A Weird Case, Baby? Uh Huh!

The Pepsi tampering scare appears to be nothing more than the first fad of summer, but what motivates bogus allegations?

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But how to explain the rash of faked complaints and scams in the Pepsi scare? Such bogus reports often break out after an initial believable case is given wide publicity. Sometimes it's a simple craving for attention or a prank. A 21-year-old man arrested last week in Branson, Missouri, admitted that he'd lied about finding a hypodermic needle in a Pepsi can "to see what the police department would do." A 62-year-old California woman confessed to police that she fabricated a similar story as a joke on her daughter.

Money is also a lure. "Scam artists see the opportunity for personal-injury compensation," says Berrill, who notes that "many Americans are generally angry at large conglomerates and believe that a corporation can afford to pay a few injury claims." The quest for money can become unfathomably ugly. To promote their claims of finding ground class in Gerber baby food during the 1986 scare, some parents purposely fed slivers of glass to their children and even cut their kids' bottoms with shards.

For others, the motives are more unusual. "Security guards have placed foreign objects in products, such as a razor blade in a tomato, to impress supervisors with their vigilance," reports Dietz. "They're similar to the ) volunteer fireman who sets a fire and then discovers it." The strangest motive, though, may be the need to gain sympathy as a victim. "Just as some people induce signs of illness in themselves to enjoy the benefits of the patient's role, others fake tampering to enjoy the benefits -- emotional support, nurturing -- of the victim's role. Such people will also stage their own robberies, burglaries or rapes."

"Each nationally publicized incident generates on average 30 more seriously disruptive crimes," declares Dietz, who would like to see news organizations limit their coverage of tampering. He points out that the initial Pepsi report occurred while Washington was saturated with news accounts of the June 8 sentencing of Joseph Meling, who was convicted of putting cyanide in cold capsules in an attempt to kill his wife; she survived but two others died.

With the case fresh in mind, police and the public might have jumped too quickly to the conclusion that the hypodermic found in the Tripletts' Pepsi can was the result of tampering. Late last week investigators were looking into the possibility that someone had innocently disposed of an insulin syringe by dropping it into the empty can.

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