WASHINGTON – The U.S. military is the latest victim of an Internet hoax warning Americans to be on the alert for terrorists posing as United Parcel Service drivers.

Others who have fallen for the canard include police, corporations and even a major newspaper.

As the story goes, terrorists may have been behind a “huge” $32,000 purchase of UPS uniforms recently on eBay and may be planning to use them to gain access to buildings and plant bombs.

Only, the purchase never took place.

“There is nothing to that rumor,” eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove told WorldNetDaily. “No transaction of this nature ever took place.”

In fact, since the Sept. 11 hijackings, the San Jose, Calif.-based online auction house has banned the listing of uniforms of any airlines or shipping companies on its website, Pursglove notes.

Atlanta-based UPS is equally annoyed about the false rumor, which plays on Americans’ heightened fears about terrorist attacks during the war.

“It’s a major hoax and a royal pain,” said UPS spokesman Steve Soltis. “We’ve been bombarded with calls.”

The cybermyth, which has been circulating by e-mail since the first of the year, has caught the attention of officers in the U.S. Air Force, who have forwarded it to the U.S. Army, where it has been circulating unchallenged even among intelligence personnel.

One of the military warnings – under the subject line “Watch Out!”– was recently issued under the name of Air Force Master Sgt. William H. Stinebaugh. WorldNetDaily intercepted a copy. The text of the bogus, albeit official-sounding, part of the e-mail he forwarded reads as follows:

“There has been a huge purchase, $32,000 worth, of United Parcel Service (UPS) uniforms on eBAY over the last (30) thirty days. This would represent a serious threat as bogus drivers can drop off anything to anyone with deadly consequences.

“If you have ANY questions when a UPS driver appears at your door, they should be able to furnish VALID I.D. Additionally, if someone in a UPS uniform comes to make a drop off or pick up, make absolute [sic] sure they are driving a UPS truck. UPS does not make deliveries or pick ups in anything except a company vehicles [sic].

“If you have a problem, IMMEDIATELY call security or your State/local Law enforcement.”

Even some police have been fooled by the rumor, and newspapers have gone along.

As a public service to its readers, the Fort Collins Coloradoan newspaper last month dutifully reprinted a safety advisory issued by the Colorado State University Police, which states: “There is evidence and reports that unknown people have recently purchased UPS uniforms on eBay.”

“Consider challenging anyone making a delivery to your facility and, if necessary, ask for credentials and delivery documentation. An employee of UPS or a similar company should not hesitate to comply with your request,” the police advisory continued. “If you have any concerns about a delivery or delivery person, contact police.”

The St. Petersburg Times of Florida also bit.

In a March 20 story about corporate security, which appeared on the front page of its business section, the Times quoted a local factory spokeswoman who said corporate security warned workers by e-mail to “keep an eye out for UPS folks,” who may be posing in UPS uniforms “bought from eBay a few weeks ago.”

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