The Museum of Hoaxes
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Hoaxes Throughout History
Eras: 0-1699 1700s 1800-1849 1850-1899 1900-1949 1950-1979 1980s 1990s 2000s
Hoaxes of the 21st Century
Spud Server
It purported to be a web server powered entirely by potatoes, serving up web pages at an appropriately slow, potato-powered speed. The site gained international media exposure, reported on by both USA Today and the BBC. But the media exposure triggered feelings of guilt in the creators of Spud Server, who then confessed that unfortunately it was all a joke. They explained that, "Every time we did another interview, we kept thinking, 'This will be the last one.' . . . But it kind of snowballed." However, they did note that, in theory, building a potato-powered web server was technically feasible. But it would require A LOT of potatoes. More…
The website documented the case of Mr. Lee Mingwei, who was supposedly the first human male to become pregnant. Visitors to the site could inspect a variety of documentary evidence about Mr. Mingwei's pregnancy such as news reports, pictures, video clips, Mr. Mingwei's EKG, ultrasound images, and blood-pressure measurements. However, conveniently, the delivery date of Mr. Mingwei's child had not yet been determined. The creator of the site, artist/filmmaker Virgil Wong, claimed that not only did it fool thousands of people, but that he was also contacted by numerous men seeking to become the next pregnant man. More…
Snowball the Monster Cat
This image became one of the most popular viral images online during the early 21st century. At first the picture circulated without explanatory text, but soon a caption was added claiming it showed "Snowball," a monster-sized cat whose mother had lived near a nuclear lab. The photo was featured on TV shows such as NBC's The Tonight Show and ABC's Good Morning America. Eventually Washington-resident Cordell Hauglie confessed he had created the photo and that 'Snowball' (real name 'Jumper') was his daughter's slightly chubby (but not monster-sized) cat. He created the image to share with some friends, never imagining how popular it would become. More…
The Emulex Hoax
The share price of Emulex Corp. plummeted after news went out over wire services stating that its accounting practices were being reviewed by the SEC and that its CEO was resigning. However, none of this was true. The bad news had been invented by a college student, Mark Jakob, who had figured out that he could get a wire service to distribute a fake story if he submitted the story to the service at night, since night staffers were less likely to fact-check press releases. Jakob had hoped to profit by manipulating Emulex's stock price, and he did initially make $250,000. But the FBI arrested him within a week, so he didn't have long to enjoy the money. More…
The Stone Age Discoveries of Shinichi Fujimura
Shinichi Fujimura was one of Japan's leading archaeologists and was something of a celebrity because of his discovery of human settlements in Japan that appeared to be over 600,000 years old. So it caused an enormous scandal when the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper accused Fujimura of planting artifacts that he later claimed to find. But it had photos of Fujimura caught red-handed, burying artifacts at a site. Fujimura confessed to the crime, explaining, "I was tempted by the Devil. I don't know how I can apologise for what I did... I wanted to be known as the person who excavated the oldest stoneware in Japan." More…
Bonsai Kitten
Bonsai is the ancient Japanese art of growing miniature trees by rigorous pruning of their roots and branches. The "Bonsai Kitten" website claimed to apply similar techniques to kittens. The idea was that kittens were sealed inside glass containers, and as they grew (fed and watered through a tube) their bones conformed to the shape of the container, creating a uniquely formed Bonsai Kitten. The site generated massive controversy. Animal lovers demanded it be shut down. Eventually the FBI got involved. Its investigation concluded that the site had been created as a joke by some MIT students, and that no kittens had actually been harmed. More… claimed to sell human flesh for the "sophisticated human meat consumer." Visitors to the site could read the 'recipe of the day' as well as view pictures of attractive cuts of homo sapiens. Not surprisingly, the site quickly generated controversy. So much so that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration felt compelled to investigate, but it found no evidence that human meat was actually being sold. A Los Angeles graphic designer eventually took responsibility for creating He explained he had done so primarily "to churn the viewer's stomach and help outrage the more 'sensitive' viewers. This includes Bible thumpers." More…
Kaycee Nicole Swenson
Kaycee Nicole was a 19-year-old girl from Kansas dying of cancer. Or so believed the thousands of people who visited her website on which she kept a diary of her fight against leukemia. When a final post reported that she had died of a brain aneurysm, her online friends were distraught and inquired where they could attend her funeral. But Kaycee's mother refused to provide any information. This prompted some people to investigate, and the more they researched, the more they began to wonder if Kaycee actually existed. Their fears were confirmed when a 50-year-old woman confessed she had invented Kaycee and written all the diary entries herself. More…
Gorgeous Guy
A photo of a guy standing at a bus stop was posted on a Craigslist "Missed Connections" forum, describing him as a "Gorgeous Guy" whom the poster wanted to meet. The Gorgeous Guy at the bus stop then became an online mystery celebrity, as people theorized about who he was. He turned out to be a network engineer, Dan Baca. His internet fame had even attracted the attention of the national media, but an investigative journalist discovered that the majority of the initial posts about "Gorgeous Guy" all shared the same IP address, which suspiciously traced back to Baca himself. Though Baca insisted it was his co-workers who had played a prank on him. More…
Dave Manning
