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'Fabricated' news planted about McDonald's

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 15/02/2017 Nathan Bomey
 © Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images  

After all the talk about fake news, this one could be called a fake merger.

In what appeared to be an attempt to generate coverage at the expense of the truth, USA TODAY and at least one other news outlet received an apparently fraudulent news release Tuesday that said McDonald's would submit an unsolicited bid to acquire fast-casual chain Chipotle Mexican Grill.

McDonald's, when reached for comment, immediately cried foul.

"This is completely fabricated," McDonald's spokesperson Terri Hickey said in an email. "It is not our press release and there is no truth to its claim."

Formatted convincingly, the dubious release used business language, mirrored the typical structure of a corporate merger announcement and was portrayed as a filing to be submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission later this month. It even quoted McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook as justifying the bid by emphasizing Chipotle's recent struggles. The terms, the release said, was for $570 per share, or $16.4 billion.

Business news site Benzinga.com also reported Tuesday that it had received the supposed announcement.

The anonymous emailer who provided the announcement to USA TODAY did not respond to a request attempting to authenticate the release or the sender's identity.

Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold said the fast-casual chain has "no knowledge of any intention by McDonald's to acquire shares."

The Securities and Exchange Commission did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment.

The episode demonstrates that phony information can appear convincing and requires that anyone consuming it use extra scrutiny to evaluate incoming material.

McDonald's formerly owned Chipotle before spinning it off in 2006. Chipotle has been ailing since a health crisis at some of its restaurants spawned concerns among some consumers about its food, while McDonald's has been seeking new avenues of growth.

McDonald's stock rose 0.2% to $125.81 on Tuesday. Chipotle stock rose 1.3% to $419.54.

The announcement was branded as due to come via Marketwired, a Nasdaq division that distributes press releases. "The information in question is not from a news release issued via Marketwired’s systems," said spokesman Will Briganti when reached for comment.

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