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Fake News And Scams Are Going Around About The Deadly Storm In Texas

Insurance scams, rumors of water shutoffs, and fake restrictions on when people can return are all bouncing around the internet.

Originally posted on
Updated on

On Saturday, a massive hurricane, Harvey, slammed into Texas, causing evacuations, at least two deaths, and a lot of confusion. Here's a lot of the misinformation going around.

1. Harvey victims are being targeted by an insurance scam.

Twitter / Via Twitter: @DangChristian

People on Twitter and Facebook are sharing a phone number and saying it can be used by Texas residents who are facing an emergency, but the 1-800 number is actually for an insurance company.

The phone number being shared above goes to Foremost Insurance Group's claim service for all products except auto insurance. It's not clear how the number started being shared.

Other numbers listed are correct but should be only used by people with life-threatening injuries.

Authorities have urged people who need assistance to call 911 and to stay on the line if they're put on hold. The Coast Guard has also set up an emergency line to help Houston.

Please use 911 for life-threatening emergencies, and 311 or the HPD non-emergency number 713-884-3131 as appropriat… https://t.co/PwLGIPN7AZ

2. Houston officials sent a tweet debunking rumors about drinking water being turned off.

RUMOR: @HoustonPWE is NOT Shutting off water. Water is currently safe to drink and meeting 100% of the need. #harvey #houstonflood

The Houston Office of Emergency Management debunked a rumor that the Houston Public Works was going to shut off water and said water is safe to drink.

It's possible that clean water could get contaminated from flooding and of course people should be cautious about consuming water, but the water has not been shut off.

In the months after Hurricane Katrina people did report getting water-borne illnesses, but many cases they were from infected injuries, not from drinking water, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also sent a tweet to shut down the rumor.

Water quality is fine. Water is safe and we are meeting all demands. Most plants are operating at 100%. st

3. Corpus Christi officials sent a tweet dispelling a rumor that the city would be turning off utilities in anticipation of Harvey.

Rumor control: the City of Corpus Christi will NOT be turning off utilities in anticipation of Hurricane Harvey.

The city of Corpus Christi, which Harvey hit hard on Friday night, on Thursday had to debunk a similar rumor that Houston did about its water utility. Corpus Christi officials said that they would not be turning off utilities in anticipation of the hurricane.

The hurricane did damage power lines and city officials urged residents to boil water for drinking and bathing and to avoid flushing toilets, but that advisory was lifted on Sunday for all residents except those on Padre Island.

BREAKING: The water boil advisory has been LIFTED for the City EXCEPT for customers on Padre Island.

City crews continue to work on water system so the boil water advisory can be lifted as soon as possible for Padre Island residents.

4. Corpus Christi officials had to put a stop to a second rumor on Saturday that they were preventing people from returning.

Rumor Control: Seen this post? It is FALSE. No restrictions on re-entry to the City. Official notices will always c… https://t.co/hDijI2LG1w

Officials from Corpus Christi, which has a population of 325,000, sent another tweet Saturday saying it was false that there were restrictions on returning to the city.

A note that appeared to becoming from a city official named Lisa Oliver — who is the superintendent for the senior community services at City of Corpus Christi Parks and Recreation Department, according to her Linkedin page — but did not actually come from a Corpus Christi official, is being shared online and claims that people must bring proof of residency to enter the city.

5. Twitter users are sharing an image of the "Cajun Navy," relief volunteers out of Louisiana appearing to deploy to help with relief. The team of volunteers is actually there, but the photo is a year old.

How beautiful is THIS? Trail of trucks w/boats, aka the #CajunNavy heads to Houston to help with #HarveyRelief. ❤️… https://t.co/re1psFTGDa

Cajun Navy volunteers started a list of places where help is needed through Google Maps and have been posting updates to their Facebook pages.

facebook.com

Here's the source of the original image from 2016.

6. Corpus Christi police denied rumors of looting in the wake of the hurricane.

Social media rumors are not confirmed. Metrocom Dispatchers report absolutely no confirmed reports of looting anyw… https://t.co/bmQ0cF0BCM

Lt. John Hooper with Corpus Christi police told KIII NEWS the rumors about looting encouraged panic and calls to police, but there have only been about half a dozen arrests for burglaries.

9. Several users tweeted a fake photo of a shark that went viral, as it has during at least two past hurricanes. The man behind the original post told BuzzFeed News, "If people choose to be fooled by a shark swimming by a car, I don’t think it says a great deal about me."

Believe it or not, this is a shark on the freeway in Houston, Texas. #HurricaneHarvy

The doctored photo is at least six years old and originated during Hurricane Irene. It made the rounds during Hurricane Sandy as well.

The image of the shark was lifted from a famous photograph of a kayaker and a shark and was photoshopped into a nondescript flooded street.

Other websites copied the story but didn't include any disclaimers. According to social-media tracking tool BuzzSumo, at least four websites reposted the fake news with the same headline.

BuzzSumo

The story with the most Facebook likes, shares, and comments has been deleted, but other sites are still spreading the misinformation.

