Anthrax Hoax Hits Fingerhut

Minnetonka, MN–Scrawled at the top of an order form that arrived by mail at Fingerhut’s subsidiary Arizona Mail Order Monday was one chilling word: Anthrax.

The local police and state health authorities in Tuscon, AZ, where the Arizona Mail Order is located, were called to the scene. Authorities tested the mail pieces and the employees who handled the piece.

They determined that the incident was a hoax. No white powder or anthrax was found in the envelope, said Ben Saukko, Fingerhut spokesperson.

Also on Monday, at another Fingerhut distribution center in North Carolina, an envelope came through the mail containing a “suspicious” golden-colored, gooey substance.

At a St. Cloud, MN, facility another envelope with “suspicious” writing arrived by mail. And, white powder turned up in an employee’s cubicle in St. Paul. All of these incidences were hoaxes, and presented no health danger, Saukko said. On Tuesday, Fingerhut distributed a memo to all staff from its Minnetonka, MN, headquarters.

Word of the hoaxes had reached some workers, but “employees were not in a panic,” Saukko said. Nevertheless, the cataloger wanted to reassure its 10,000-person workforce, and tell them about procedures to follow if a letter or a package looks suspicious.

The memo emphasized that the occurrences were hoaxes and no anthrax had actually been sent to the company, Saukko said.

“One thing we told them is the safety of employees and customers is of the utmost importance to us,” he said. “Even though these have all turned out to be hoaxes, we’re taking all threats seriously,” Saukko said.

The guidelines about suspicious mail, based on recommendations by the FBI, USPS and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, include: Don’t open or tamper with the piece. Don’t throw it away. Wash your hands with soap and water. Call your supervisor. Fingerhut has a department of safety, health and environmental affairs, which handles reports of suspicious mail. The department’s number was listed on the memo for supervisors to have on hand.

The cataloger is reviewing its security measures and mail procedures “to make sure they are the best that they can be,” Saukko said.

Gloves have been made available to anyone who wants them.

On Thursday, supervisors and managers were given more specific instructions about handling worrisome parcels and how to deal with any suspicious powder or residue. “The company is trying to keep guidelines specific enough to pertain to the anthrax situation, but general enough to encompass other similar situations,” Saukko said.

A memo on how to handle mail to reduce risks was distributed to all employees.

No customer complaints have occurred, and the cataloger has not altered its mail plans.

“We have secure facilities–we don’t see a threat to our outgoing mail,” Saukko said. Entrances to buildings are monitored by guards, employees wear badges and visitors must register and be escorted when inside a facility. The company has buildings in Minnesota, Arizona, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Fingerhut is by no means the only company dealing with false threats, Saukko said. Since the anthrax scares began, the Minnesota State health department has received up to 1,000 calls from worried residents.

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