Viral message warning of crimes using drug-laced visiting cards is false
Urban ‘burundanga’ myth that started as early as 2008 resurfaces on WhatsApp in Pakistan
Claim: According to a viral WhatsApp message, people in Lahore’s Defence Housing Authority (DHA) have been handing out visiting cards laced with a debilitating drug called burundanga to unsuspecting motorists stopped at petrol stations in order to rob, kidnap or sexually assault them.
Fact: No crime involving the use of burundanga-laced visiting cards has been reported recently in Lahore or any other city of the Punjab province, according to Punjab Police Public Relations Director Osama Mehmood. The viral message does not include any identifying information and the drug — also called scopolamine — is tasteless, odourless, and colourless; therefore, the claim that a victim could smell it on their hand is incorrect. Similar claims have surfaced in the past — going viral since 2008 — and have been debunked by multiple other IFCN signatories.
Earlier this month, Soch Fact Check received a message on WhatsApp which, when translated to English, reads:
“Very important thing
A man comes to a petrol pump in Lahore’s DHA and offers his services as a painter to a woman who is getting petrol filled in her car.
The woman refuses but takes his visiting card out of politeness. The woman then starts her car and leaves.
It is then that she notices the man leaving at the same time.
After a few minutes, the woman starts feeling dizzy and experiences trouble breathing. She opens the car’s window and notices a scent coming from her hand—the same hand with which she held the visiting card. She then notices that that man’s car is behind her.
The woman feels that she needs to do something. She stops at the first petrol pump on the way and starts honking the horn continuously to call for help.
The man runs away when he sees this but the woman continues having difficulty breathing for the next several minutes. After a long time, she regains his breath.
Apparently, the visiting card was laced with a drug that enters our body through inhalation. This drug is called burundanga and is used by criminals to control their targets.
This sample gets transferred to the card and then on to the hand of whoever holds it before entering their body through the breath, making it difficult to breathe.
So when you are alone at home or driving and alone on the street, don’t take business cards from anyone.
You can search this drug on Google and see its side effects.
Be very careful and give special instructions to your family and children not to accept any paper or cards from anyone.
May Allah keep us all safe and secure, Ameen!
Don’t just read it and move on but consider this writing to be an ongoing charity… share it with your friends and thanks. It will only take you a moment but maybe this momentary bother of you sharing this text will be a lesson for thousands of people.
May God reward you abundantly.”
Fact or Fiction?
Soch Fact Check reviewed the latest news and found no such incident reported in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province, or any other city for that matter. Further, the message does not include any identifying information such as the name or location of the petrol station, persons involved or any comment from the authorities.
Burundanga, the drug mentioned in the viral WhatsApp chain message, is also known as scopolamine, hyoscine or Devil’s Breath.
Scopolamine “is a tropical alkaloid” produced by certain species of plants and its criminal use has been recorded in the South American country of Colombia since the 1950s, according to “Million dollar ride: Crime committed during involuntary scopolamine intoxication,” a research paper published in peer-reviewed journal Canadian Family Physician.
Medically, scopolamine is used as a sedative, in motion sickness patches, and to treat Parkinson’s disease.
Tasteless, odourless, and colourless, scopolamine can cause submissiveness and obedience in the victim. In Colombia, it is usually blown in the victims’ faces or added to their beverages. It can cause dilated pupils, increased heart rate, dry mouth, flushed skin, blurred vision, urinary retention, confusion and disorientation, palpitations, uncoordinated movements, insomnia, and severe anterograde amnesia.
Since it is tasteless, odourless, and colourless, the claim that a victim could smell it on their hand is incorrect.
According to medicine information website Drugs.com, high dosage of burundanga can cause “dangerous fast heart rate, dilated pupils, toxic psychosis, confusion, vivid hallucinations, seizures or coma” and even “respiratory failure and death”.
It is important to note here that messages with similar details warning people of the use of burundanga have been circulating in different countries as early as 2008.
Snopes — a signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) — mentions that a UK police official’s internal email to intelligence officers inquiring about burundanga-laced visiting cards was leaked, complete with his signature, causing panic among the general public who took the correspondence to be a confirmation of the claim. Essex Police termed it a “hoax” and urged people who received it to “delete it from their inbox”.
The claim circulated via email in May 2008, September 2008, March 2012, May 2012, and August 2018, according to the publication. The differences in the versions that have gone viral over the years include changes in the names and locations, method of administering the drug (i.e., visiting card, blowing in the face, blowing in the ear, etc.), and identifying the victim as a friend’s son or daughter, neighbour, etc.
However, the key details remain the same: that the drug is relatively unknown, incapacitates the intended target, removes their free will, is four times more powerful than the “date rape” drug, forces victims to self-sabotage, and is transferable on simple cards.
Indonesian website Syy Hoax Analyzer in a 2019 article, refers to the message as an “unsubstantiated urban legend” and a “hoax”.
Punjab Police say ‘no such incident’ reported
Lastly, Soch Fact Check spoke to Punjab Police Public Relations Director Osama Mehmood since the viral message circulating in Pakistan mentions Lahore in particular.
Mehmood said, “With regards to Lahore, no such incident [has been reported] in any of our groups with journalists or social media [-focused] WhatsApp groups. Our social media team is very active and we respond whenever there are any rumours and we check the facts.
“I have not seen this [what you sent to me] in the past four weeks in any of our WhatsApp groups in Lahore or any other city of Punjab,” he added.
Moreover, a picture showing a woman lying on the ground — apparently unconscious — is often found with the claim. However, it is actually a fan of Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan who fainted at the star’s press conference. The photograph, which we found through TinEye Reverse Image Search to first have been published by Gulf News, was taken by Hadrian Hernandez.
Soch Fact Check conducted a CrowdTangle analysis for the period from 1 September 2022 to 31 October 2022 using the search term — the first line of the viral WhatsApp message:
- “لاہور ڈی ایچ اے پٹرول پمپ پر ایک آدمی آتا ہے اور ایک عورت کو جو اپنی گاڑی میں پٹرول ڈلوا رہی ہوتی ہے پینٹر کے طور پر اپنی خدمات پیش کرتا ہے”
We found close to 50 posts with more than 700 interactions across Facebook. Some of the most shared posts were by ‘The Urdu Writings: ہم اُردو ہیں’, ‘Abdul Qadeer Gujjar’, ‘Beauty tips Qurani wazaif totky’, ‘Tahir Islam’, ‘Knowledge Zone’, and ‘Aliya Iqbal’.
As mentioned previously, this is not the first time the viral message has made the rounds. Previously, on social media, it peaked between 23 and 29 January 2022, on 19 March 2021, on 16 September 2020, on 9 April 2019, and 14 May 2018.
For the period starting 1 January 2016 and ending 31 October 2022, we found almost 400 posts with upwards of 38,000 interactions on Facebook.
Conclusion: Punjab Police Public Relations Director Osama Mehmood has denied that any crime involving the use of burundanga-laced visiting cards took place in Lahore or any other city of the province recently. There is no identifying information such as location or the name of the petrol station in the text. Also called scopolamine, the drug is tasteless, odourless, and colourless; therefore, it is not possible for a victim to smell it on their hand. Over the years, multiple other IFCN signatories have debunked the same claim, which has been going viral since 2008.
Other sources of our information:
- Drug facilitated crimes by ‘burundanga’ or scopolamine
- Britannica’s page on scopolamine
- Fake news on drugs: post-truth and misinformation
- Claim that thieves in Venezuela use scopolamine near banks
Background image in cover photo: Isaac Matthew