Hoax E-Mails Falsely Report Deaths of 5 Senators

New Jersey's Lautenberg among targets of strange prank.

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Democrat Frank Lautenberg, at 84, is asking New Jersey voters to make him the first in New Jersey history to be elected to five terms in the Senate.

    Will there be a Zombie Caucus in the next session of the U.S. Senate?

    It seems there are at least five undead members of that august chamber -- including New Jersey's Frank Lautenberg.

    The offices of Lautenberg, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California, Kay Hutchison of Texas and Patrick Leahy of Vermont each announced the death of their senator earlier this week, only to recant.

    It turns out all incidents were hoaxes.

    Phony news releases were crafted by unidentified culprits and e-mailed to media outlets. Through a hacking trick called spoofing -- making a message look like it is coming from one source while hiding its true origin – the messages all seemed to come from the senators’ offices. 

    The New York Times said on its website that "a close look at the detailed header of the message makes clear that it did not originate from the Senate computer system but rather from an outside domain, 000.webhost.com -- a sign that government computers were not hacked."

    NBC San Diego received the Boxer message, which looked like an official release from Boxer's chief of staff, Laura Schiller. Boxer's staff confirmed that the senator is alive and well, and Schiller did not send the e-mail.

    Hutchison was healthy enough to addres a Rotary Club in Texas on Wednesday. Leahy, Feinstein and Lautenberg are all alive, too.  Leahy made light of the incident in a Vermont Public Radio interview but said the matter merited investigation.

    Of course, the hoax was easily disproven -- it’s pretty easy to prove you’re not dead -- so it’s hard to see the point.

    A U.S. Capitol Police spokesperson told Politico that police “are looking into the hoaxes but declined to say how many there were or to provide any other details.”