Fact or Fiction: Poisoned Perfume Samples Sent Through the Mail

A Hoax on the Heels of Anthrax

Multiple small bottles of perfume
Kristina Strasunske / Getty Images

Viral warnings circulating since November 2001 claim that perfume samples received in the mail has proven to be poisoned and are responsible for the deaths of at least seven people. These emails are false.

Poison Perfume Hoax Deconstructed

This has proven to be an astoundingly resilient rumor. It first appeared in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, concurrent with a rash of actual anthrax mailings in the United States.

The wording of text messages and Facebook posts circulating as recently as June 2010 is nearly identical to that of forwarded emails dating from November 2001. It was false then, and it's false now.

The premise is redolent of "The Knockout Perfume," an urban legend that has been making the email rounds since 1999. In that story, miscreants supposedly used ether-tainted perfume to knock out their victims before robbing them. The current rumor also echoes the "Klingerman Virus" hoax in which recipients were warned to beware of deadly substances in harmless-looking packages arriving in the mail.

Dillards' Talcum Powder Perfume

The timing of the original message suggests an interesting theory of origin. In early November of 2001, Dillard's department stores issued a nationwide press release announcing that its 2001 Christmas catalog would contain perfume samples in the form of "a talcum-like powder permeated with the essence of the fragrance." The company said it wanted consumers to be aware that the powder contained in these mailings was completely harmless, given the intense publicity and fear surrounding recent anthrax attacks. Less than three weeks later the email rumor erupted, possibly sparked by confusion stemming from the announcement itself, or by the arrival of actual perfume samples in people's mailboxes.

Perfume Hoax Permeates Asia

The most recent version of the rumor comes to us by way of Asia, the tip-off being a prefacing statement attributing its provenance to "Gleneagles Hospital" (or "Ampang Gleneagles Hospital"). According to a November 9, 2002, report in the Malay Mail, this variant bounced from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur (each is home to a Gleneagles Hospital) and beyond in the space of a few months. An old statement on the website of Gleneagles Medical Centre in Kuala Lumpur dismisses the message as a hoax.

The rumor came full circle in 2009 when the Gleneagles variant began circulating in the US.

Sample Emails About the Poison Perfume

This was shared on Facebook on Feb. 6, 2014:

Forwarded email on Dec. 5, 2009:

News from Ampang Gleneagles Hospital: Important news to pass it on! Please spend one minute and read on... News from Gleneagles Hospital (Ampang) URGENT!!!!! from Gleneagles Hospital Limited:
Seven women have died after inhaling a free perfume sample that was mailed to them. The product was poisonous. If you receive free samples in the mail such as lotions, perfumes, diapers, etc., throw them away. The government is afraid that this might be another terrorist act. They will not announce it on the news because they do not want to create panic or give the terrorists new ideas. Send this to all your friends and family members.
Gleneagles Hospital Limited
Human Resource Department

Sources and Further Reading

  • "Catalog Will Have Sample of Perfume." Victoria Advocate, 11 November 2001
  • "Email Claiming Poison Scent a Hoax." Malay Mail, 9 November 2002
  • "Don't Send Out Hoax SMSes - Get the Message?" Channel NewsAsia, 10 May 2007
  • " Hoax Email Causes Panic." Malay Mail, 13 May 2008
  • "Gleneagles Hospital Refutes Hoax Messages on Poisonous Perfume Sample." The Star, 5 July 2013
  • Poisonous Perfume Sample Hoax. Gleneagles Hospital, Kuala Lumpur. November 23, 2016.