11. Many people are tweeting this image of an alligator, but it's not from the Houston hurricane. The photo dates back to at least April this year. Kris Jenner, Katie Couric, several news outlets, and the official account of FBCSO Texas all posted the old photo.

The post included spelling errors and other stories on the site were fake or misleading. It was posted on Facebook Monday afternoon, ignoring the mayor's press conference and media appearances.

13. Texans are reporting price-gouging in the aftermath of Harvey — but this viral Facebook post isn't accurate.

Facebook / Via Facebook: gary.pedroli

As of Monday, authorities have received 500 complaints of price-gouging, CNBC reported. Jacking up prices during a disaster is illegal in Texas, and the state attorney general has warned businesses against taking advantage of residents.

But in this Facebook post shared more than 92,000 times, it doesn't appear anything illegal is happening. Locals commented on the post that the Exxon in Pasadena, Texas, hasn't opened yet — the photo showing both diesel and regular gas at $8.76 a gallon was taken as the sign was being tested.

And while $42.72 might not be a great deal for a case of water, it doesn't appear to be a scam. One bottle of Dasani goes for $1.78 according to Home Depot's website, so 24 bottles ring up at exactly $42.72.

14. Some people were sharing an image with the caption "Texas State trooper leading Our beautiful Mexican neighbors to Houston to rescue our friends, families and fur babies," but the image is actually from a 2005 story related to Hurricane Katrina.

DEBUNK: This is NOT State troopers in TX. It's from a 2005 story about Katrina. https://t.co/V0wlj7Zqd4

After Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, Mexican troops crossed the border in a convoy on Sept. 8, 2005 in order to provide aid.

15. People are using the hashtag #HarveyLootcrew to spread misinformation about burglaries in Houston. Fake accounts are spreading old images claiming there is mass looting in the city, but that is not true.

The tweets using the #HarveyLootcrew hashtag seem to have originated on website 4chan and are consistently racially motivated. One tweet, for example, took an image of boxer Floyd Mayweather and framed him as one of the looters. The tweet above used a 2014 image from Ferguson and presented it as recent.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told ABC News officers have arrested 14 looters so far, adding that thieves will face stiff penalties. But there's little evidence online of looting happening on a mass scale.

This is image is from help Mexico sent to battle wildfires in Canada in 2015. Stacey Roberts, who has since deleted the tweet, told BuzzFeed News she didn't intent for it to be misleading and regretted using the photo. “I should have worded my tweet differently," she said.

Mexico did offer to send help to Houston, and the state of Texas accepted it, but the promised boats and supplies haven't gotten there yet. However, Mexican Red Cross volunteers are currently helping out in Houston.

17. A Houston mosque did not refuse to take in refugees from Hurricane Harvey because they were Christian. That story also originated from a satirical website, using a photo of a man living in Canada, before spreading to other news sites and YouTube.

The stories, which claimed a mosque turned away victims of the storm seeking shelter, began on the site "Last Line of Defense," which labels itself as satirical, before being shared on sites without disclaimers, including YouTube.

A second site "Fresh Daily News," reposted the same story, according to tracker BuzzSumo.

That site has a separate declaimer, which reads, in part: "FreshDaily.com is a satirical publication that may sometimes appear to be telling the truth... Names that represent actual people are purely coincidental and all images should be considered altered and do not in any way depict reality."

All of the stories included a photo of a real, actual person — a man named Ibrahim Hindy who lives in Toronto and who has never been to Houston.

"I woke up and checked my phone and found that a bunch of people had tagged me on twitter," Hindy posted on Facebook Friday. "I've never even been to Texas before," he wrote.

That's me in the picture. I've never even been to Texas before. https://t.co/jIPfeALckc

For the record, Hindy wrote, he is currently in Makkah, performing Hajj.

"My friends and I have been praying for the #HurricaneHarvey victims our entire time here," he wrote. "I met one man from Houston in our hotel who told me that he lost his entire house while away for Hajj. The hardship they have endured has been devastating. I pray that Allah brings aid and comfort to all the victims, whether Muslim or not."

Others responded by sharing stories of mosques in Houston that opened their doors to those needing shelter from the storm.

As a Muslim Houstonian, this offends me on a personal level. Our mosques literally opened overnight for Harvey-impa… https://t.co/OA81j37qW9

@Hindy500 Maybe some #RealNews is a good antidote to this nasty lie https://t.co/BS3uPueWFx

BuzzFeed News has reached out to Hindy and will update with any comment.

This post will be updated as we see more scams and fake news being shared.

Michelle Broder Van Dyke is a reporter and night editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Hawaii.

Contact Michelle Broder Van Dyke at michelle@buzzfeed.com.

Cora Lewis is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Lewis reports on labor.

Contact Cora Lewis at cora.lewis@buzzfeed.com.

Jane Lytvynenko is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto, Canada. PGP fingerprint: A088 89E6 2500 AD3C 8081 BAFB 23BA 21F3 81E0 101C.

Contact Jane Lytvynenko at jane.lytvynenko@buzzfeed.com.

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