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Fake news release targets General Mills

MINNEAPOLIS — General Mills Inc. has become the latest victim of a fake news release, this one with the false claim that President Barack Obama had ordered a big investigation of the company after several food product recalls.

The motivation behind the hoax isn’t clear, but phony news releases are often linked to attempts to manipulate securities. And in the age of the Internet, with its quick and easy methods of dissemination, phony news releases appear to be on the rise.

The release went out last week with the headline “Obama Orders Full Investigation of General Mills Supply Chain Following Food Recalls.” General Mills spokeswoman Kirstie Foster said the release was “entirely false and was retracted almost immediately,” well before financial markets opened.

Still, headlines and stories briefly appeared on Dow Jones Newswires, the Wall Street Journal’s website and Fox Business News. And though those stories were retracted, automated alerts from services such as Google further spread false headlines, some with links to the hoax release.

“We found the release and removed it within minutes, but even false information can still spread incredibly quickly on the Internet,” General Mills spokesman Tom Forsythe said in a news release.

Golden Valley, Minn.-based General Mills is investigating, “and law enforcement is involved,” the company said, but declined to specify further. The company said it will “pursue and prosecute the matter to the fullest extent of the law.”

PR Newswire, which carried the release, is one of the country’s primary news release distributors. In a statement, it said it issued a news release in the U.S. and the United Kingdom “provided to us from someone purporting to be from General Mills.”

In 2006, a false statement released over PR Newswire said that Duluth, Ga.-based Innotrac Corp. had signed a big contract with a German industrial conglomerate. In another hoax, a news release on InternetWire in 2000 claimed that Emulex Corp. would restate earnings and that regulators were investigating its accounting.