Should we beware of UPS deliveries? That's what a Maryland reader asked last week after receiving a troubling e-mail supposedly reporting that $32,000 worth of the service's famous brown uniforms were purchased on eBay over the last 30 days.
Circulated in the intelligence, law enforcement and security community since February, various versions of the e-mail have now leaked into public in-boxes and a few online discussion groups. And with the threat of terrorism raising public vigilance, what would otherwise be an innocuous report today raises concerns of al Qaeda operatives impersonating UPS drivers.
"This could represent a serious threat as bogus drivers can drop off anything to anyone with deadly consequences," warns the e-mail. It added that two federal law enforcement agencies had verified the report as valid.
But the e-mail apparently is an unsubstantiated rumor or a hoax.
"It's not real," assures the security officer at an Internal Revenue Service branch office who sent it to other security offices. He says he issued a follow-up last Monday clarifying that the UPS scare wasn't factual.
Both agencies named in the e-mail as validating the story deny it and say the UPS tale is unfounded. But they add that intelligence and law enforcement agencies are taking "very seriously" any theft of military or law enforcement uniforms, and a couple of investigations are underway.
"We would be interested or concerned about any activity that could threaten security," says Harold Scott, spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
The FBI has debunked several similar UPS stories since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
UPS spokeswoman Susan Rosenberg in Atlanta says the e-mail has been "thoroughly investigated" by the FBI and local law enforcement. "It is the urban legend of missing uniforms," she says.
EBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove also says the UPS story "comes up empty."
Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the largest online auction site has barred sales listings of UPS or any other contemporary delivery service uniforms, including airline uniforms.
Rosenberg says UPS requires employees -- even peak-season and temporary workers -- to turn them in when they leave the company. The company has occasionally bought back UPS shirts, trousers and jackets that slip through the cracks and go on sale.
"We carefully guard our uniforms," she says, adding that, coincidentally, for the first time in 41 years, UPS is modernizing its UPS shield logo.
UPS also runs background checks on its delivery personnel. "There is no threat on buildings or people based on deliverers fraudulently wearing UPS uniforms," says Rosenberg.
Anyone suspicious of a UPS driver should ask for his or her UPS identification. "In this time of have heightened awareness," she says, "you can't be too careful."
Follow-Up: Reserve Pay
Last week's column was overly optimistic about the status of a bill before the House of Representatives. The Reservists Pay Security Act of 2003 (HR 217), which would ensure that federal employees in the Reserves or National Guard who are called to active duty would receive the same pay as in their civilian jobs, is stuck in the Committee on Government Reform.
But there's good news: The House Committee on Veterans' Affairs approved a modernized Servicemembers Civil Relief Act bill (HR 100) on Thursday that would strengthen the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act -- including guaranteeing payment of life-insurance premiums on policies up to $250,000.
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