No matter how bad the movies of Columbia Pictures were, there was always one reviewer sure to heap praise on them, Dave Manning of the Ridgefield Press. For instance, while other reviewers skewered the sophomoric comedy The Animal, it impressed Manning as "another winner." His rave reviews might have gone forever unnoticed, except that Newsweek reporter John Horn uncovered the curious truth about him, which was that Manning didn't exist at all. He was the fictional creation of a young marketing executive at Sony, the parent company of Columbia Pictures, used to generate fake praise for otherwise unpraiseworthy movies. More…
The Lovenstein Institute IQ Report
A report circulated via email detailing the findings of a four-month study by the Lovenstein Institute of Scranton, Pennsylvania in which it had calculated the IQ of all the US Presidents of the past 50 years. Franklin Roosevelt ranked at the top with an IQ of 147. But then President George W. Bush came in at the bottom with an IQ of only 91. These findings were repeated as fact by media outlets around the world, including The Guardian. However, the "Lovenstein Institute" wasn't a real organization. Nor had a study of presidential IQ ever been conducted. The report had originated as a joke on a humor website called More…
Tourist Guy
Soon after the tragic events of Sep. 11, 2001, a sensational photo began circulating widely via email, showing a tourist posing for a snapshot on top of the World Trade Center as a plane approached from behind. A caption explained that the photo came from a camera found in the rubble of the building. Apparently the photo had been taken just seconds before disaster struck. The photo was quickly debunked, but it took several months to find out that the guy in the photo was really a Hungarian man who had visited the World Trade Center in 1997. He had inserted a plane into one of his old holiday photos as a joke, never realizing how far his joke would travel. More…
The Retractable Capitol Dome
The Beijing Evening News appeared to have scooped its competitors when it ran a story alleging that the U.S. Congress was threatening to leave Washington DC if the city didn't construct a new Capitol building that included a retractable dome. The story struck the Los Angeles Times's Beijing reporter as being very odd, since he hadn't heard the claim anywhere else. But after some investigation, he realized that the Beijing Evening News's source for the story was The Onion, an American online humor magazine. The Beijing Evening News had translated the Onion story almost word for word, not realizing the article was a satirical joke. More…
The Microsoft iLoo
MSN UK, a division of Microsoft, announced the imminent introduction of the iLoo, the world's first internet-enabled port-a-potty. The iLoo would boast a wireless keyboard, height-adjustable flat plasma screen, broadband internet access, and toilet paper printed with URL suggestions. The press reacted with incredulity to the announcement, and as the press scrutiny intensified, a Microsoft representative eventually admitted that the iLoo was a hoax. But the next day, the company reversed itself, confessing that the iLoo actually wasn't a hoax but was instead a product that had temporarily been under serious consideration but was no longer going to be developed. More…
The Cesky Sen Hypermarket
Lured by ads throughout Prague promoting a new hypermarket called Cesky Sen ("Czech Dream") that would sell products at unbelievably low prices, hundreds of people showed up at the Lethany Fairgrounds for the grand opening. But all they found was a giant Cesky Sen banner. There was no hypermarket, nor plans to build one. Several student filmmakers had set out to record what would happen when consumer's expectations collided with reality, and so had launched a marketing blitz to promote a non-existent, too-good-to-be-true store. More…
Hunting for Bambi
A news report by Las Vegas station KLAS-TV about a company selling "Bambi Hunts" sparked nationwide outrage. Bambi Hunts were supposedly games in which men with paintball guns hunted naked women in the Nevada desert. Numerous critics denounced the hunts, demanding to know how such a thing could be legal. Only after a week did it become apparent that the company wasn't really conducting such hunts. It had only claimed to do so as a way to promote a soft-porn video about a fictional Bambi Hunt. Although their stunt almost got them run out of Las Vegas, the company did sell thousands of copies of the video. More…
The Mini Cooper Autonomous Robot
The website of Colin Mayhew offered details on how this eccentric, but apparently brilliant, engineer had built an "autonomous crash-preventing robot" from the body of a BMW Mini Cooper r50. Video showed the humanoid robot in action, stopping a car from crashing into a wall. The Mini Cooper Autonomous Robot was eventually revealed to be an elaborate viral marketing campaign designed to promote the new Mini Cooper. More…
Bush Voters have lower IQ
A chart that circulated online during the first months of 2004 purported to show that American states whose populations possess higher average incomes and higher average IQs voted for Gore in the 2000 Presidential elections. Their poorer, lower-IQ counterparts voted for Bush. The implication was that smart people vote Democratic, and stupid people vote Republican. Major newspapers and magazines, including the St. Petersburg Times and the Economist, printed the chart before it was exposed as a hoax. More…
Norma Khouri’s Forbidden Love
Norma Khouri's bestseller Honor Lost (published in Australia, Khouri's home, as Forbidden Love) told the story of a Jordanian 'honor killing.' In the book, a young woman named Dalia living in Jordan falls in love with a Christian man and is murdered for this transgression by her father in order to defend the 'honor' of the family. Khouri claimed the story was nonfiction, based on the life (and death) of a woman she met while growing up in Jordan. But the Sydney Morning Herald discovered that Khouri didn't grow up in Jordan. She actually grew up in a suburb of Chicago. And no person matching the Dalia character appears to have existed. The clear implication was that her book was fiction. The Australian publisher withdrew it from sale.
