands of texting-intensive girls in the movie's tween and teen target, as well as their moms. Already the "Twilight" DVD has been the most preordered in the history of Walmart.com.

Tailored to local conditions
News reports from around the U.S. say police departments have been besieged by calls regarding the hoax texts, and Walmart has reached No. 5 on Twitter's list of trending topics. The text messages appear to be tailored to local conditions -- warning of gang activity in areas where gangs are active, but vaguer threats in areas, such as Walmart's home of Northwest Arkansas, where they aren't.

A text rumor making the rounds in New Mexico says three women are to be killed in an initiation rite for a Mexican gang. Texts in several areas say the police have issued a warning, which has been untrue in each case, according to reports. At press time, news reports had identified the hoax in at least 16 states, including Maryland, Delaware, Florida, North Carolina, Colorado, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Hawaii.

A Walmart spokesman declined to comment on whether the texts might be a coordinated effort at sabotage but said in a statement: "The safety and security of our customers and associates is our top priority. We are aware of the message being circulated and are working with local authorities to enhance our security efforts at our stores. While we take these types of situations seriously, we regard this as being only a rumor, much like similar rumors that have circulated via e-mail in previous years."

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