Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Drug users are disposing of their used needles by putting them into the coin return slots of public telephones, thereby infecting unsuspecting victims with hepatitis and HIV.
Origins: Just when you thought it was safe to leave the house, out pops another breathless piece of scarelore warning us about a new appearance of that bogeyman of our era, AIDS.
(A cousin to this scare has to do with deliberate infection of young people who are stabbed with contaminated needles by anonymous assailants at movie theatres and dance clubs. See our Pin Prick Attacks page for more about this related
This time it's drug addicts placing their used, HIV-laden needles into pay phone coin slots in order to stab (and infect) hapless, innocent victims who want nothing more than to retrieve a coin or two and receive death sentences for their troubles. (Drug addicts have been using syringes and needles for decades — you have to wonder why they didn't start leaving them in Pepsi cans and pay phone coin slots until after AIDS came to world-wide attention.) We're told that this isn't a tale from some "hearsay urban legend source," but rather from "phone company workers, through the EMT instructor." In other words, the one and only source for this warning is an unnamed EMT instructor somewhere who heard it from an unidentified telephone company workers somewhere. You can't beat that as a reliable
To date, there are no known instances of contaminated needles turning up in pay phone coin returns, let alone an unsuspecting telephone user's being infected by one. "We have been looking at all of our phones and have not found a single instance of where this has happened," Bell Atlantic spokesman Cliff Lee said in a November 1998 article in The Buffalo News. A December 1998 article in the Chicago Tribune stated:
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has no reports of any such infection, nor does the Howard Brown Memorial Health Center in Chicago that treats many HIV cases. The Illinois, Cook County and Chicago Departments of Public Health and the Chicago Police Department have no records of any such incidents.On 9 February 1999 two people were injured in Pulaski, Virginia, when they put their fingers into the coin return slots of pay telephones and were jabbed by (uncontaminated) needles left in those slots. The next day, four hypodermic needles were found — wrapped in cotton, thus not presenting much of a danger to anyone — in post office mail slots and a night deposit box in nearby Wythe County. No one was infected or seriously injured in those incidents.
The Illinois Public Telecommunications Association, an umbrella group representing about 150 coin-operated phone companies, has no reports of needles found in pay phones, and Ameritech says that in our five-state region only once, more than two years ago, did someone find a hypodermic needle in a coin slot. That person was not stuck.
Did the legend come true? We doubt it. You see, six days earlier the major newspaper of that area carried an article about this very legend, exposing it as a hoax. Most likely a prankster or two read it and decided to pull some legs.
On 29 October 2009 a student at Middle State Tennessee University was stuck by a hypodermic needle after reaching into the change dispenser of a Pepsi machine located on campus. She was treated at Middle Tennessee Medical Center and later released. Police are examining the syringe. A second syringe was discovered on
In 2000, some thoughtful soul re-worked the original scare about coin returns on pay phones into one focused on a variety of vending machines and set it in Canada:
[Collected on the Internet, 2000]Despite the forceful claims made in this later version of the "AIDS needle found in coin return" scare, there have not been any such incidents in Edmonton, Calgary, or any other Canadian cities. Moreover, officials of the University of Lethbridge (Alberta) have been bedeviled by inquiries about this story since it first appeared on the Internet. All who have asked have been told the same thing: There haven't been any such attacks on their campus. (A February 2009 report about three people pricked by hidden hypodermic needles taped to doorknobs and a payphone in Vancouver, Washington, is still under investigation.)
I am forwarding this email about something really scary I heard about today. Because it is certainly worth about, I am sending this out to
On an average day in your life, you are out and decide you are thirsty. You notice a pop machine in your surroundings. You go over to the pop machine, & drop in a loonie. After collecting your beverage, you reach in the little compartment to collect your
***This is not some scary fiction story! THIS IS NOW HAPPENING IN ALBERTA!!!...
Please read on and then pass this warning to people you care about. At our student council meeting this afternoon, our advisor (a teacher at the school) told us that last week, she received a phone call from a friend at the University of Lethbridge. THE ABOVE SCENARIO HAPPENED THERE RECENTLY at the University of Lethbridge) !!!
How many it happened to or why not many have heard about it is beyond me, but THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING!!!!!!!!!!! Police suspect that this is the work of a particular cult in western Canada. It (these incidents) began in Saskatchewan and have now spread into Alberta. The prime targets are major cities, but there's no saying that it couldn't occur in smaller towns.
It happened in Lethbridge and they are on the alert especially in Edmonton and Calgary.
What happens is that somehow someone inserts a syringe or a needle/pin that has been infected with the HIV virus into a vending machine compartment. Beside it they leave a note saying that whomever has been pricked and is now infected.
I KNOW IT SOUNDS CRAZY, BUT TAKING A PEEK INTO ANY COMPARTMENT OF ANY PUBLIC MACHINE (PAY-PHONE,POP MACHINE, VENDING MACHINE) *** BEFORE STICKING YOUR HAND IN THERE COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE ***
Whether it is where you'd get your change, or where you'd reach in and collect a can of pop or pick up a bag of chips... Be on the look-out for a note or a needle. In order for someone to read the note or get pricked by the needle, they must be in a place where, if they checked first, anyone could see it.
***Don't let yourself become a victim & Please PASS on!!!***
This newer version of the "AIDS needle found in coin return" tale incorporates the "AIDS announcement note" motif of the earliest AIDS urban legend, the venerable AIDS Mary. (Fellow who foolishly invites woman he doesn't know to spend the night wakes to find her gone and "Welcome to the world of AIDS" scrawled in lipstick on his bathroom mirror.) This same motif is used in the later dance club versions of the "Pin-Prick Attacks" legend. (Girl dancing at popular nightclub feels a small prick on her arm, then finds the note stuffed into her pocket, taped to her back, or pressed into her hand.)
A few facts and common sense tips:
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