'Spider guy' fesses up to McDonald's drive-through hoax

Tale proves yet again that a lot of what's viral on the Internet isn't safe to consume

Here's a story from Australia this morning that describes a credit-card scam that has bilked 3,500 McDonald's customers out of some $2.5 million. Although the story is from a credible news source, do not ask me to vouch for its authenticity ... or to even believe it.

That's because I'm not in my believing place right now, having just digested this other McDonald's-related story from Australia about how that country's David Thorne -- already "famous" for trying to pay a bill with a drawing of a seven-legged spider -- has copped to pulling another one over on the Internet two weeks ago.

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From the second story:

A FAKE memo claiming McDonald's stores deliberately rip off customers has been revealed to be the work of the same prankster behind an infamous e-mail about a seven-legged spider.

The document, mocked-up with an official McDonald's Australia letterhead and signed by fictitious managing director "Robert Trugabe", outlines a secret plan to save money by leaving items out of drive-through orders.

"If the girls leave one item out of every second or third order, this adds up to several thousand dollars per week revenue," it says.

The memo is a fake -- "Robert Trugabe" is a play on the name of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and the memo's signature was Mugabe's copied from Wikipedia -- yet that didn't stop "outrage" spreading through the blogosphere via such mainstream sites as The Consumerist and Reddit.

Both of those sites, to their credit, were among those quick to call shenanigans -- in Reddit's case, literally -- but the "story" was out there and you can be certain it will live on as truth in the minds of many. McDonald's had to go so far as to place a denial on its homepage in Australia.

As hoaxer Thorne put it to the Aussie media: "The fastest and easiest way to feed anything, true or stupid, to the Internet machine is through Reddit." Or through any number of similar sites, if we want to be fair; after all, that much ballyhooed wisdom of the crowds is often blunted by gullibility.

And here's the worst part, at least for me, a working journalist: It's only a matter of time before I fall for one of these things myself, much as TechCrunch did recently at the hands of the Facebook's merry pranksters. Suffering this fate is a real fear of mine, not that I-might-lose-my-job-today kind of real, but more bothersome than say the fear of spiders.

Oh, that story about the credit-card scam targeting McDonald's customers? I do really believe it, so you Aussies might want to consider Burger King in the short run.

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