The Utah Attorney General's Office is warning Utah residents to be aware of fake or misguided Amber Alerts that can be sent to cell phones and e-mail accounts.
Attorney General Mark Shurtleff issued the warning Friday, asking the public to only respond to Amber Alerts from authorized sources.
"We have learned from sad experience that seconds can mean the difference between life or death in child abductions," Shurtleff said. "Amber Alerts from unknown sources could lead to a delayed response from the public and jeopardize the integrity of the entire Amber Alert plan."
Last weekend numerous cell phones in Utah received an alert message stating two little girls had been kidnapped, along with a vehicle description and license plate number. The problem was that the two girls had not been abducted in Utah but rather in Montana on April 11. The two girls were recovered on April 13.
The Utah Amber Alert system sends out alerts through radio and television, as well as highway advisory signs and the 511 travel information phone line. The public also can receive Amber Alerts by text for free by signing up at wirelessamberalerts.org.
The recent text message has been circulated across the country and is the latest example of misguided and even fake alerts being spread nationwide. In many cases, the alerts involve cases that have already been resolved or are outright hoaxes.
Legitimate Amber Alerts will come from an official source to anyone who has signed up, and also will be broadcast on television, radio and highway information signs. People should be wary of any alert that is forwarded from other people or not from an official source.
Shurtleff's office provided some other examples, such as an e-mail alert of 9-year-old Penny Brown missing for two weeks that has been circulating since 2001.
Also, in Wichita Falls, Texas, an alert sent out about a 15-year-old boy named Evan Trembley missing for two weeks turned out to be the boy himself, who also sent out his own picture.
Shurtleff warns that a person who sends out a false Amber Alert in Utah could be charged with a class B misdemeanor, which carries a maximum of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Attorney general spokesman Paul Murphy said these fake alerts have even reached Utah residents. Murphy said although these alerts have impacted Utah residents, he does not know of any fake alerts originating from Utah.
To date across the nation, Amber Alerts have helped in 393 cases. Murphy said the system is too valuable of a tool to be tampered with.Utah Broadcasters Association President Dale Zabriskie said he agreed. "The Amber Alert is too valuable a law enforcement tool to have damaged by thoughtless actions," he said.