General Mills Inc was the subject of a hoax press release saying that U.S. President Barack Obama had ordered a probe into the cereal maker's supply chain.
The release was sent overnight on PR Newswire, one of the main U.S. distributors of corporate press announcements and a unit of Britain's United Business Media Ltd .
Some major news media reported contents from the release before the hoax was confirmed.
Sourced to General Mills, the fake release said Obama late Tuesday evening ordered a full investigation into the General Mills supply chain in most major global markets following voluntary recalls on food products, most notably its cereal and fast food items in the US, UK, Europe and Asia.
It is not clear how the release came to be disseminated.
PR Newswire in a statement said it has stringent editorial procedures and safeguards to protect against hoax releases, and breaches are extremely rare. It said it has reported the matter to appropriate regulatory authorities, and will cooperate in any investigation.
General Mills said it had removed the unauthorized release within minutes, but headline alerts and links were disseminated on the Internet. It said it is also investigating, and law enforcement is involved.
The fake release is the latest in a series of hoaxes targeting publicly traded companies.
Last July, for example, several media outlets received faxed statements on a Sunday about a fictitious buyout offer for audio equipment maker Harman International Industries Inc
And in 2000, Emulex Corp shares plunged 59 percent in 16 minutes after a fake release said it was lowering reported results, its chief executive was stepping down, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was probing the company. The sender later received a 44-month prison sentence.
The fake General Mills release carries a New York dateline while General Mills is based in Minneapolis, spells yogurt as yoghurt, and has a contact phone number located in New Zealand. In addition, the contact person is shown as Steve Sanger, a former General Mills chief executive.
Reuters sent out headlines based on the press release and later withdrew them. Its rival Dow Jones Newswires, a unit of News Corp , published a story based on the release which appeared on The Wall Street Journal website.
General Mills said Fox Business News, also owned by News Corp, also posted incorrect material.
The false release was issued by a press release service and as part of a direct feed was published on Dow Jones Newswires, Dow Jones spokeswoman Emily Edmonds said in an email. A kill notice was issued, and a subscriber notice was immediately published on the wire.
Reuters said in a statement: Reuters issued an advisory to clients as soon as it was discovered that the press release was a hoax.
A man who answered a call on Wednesday to the phone number shown on the fake release identified himself as Tom Reed.
People have been calling all day, he said.
Sanger was not immediately available for comment.
General Mills' statement calling the earlier release a hoax appears on Business Wire, the main PR Newswire rival and a unit of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc .
Shares of General Mills were up 0.6 percent at $38.38 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
(Additional reporting by Brad Dorfman, Christopher Kaufman and Jennifer Saba; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Lisa Von Ahn)