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Terror Threat Hoaxes Abound Following Paris Attacks

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- The terror attacks in Paris have heightened social media anxiety, especially when it comes to unfounded rumors.

CBS2's Lou Young hit the streets Thursday looking at the proliferation of terror hoaxes on the Internet.

One false message warns about an imminent attack on the New York City subway system "this week."

Another says Times Square is a target. A fake Homeland Security memo making the rounds outlines another bomb plot.

The warnings show up unsourced and unrequested on smartphones, and too often they just get passed along.

High school student Lily Schwendener said she received a warning of a possible attack from a friend. When Young asked her if she would send it to someone else, she answered: "Probably, yeah. Well, I just sent it to my parents."

"But you don't know if it's real or not, do you?" Young asked her.

"I don't, but, I mean, it's not really far off," she responded.

The hoax warnings follow a familiar pattern: "Someone texted me," "A cousin's friend's father works with the FBI," "Someone spoke to a cop," "The media won't report it to avoid a panic."

Experts tell CBS2 that people tend to believe the messages and pass them on, in part, because it gives them a sense of control.

"I think people want to be a part of the first (to know)," said Nadine Cosby, a mass media professor at Iona College. "... And if it's online and if it's on their friend's social media page, they take it at face value."

One teen told Young the mere presence of heavily armed police in the city made the warnings seem more likely to be accurate.

A Westchester County woman said social media terror chatter has frightened her daughter beyond all proportion.

"She's on social media, so she sees all this that's going on with all her friends in seventh grade, and as a parent, it's disconcerting to me that my 12-year-old daughter doesn't want to go see the Christmas tree," said Zoe Mountroukas, of Irvington.

Cosby said she was even briefly alarmed by a version of a hoax saying a suicide bomber had been arrested in Washington, D.C.

"It referenced a location that would've affected me personally, so I started looking, and I was thankful when I found out that the story was untrue. But it was frustrating," she said.

The calmest people CBS2 met were the ones not staring at a smartphone.

"What am I going to worry about?" said Grace Einhorn, of Briarcliff. "It's not like my worry's going to change what's going to happen, right? So I just live my life, and I'm aware of my surroundings and hope for the best."

At Bloomingdale's, the holiday lights were up and the windows were decorated Thursday night.

But as CBS2's Matt Kozar reported, many remain undeterred by terror worries.

Despite terrorist concerns following the attacks in Paris, Sylvia Venus refused to stay locked up in her own apartment.

"I feel that with all of the security that we have right now, I feel a little bit safer," Venus said.

Judy Feldman was also undeterred, but concerned about threats she has seen on social media.

"I'm hoping that they really are make-believe, and that it's just meant to scare us," Feldman said.

And fake messages or not, the Transit Workers Union Local 100 is asking its 36,000 members to be on the lookout for suspicious activity.

"We're the eyes and ears of the system – stations, platforms. Tunnels, on the tracks; yards -- all over the city streets," said Tom Carrano, director of subway safety for the Transit Workers Union Local 100.

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