Busting Persistent Cell Phone Myths, Part II

In Part I of this article, we gave you the straight dope on three of the most far-reaching cell phone myths. In this half, we’ll cover four of the smaller ones.

Cell phones don’t cause cancer and they don’t start fires at gas stations, those are all big, persistent cell phone myths that a close examination of the evidence easily refutes. We busted those myths in the first half of this article.

In this installment, we’ll tackle four myths that, if less pervasive, are just as annoyingly false as their big siblings.

Myth 3: Cell phones can set off fire alarms.

Aha! Here’s a cell phone myth with some truth to it. Back in the old days (that is, the 1990s), there was a time when the radio frequency (RF) radiation used by cell phones was strong enough to be picked up by the soldering in some older alarm systems. In rare cases, this could set the alarms off.

However, there’s no evidence that this can occur with modern cell phones and fire alarms, though you occasionally see notices to the contrary in hotel rooms. It seems more likely that this is a gimmick to limit cell phone use, since in-room phone calls are a big source of revenue for most hotels.

Myth 4: You can dial #77 or #677 to see if a highway patrol officer is legit.

According to this cell phone myth, if you’re pulled over by a patrol officer, you should call either #77 or #677 to make sure they’re legitimate, and not some crazed impostor. Like most myths, this one has a grain of truth. In some states, including Maryland and New Jersey, #77 does connect you to the Highway Patrol.

This is not the case, however, for most states. You’re better off using 911 if you’re concerned about a patrol offer’s legitimacy. Ask (politely) to see the officer’s ID through your window, and then make the call. Beware, however, that this might not protect you from someone who truly means you ill.

Myth 5: You can enter *3370# to access a reserve of battery power.

This cell phone myth has no truth to it at all; your cell phone battery has no such reserve. With some phones, in fact, entering this code will actually drain your battery quicker. That’s because this activates a feature that enhances voice quality, which increases the phone’s electrical usage.

Myth 6: The government can track you using your cell phone.

Paranoid much? If there’s a Global Positioning System (GPS) chip integrated into your phone, as there is in some new models, then yes, it might be possible to pinpoint your location within a few feet (after all, that’s the point of GPS). Otherwise, if your cell phone is turned on, then your phone company can usually determine which cell tower is being used to transmit your phone’s signal.

However, this can only provide a general idea of your whereabouts, especially if you’re in a rural area where cell towers may be miles apart — and it only works when the phone is turned on. Any suggestion that you can be tracked even when your phone is turned off is pure cell phone myth.