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Beware the electronic urban legends; stick to 9-1-1

This is in response to your column in the Mail Tribune on Feb. 4, regarding being pursued by a patrol car with flashing lights, and the driver having questions as to whether or not the person in the pursuing car was an officer. A few days ago, I received a "forwarded e-mail" describing the same situation, but the pursuing car was an unmarked car.

The reason why this lady in the e-mail found it the car was not a legitimate patrol car was because she had dialed *77 on her cell and found out that the pursuer was not an officer and eventually found out he was actually a serial rapist. As it is with forwarded e-mails, one wonders if these are the facts. Can someone call *77 to find out if the pursuing car with flashing lights is actually a legitimate patrol car?

— Diane R.

Diane, from the best I can tell, this is mostly an urban legend, but mixed in with a little bit of truth.

The basic problem with the story is an obvious one ... what's wrong with just dialing 9-1-1?

Putting that aside, if you do an Internet search for "*77" or "#77," you can find multiple stories of "Lauren" or "Lisa" from Virginia, Australia, England or Canada, who is the lady described in your e-mail.

Trend Micro says this hoax informs of a new emergency cell phone number, #77, which connects to a local highway patrol or sheriff's office. The story is of someone's daughter who allegedly was saved from a criminal posing as a policeman in an unmarked police car — the girl immediately called the said emergency number and the policemen were able to rescue her in no time.

The Urban Legend Zeitgeist could not find any reported incident that closely matches the described event. According to them, dialing #77 or *77 on a cell phone might contact the highway patrol, but only if the person happens to be in an area that supports the said feature.

Also, the e-mail mentions that the incident allegedly took place in Virginia, which has now converted its emergency hot line to 9-1-1.

Therefore, #77 may no longer be functioning.

There is a nifty, relatively updated map of the USA that shows what cell code numbers can be used in which states for reporting nonemergency situations on state highways and interstates. The map can be viewed at www.911dispatch.com/911/mobilenumbers.html online. Most states, including Oregon, use 9-1-1 as emergency numbers.

Snopes.com also confirms all this as a hoax but does point out that women have been attacked by people posing as police officers.

So, in summary, it appears that #77 may be a good number if you're in one of those states that supports that number, and there are only a few that do and all appear to be on the East Coast. Just for kicks I tried to call #77 from my cell phone, (AT&T) and was given a recording that this is not a working number. To be sure, just call 9-1-1.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. The volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.