The Yes Men’s Bhopal Hoax
On December 3, 2004 the BBC broadcast an interview with Jude Finisterra, who claimed to be a representative of Dow Chemical. The date was the 20th anniversary of the chemical disaster in Bhopal, and the BBC had sought out a representative from Dow to speak about the tragedy since Dow had inherited responsibility for the disaster via a corporate acquisition. During the interview, Mr. Finisterra shocked the BBC's audience when he said that not only had Dow decided to accept full responsibility for the incident, but that it was going to pay $12 billion in compensation to the victims. In response to the news, Dow's stock value promptly dropped. More…
The Finger in Wendy’s Chili Hoax
In March 2005, Anna Ayala claimed that she found a human finger in a bowl of chili ordered from a Wendy's restaurant in California. Her allegation received huge amounts of media attention and cost Wendy's over $1 million a day in lost sales. The company offered a $100,000 reward for any information about how the finger got into the chili. A police investigation eventually determined that the finger hadn't actually been cooked in the chili and had originally been attached to the hand of a man who worked with Ayala's husband at an asphalt company. Ayala and her husband subsequently pleaded guilty to conspiring to file a false claim. [wikipedia]
The Runaway Bride
Four days before her wedding, Jennifer Wilbanks of Georgia disappeared, sparking a nationwide search for her. She reappeared three days later in Albuquerque, New Mexico claiming she had been kidnapped by a hispanic man and a "heavy set white female" who drove her to Albuquerque before releasing her. But during questioning by the police, Wilbanks eventually admitted that the abduction story was a lie. The truth was that she had fled Georgia, taking a greyhound bus to Albuquerque, "because of the pressures of the wedding" and because "the list of things she needed to get done and no time to do it made her feel overwhelmed." More…
JT LeRoy
In 1994 a teenage boy called JT (or Jeremy "Terminator") LeRoy began to attract attention in the literary community. He published a few short stories, but he also aggressively reached out to other, older writers, communicating with them by phone, email, and fax. He was a sympathetic character — a transgendered, homosexual, drug-addicted, pathologically shy teenager who had been living on the streets, forced into a life of truck-stop prostitution by his mother. Writing seemed to offer a means for him to escape that life, and other writers strongly supported his efforts. In 1999 he published his first novel, Sarah, which was a critical... More…
Space Cadets
In 2005, the British television show "Space Cadets" pulled off the most expensive and elaborate hoax in English television history. More…
Flemish Secession Hoax
In 2006, on a Belgian TV station news broadcast, it was announced that Flanders, the Dutch-speaking half of the country, had seceded from the country. Thirty minutes into the news bulletin,only after the station''s phonelines were swamped, it was revealed to be a "War of the Worlds"-style hoax. More…
The Filipino Monkey
In January 2008 five Iranian speedboats approached three U.S. Warships in the Persian Gulf. When the U.S. ships attempted to contact the Iranians by radio, they heard a voice reply, "I am coming to you... You will explode in... minutes." At first the warships assumed this message came from the Iranian speedboats, but it's since been determined that it probably came from a "Filipino Monkey", which is the name given to rogue radio operators who interject lewd jokes, threats, and obscenities into ship-to-ship radio communications conducted on VHF marine channels. Filipino Monkey radio pranksters have been active in the Persian Gulf since at least 1984. More…
Wine Spectator Hoaxed
Since 1981 the magazine Wine Spectator has given "Awards of Excellence" to restaurants that it deems to have exceptional wine lists. To win an award a restaurant must submit their wine list to the magazine and pay a $250 application fee. Over two-thirds of the restaurants who submit an application win an award, and the contest earns Wine Spectator over $1 million a year in fees. In 2008 the magazine gave an award to Osteria L’Intrepido, a restaurant in Milan, Italy. It was later embarrassed to discover that this restaurant did not exist. More…
Madoff Investment Securities
