Anthrax hoaxes on the rise

Reported anthrax hoaxes are on the rise again after dropping steadily since 2002.

The FBI responded to 2,500 cases of threats using anthrax in 2002. Chris Allen, an FBI spokesman, told the Idaho Statesman that reports of anthrax hoaxes have been dropping every month since then until the past few months.

Anthrax hoaxes seem to appear after major events, Allen said, including the Enron scandal, Hurricane Katrina and even major power outages. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill could be considered one such event. Typically, elected officials, government organizations and the media are the main targets of scares.

The first major case was reported in 1999, when packages labeled “anthrax” arrived at the doorsteps of several Planned Parenthood clinics across the country. They were a hoax intended to disrupt the clinic’s activities, but two years later, five people were killed and 17 were injured when real anthrax was delivered to recipients by the U.S. Postal Service.

“That’s when it became a cottage industry to scare people,” Allen told the Idaho Stateman. “It wasn’t really a tactic much used before that.”

Since then, the number of hoaxes have declined. By 2008, only 500 cases were reported.

Not every case is solved and every conviction made, but Debbie Dujanovic Bertram, a public affairs specialist in the FBI, said that doesn't mean a hoax is simply filed away.

“Just because there hasn't been an arrest doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten about it,” Dujanovic told the Statesman.