I woke up this morning to quite a few Tweets and Facebook posts mourning the passing of Etta James. Etta has been hospitalized for some time now with Leukemia and Alzheimer’s, so I wasn’t that surprised by the news. I wanted to share it with friends that I knew would be interested, so I tried to confirm it first. I found a Tweet that said it had been reported by TMZ. I clicked the link… sure enough it went to a TMZ page reporting the death, and even giving information about when and where a memorial service was planned. I shared this info (attributing TMZ as the source) on Facebook, and on the Blues-L listserv.
Only problem was… I had just fallen for an elaborate hoax. I started searching for more information, but couldn’t find anything other than links to the TMZ story. So I went back to the TMZ story. By now feeling more suspicious I immediately noticed the address of the webpage was faked to look like it was TMZ… but actually pointed to another domain. I quickly went to TMZ.com and searched on Etta’s Name. Up came an old story about her having been diagnosed with leukemia… that looked exactly like the death report page. It was clear the hoaxers even snipped some of the text from the leukemia story. I had been totally fooled. I spent the next hour trying to “undo” the reports I helped spread.
Here is what the fake website looked like. I have blurred out the URL because it’s probably not a very safe site to visit. It might be a “phishing” operation of some kind. If you click on it you will see it full size.
I am usually quite suspicious about most things on the internet. I usually spot fake schemes immediately. But this time I got fooled badly, along with many others, because I’ve been ready for such bad news about Etta for a good while now. I’m very embarrassed by the fact that early this morning I help spread this info. I exposed the hoax as quickly as I could. But it’s going to live longer I’m sure… as will our precious Etta.
The fake site leads back to a company that offers “free websites”. I don’t want to give them any free publicity by identifying them here… but I have notified the real TMZ of what I found.