Hoaxes Throughout History
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Phony 9/11 Deaths (The months following Sept. 11, 2001)

As estimates of the death toll rose in the days following the 9/11 attacks, enormous amounts of sympathy and media attention flowed out towards those who had lost loved ones in the attack. Those who had participated in rescue efforts were hailed as national heroes. But simultaneously, many people (motivated, perhaps, by a desire for sympathy or attention) fabricated tales of phony heroics and lost loved ones in the weeks and months following 9/11. Listed are a few of the more notable cases of these phony 9/11 tales: More…
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…
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…
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 (July 2003)

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…
On July 2, 2003, Gerald McSorley, a Scottish pensioner, found a fossilized section of a plesiosaur vertebrae when he accidentally tripped and fell into the loch. Nessie enthusiasts speculated the fossil might have come from an ancestor of the monster. But subsequent examination revealed the vertebrae were embedded in limestone not found near Loch Ness, and the fossil showed signs of having recently been in a marine environment. In other words, it was clear the fossil had been planted at the loch. [BBC News]
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…
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…
Carla Patterson and her son were eating at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in May 2004 when she claimed to find a dead mouse in her bowl of vegetable soup. She immediately began screaming, prompting many of the other restaurant patrons to leave. While it investigated the incident, Cracker Barrel stopped serving vegetable soup at all 497 of its restaurants nationwide. But police found that the mouse had died from a skull fracture, not from drowning in soup, and concluded that Patterson had placed the mouse in the soup herself in an attempt to extort money from the restaurant. She was sentenced to a year in jail. More…
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.
In July 2004, a Durham, North Carolina family found what appeared to be a breaded, fried baby foot in a box of Banquet-brand chicken pieces bought at a local supermarket. But in this case, the family weren't pulling a scam. They legitimately found the object in the food. But thankfully, it wasn't a baby foot. The police identified the object as a piece of dough that a prankster at the Batesville chicken processing plant had carefully shaped to resemble a foot. Even toes and toenails had been sculpted. Then the faux foot had been breaded and fried. ConAgra, owner of the plant, said it had taken action to make sure nothing like that ever happened again.
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…
Someone who falsely claims to have played an Oompa Loompa in the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. There were ten actors who performed as Oompa Loompas, and pretending to have been one of them is a way for a person of short stature to gain instant celebrity status. It's an easy lie to get away with since very few people know who any of the original Oompa Loompas were. So over the years there have been a number of cases of this deception. For example, in 2005 a Nevada man, Ezzy Dame, was exposed after having passed himself off as an Oompa Loompa for over 20 years. More info: BBC News
Two American students visiting Scotland claimed to have found an enormous tooth (possibly belonging to Nessie) lodged in the carcass of a deer along the shore of the loch. However, (so they said) a game warden almost immediately confiscated the tooth from them, though not before they got a few pictures of it. The students subsequently created a website to publicize their find and lobby for the return of the tooth. Animal experts identified the "tooth" from its picture as the antler of a roe muntjac deer. The website and accompanying story turned out to be a publicity stunt for a horror novel by Steve Alten titled The Loch. More…
Graffiti-artist Banksy surreptitiously hung one of his own paintings, a Warhol-style picture of a Tesco soup can, in New York's Museum of Modern Art. It remained there undetected for three days before the museum took it down. On the same day, Banksy also hung his own work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Brooklyn Museum. Banksy later explained, "I thought some of [the paintings] were quite good. That's why I thought, you know, put them in a gallery." [Wooster Collective]
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]
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 (Oct 2005)

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 (Dec 2005)

In 2005, the British television show "Space Cadets" pulled off the most expensive and elaborate hoax in English television history. More…
In December 2005, the German magazine Bild reported that Dr. Kajta Schneider, director of the State Art Museum of Moritzburg, when asked to identify the artist responsible for a painting, responded that it looked like the work of Guggenheim-Prize winner Ernst Wilhelm Nay, who is famous for using blotches of color. In reality, the canvas was the work of Bangi, a 31-year-old female chimpanzee from the Halle zoo. When her error was revealed to her, Dr. Schneider said, "I did think it looked a bit rushed." Banghi reportedly enjoyed painting, although her mate Satscho had a habit of destroying most of her works.
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