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Bogus cellphone ‘emergency tip’ shared on Instagram

September 15, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: You “don’t need data or service” to update your cell phone voicemail, so someone in a “dire situation” with no service should do so to alert callers to their location.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Cellphone users would need service or some connection, or access to a landline, in order to update their voicemail greeting.

THE FACTS: A widely viewed Instagram post appears to offer helpful advice for individuals who find themselves in a “dire situation,” even if their cellphone battery is dying, and their service lacking.

But the post’s purported “EMERGENCY TIP” is a faulty piece of advice similar to claims that have previously spread online.

“If you ever find yourself in a dire situation and your phone is about to die or you have no service CHANGE YOUR VOICEMAIL!!! You don’t need data or service to do so,” reads text in an Instagram post that has more than 244,000 likes. “Change it and state the time and your location!!!”

But changing a cell phone’s voicemail greeting, as instructed, would require some form of connection, said Steve Van Dinter, a spokesman for Verizon.

While there are options for someone to change their voicemail if their phone’s battery was dying, customers “would still need cell service or a data connection of some sort (like wi-fi) in order to allow that new greeting to update on our servers,” Van Dinter said in an email.

T-Mobile also confirmed to the AP in a statement that updating a voicemail greeting for a cellphone would require a network or wifi connection, or access to a landline.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.