Marc Giauque reportingUtah's Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is out with a warning about misguided or even false AMBER Alerts.
Numerous Utah residents received a text message on their cell phones over the weekend with this alarming message: "AMBER ALERT! two little girls kidnapped the suspect is driving a brown jeep liberty. Headed towards billings area license plate #43-6519. KEEP THIS GOING."
There are several problems with this AMBER Alert: the two girls were not abducted in Utah, the AMBER Alert was not issued by a Utah law enforcement agency, and the message did not have enough information for the public to help in the recovery.
The real AMBER Alert was issued in Montana on April 11 and had already been canceled when the text was sent.
Paul Murphy, who coordinates Utah's Amber Alert program, says it is worrisome. He says, "Some are well intended, and people do pass them on. And actually, people are also passing on fake AMBER Alerts with good intentions, and that's kind of the creepy thing about this. People are creating these false AMBER Alerts."
Murphy and others are concerned the false reports will weaken the effect of an actual alert.
Shurtleff said, "We have learned from sad experience that seconds can mean the difference between life or death in child abduction. AMBER Alerts from unknown sources could lead to a delayed response from the public and jeopardize the integrity of the entire AMBER Alert plan."
The Utah AMBER Alert Plan sends alerts out through radio and television, highway advisory signs and the 511 travel information phone line.
You can sign up to receive AMBER Alerts by text for free by signing up at www.wirelessamberalerts.org
If a person is caught sending a false AMBER Alert in Utah, he or she could be charged with a class B misdemeanor, which can carry a punishment of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.