Bernard Madoff founded Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC in 1960. It became a prestigious firm on Wall Street, acting both as a market-maker (a middleman between buyers and sellers of shares) and as an investment fund that managed money for high-net-worth individuals and institutions. Year after year Madoff delivered reliable annual returns of around 10% for his investors. He managed to do this even in down markets when everyone else was losing money. These returns inevitably created suspicions, but billions of dollars continued to be entrusted to him, principally because he always paid out if anyone requested their money. More…
Angel at the Fence
The story of how Herman Rosenblat first met his wife, Roma, was remarkable. Rosenblat was imprisoned as a child in the Buchenwald concentration camp. He claimed that Roma, a Jewish girl disguised as a Christian who lived in the nearby town, used to throw apples over the fence for him. Twelve years later, the two met in Coney Island and realized where they had previously seen each other. They fell in love and got married. Rosenblat first shared this story in the mid-1990s, when he submitted it as an entry for a newspaper contest about "best love stories". He said he had been told to share the story, which he had kept secret for so many years,... More…
Balloon Boy
On October 15, 2009, millions of people sat glued to their TVs, watching a silver, saucer-shaped balloon float through the sky. The media was reporting that a six-year-old boy, Falcon Heene, was inside the balloon, in danger for his life as it drifted out of control. After several hours, the balloon landed a few miles from Denver International Airport, but the boy was nowhere to be found. There were fears he had fallen out. Thankfully he was alive. The entire time he had been safe at home, hiding in a room above his family's garage. The incident turned out to have been a bizarre hoax engineered by his parents, Richard and Mayumi Heene, in an... More…
A Gay Girl in Damascus
The author of the "Gay Girl in Damascus" blog identified herself as a lesbian named Amina Abdallah Arraf living in Syria. Over the course of three months, her blog gained a sizable following by offering an insider's account of the Arab Spring. Then a post on her blog reported she had been arrested by government forces. But amidst the expressions of concern for her safety, doubts were raised about her identity. No one had actually met her, and the photos of her on the blog were discovered to be of someone else. A week later, a 40-year-old American man studying for a masters at Edinburgh University, Tom MacMaster, confessed that he was really Arraf.
Internet Explorer Users Are Dumb
AptiQuant Psychometric Consulting Co. released a study revealing that Internet Explorer users scored lower on IQ tests than users of other web browsers and were therefore "dumb". This result was duly reported as fact by numerous news outlets, including CNN, the BBC, NPR, CNET, and Forbes. However, not only was the study fake, but also AptiQuant wasn't a real company. The staff photos and information on its site had been copied from the site of a legitimate French firm. The hoax was the work of Tarandeep Gill, a Canadian web developer, who later said he had hoped to "create awareness about the incompatibilities of IE6." [wikipedia]
Gay Village
A Dutch real estate company announced plans to develop a utopian "protected" community specifically for gay people on the north side of Tilburg. It would be named "Gay Village." The company said it had come up with the idea after seeing research showing that 22% of gay men didn't feel safe in their own neighborhood. The concept immediately generated controversy, with many denouncing it as a "gay ghetto". But a day later, the gay rights organization Roze Maandag (Pink Monday) admitted it was the mastermind behind the plan, which was all a hoax designed to highlight the problem of homophobia and "create awareness." [guardian]
The False Heroics of Josh Shaw
Star USC football player Josh Shaw was hailed as a hero when he explained that he injured both his ankles after leaping from a second-story balcony to save his young nephew from drowning in a pool. USC was so impressed that it issued a press release detailing his heroics. For a moment Shaw was a national hero. But his tale quickly soured when a police report from the night of his accident placed him at his girlfriend's apartment where neighbors reported hearing screaming as well as seeing a man that looked like Shaw jumping from her balcony. Shaw confessed that his heroism tale was a lie. But exactly what he was doing that night remains unknown. More…
Hoax Archive Categories
Eras: 0-1699 1700s 1800-1849 1850-1899 1900-1949 1950-1979 1980s 1990s 2000s
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  • All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.