It’s pretty easy to hoax people. We all want to be deceived, but only up to a point. Some hoaxes are fun and pleasant, others malicious and unpleasant. We’d like a way to tell the difference (Robert Carroll).

Mar 15, 2011

Linda Brown Practical Joke: Riot at Burlington Coat Factory, Columbus, Ohio

What would you do if a stranger came up and offered to buy you anything for up to $500?

Under normal circumstances you'd probably back away slowly or go for your pepper spray, since the alternative almost certainly involves starring in some videos that will shame you and your family forever. But if you were hearing it at a clothing store, from a woman who rolled up in a stretch Hummer limousine and claimed she'd just won the lottery, then you might be a little more receptive.

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Well, that's exactly what happened at a Burlington Coat Factory in Columbus, Ohio, October 2009, where a woman named Linda Brown went to the cash register and announced she announced she had won $1.5 million in the lottery and would pay for each person's merchandise up to $500 purchases.

Her story though convinced the shoppers.

"I said, 'Are you sure?' said Carol Hubbard, who was inside the store.  "I said, 'I can't pay you for this,' and she said, 'Honey, I've got $1.5 million and I have been used all of my life and mostly by my family members and this is just my turn to give back.'"

The offer was extended to every shopper at the store and not just for clothes.

"I said, 'I don't need the clothes,'" said Candace Jordan, a shopper.  "I just need assistance with my rent and she said, 'How much is it?' and she promptly wrote out a cheque."

Customers predictably reacted to this generous offer by grabbing everything in the store they could get their hands on, as well as calling friends and family members to come get a piece of the charity action. The result was that 500 people crammed into the store, along with up to three times as many outside trying to get in. Oh, and two dozen police officers also showed up to try to control the crowd and/or score some sweet new coats.

Telling customers she had been abused by her family and that this was her chance to 'give back', the woman managed to ring up $5,000 on a debit card before hitting her card limit. After about an hour of letting people shop, Brown hopped into her limo and disappeared, claiming that she need to get to her bank to extract more cash. But, she never brought that cash, people hoped to.

When she returned - empty handed - store employees had phoned the police to handle the crowds. She left again in her limo - but police had discovered the truth, and told customers they had been duped. 

So, like mature, responsible adults, customers accepted the fact that they had been tricked their own way.  And by that we mean they rioted, damaged the store and ran off with tons of unpaid-for merchandise, which they figured was now theirs since a stranger who was not associated with the sellers in any way had told them they could have it. "Everybody was like, 'I still want my free stuff,' and that started the riot," one of the police officers said. "It looks like (Hurricane) Katrina went through the store."

As for Brown, no, she wasn't a millionaire, and the limo was rented. It turned out that it was hard for a pretend millionaire to pay $900 for a rented limo, so she was turned into the police. At least she got to travel there in style.

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Brown was arrested on three outstanding warrants for aggravated menacing, misuse of a 911 system and causing false alarms.

She was jailed, but no charges had been filed against her related to the coat store chaos pending a mental health evaluation.

1 comment:

Bodo said...

Well, that's exactly what happened at a Burlington Coat Factory in ...

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