Origins: In 1997, parents all across the United States were getting drawn into yet another Internet- and fax-based hoax, this one involving a non-existent lawsuit against Gerber. At the tail end of 1999, the same rumor that was false almost three years earlier was again afoot. Then and now, parents dreaming of cashing in on their progeny were being told that:
Gerber hasn't been involved in any such lawsuit, and there is no $500 windfall awaiting those foolish enough to supply their child's birth and Social Security information to strangers. According to a 1997 article about the rumors Gerber has been battling:
The rumor is bogus.
But that hasn't stopped it from causing Gerber untold headaches.
In what appears to be a massive misunderstanding rather than a scam, the word on the street — and on fax machines, fliers and the Internet — is that settlement of a class-action lawsuit against Gerber allows parents to receive anything from a $500 savings bond to $1,400 cash if they bought baby food or formula during the last
But Gerber is not involved in any class-action settlement. It is not even the target of a class-action suit.
"There's nothing to the rumor," said Chris DeWitt, spokesman for Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley, whose office has been fielding a flood of calls. "It's just that - a rumor," DeWitt said. "It's taken on a life of its own, and there's nothing we can do to stop a rumor."
The confusion apparently stems from the fact that three makers of baby formula — Abbott Laboratories, Bristol-Myers
The Gerber rumor first flared in December, shortly before the
Suddenly, people were lining up at post offices from Alaska to Rhode Island as parents rushed to meet mythical deadlines for filing claims. For two weeks in December, hundreds of would-be claimants lined up at the main Detroit post office.
"They were sending stuff certified mail, express mail, everybody trying to meet some deadline," said a postal employee who declined to be named. "And there was a guy out front passing out fliers that explained how to file a claim against the baby formula companies."
"The deadline would change each month," Redfern said. "In one pocket of the country, the rumored deadline would be February, then in March the rumor would surface in another part of the country, with a new deadline, and lines would suddenly form at those post offices."
The problem has been especially irksome for Gerber, which has been besieged by phone calls. "Call frequency has been up the last two days," said Van Hindes, Gerber's director of corporate affairs. "A lot of the calls this week have been from the Detroit and Traverse City areas, as well as Milwaukee."
Redfern pointed out that even though Michiganders never had a shot at award money from the other three companies, the deadline for filing has passed, the post office box is closed, and his firm is awaiting permission to destroy
(Though the baby formula manufacturers did reach a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, it applied only to some consumers in some states. Parents who did get something back ended up with between $5 and $45, not the $1400 per kid another hoax had led them to expect. Those interested in reading more about the Enfamil and Similac hoax should visit our Baby Formula page.)
This Gerber hoax was likely started (or at least promulgated) by someone's misremembering the details of the baby formula hoax. One of the earliest (January 1997) surfacings of the Gerber hoax contained two interesting pieces of information: Gerber's reason for giving away all this money had to do with lead being found in their baby food, and parents were entitled to $1400 per child. $1400 is the same figure consistently given in the baby formula hoax and is probably the key piece of evidence demonstrating that one hoax mutated into another.
Barbara "gerbeled facts" Mikkelson
Last updated: 30 October 2007
Freimann, Michael. "Report of Gerber Settlement Just 'Urban Legend.'" The [Bloomington] Pantagraph. 21 September 2000 (p. A6). Klink, Cynthia. "Board Tells Parents of Gerber Settlement." The [Bloomington] Pantagraph. 20 September 2000 (p. A4). Pro, Johnna A. "Rumor Mill Strains Gerber." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 9 January 1997 (p. B1). Walton, Christopher. "Gerber Battles Rumor on Lawsuit Payouts." The [Raleigh] News and Observer. 2 May 1997 (p. C12). Woellert, Lorraine. "Gerber Strained By Hoax on Internet." The Washington Times. 23 September 1997 (p. A1). Providence Journal-Bulletin. "Officials Warn of Phone Scam." 13 May 1997 (p. B4).