Hoax Museum Blog: Identity/Imposters

Quick Links: Fake Gucci Advertisement Fools Newspaper, etc. — imageimage
Fake Gucci Advertisemant Fools Newspaper
A man in Switzerland phoned a national newspaper and managed to get them to run a two-page advertisement showing himself posing beside a bottle of Gucci perfume. He told the newspaper he was a representative for the company, and told them to send the 60,000 Swiss Frank bill to Gucci.
Forum thread here.
(Thanks, Carlotta.)

Shark with ‘Webbed Feet’ Caught
A Malaysian fisherman recently caught what appeared to be a shark with webbed feet. The 1.7kg shark was given to a worker at the Malaysian Fisheries Development Board in Penang. When she noticed the feet, she gave it back to the fisherman, who threw it back into the sea.
(Thanks, Richard.)

Homer Simpson Appears on Pizza
With a hopeful-sounding minimum bid of $100, the seller from Kentucky has yet to garner a single taker for his piece of half-eaten pizza with the image of Homer Simpson on it.
(Thanks, Andy.)
Posted: Sat Mar 24, 2007.   Comments (13)

Quick Links: Fake Cyber Romance Leads to Death, etc. —
Fake Cyber Romance Leads to Death
22-year-old Brian Barrett was shot to death by his 47-year-old co-worker, Thomas Montgomery, who was jealous of his internet relationship with the young woman that Montgomery had been having a cyber fling with. What neither of them knew was that the woman involved was not 18, as she said, but a 40-something mother who was using her daughter’s identity.

CNN Debunks Obama Report
CNN have refuted Insight magazine’s claims that Democratic Sen. Barack Obama was raised in a radical Muslim school.

Protesters for Hire
For around €150 per person, a group of young Germans are offering themselves as demonstrators for whatever protest you happen to be running.

(Thanks, Firefly and Charybdis.)

Posted: Wed Jan 24, 2007.   Comments (15)

Quick Links: Giant Pawprints Puzzle Couple, etc. — imageGiant Pawprints Puzzle Couple
Mr and Mrs May, of Ipswich, are mystified by a set of large pawprints, seemingly of an animal with claws or toes, which have appeared in their garden.
Maybe it's Bernard.

Drivers Buy Fake Emblems
Increasing numbers of car owners are going to dealers, or to eBay, to buy emblems to make their cars look like more expensive versions.

Fake Breastfeeding Picture of ABC Anchor
Elizabeth Vargas was disappointed that the magazine Marie Claire photoshopped her head onto a picture of a model breastfeeding at the anchor desk. The photograph was to illustrate an article on balancing work and motherhood.
Posted: Mon Nov 20, 2006.   Comments (8)

Quick Links: Bull on Roof, etc. — imageBull on Roof
Chumuckla Elementary School found a lifesize fibreglass bull on the roof on Monday. The bull belongs to a local ranch owner, and is worth more than $1000.

£1/4M Compass is £50 Fake
A compass, said to have been used by Lawrence of Arabia in his adventures and sold for £254,000 at Christie's auction house along with a watch and cigarette case, could be worth no more than £50.

Kaczynski stands in for Kaczynski
Polish President Lech Kaczynski has stepped in to replace his identical twin Jaroslaw, Poland's prime minister, at a European Union summit meeting in Finland.
Posted: Tue Oct 24, 2006.   Comments (10)

Fake College Student — David Jovani Vanegas claimed to be a sophomore transfer student at Rice University. In reality he had never managed to get into Rice.

Last September, Vanegas started attending classes. He also ate in the university's cafeterias, hung out with other students, and occasionally crashed in people's dorms when he was too tired to go back to his off-campus lodgings. Vanegas appears to have been relatively friendly towards students, but didn't seem to form many lasting relationships. Hardly surprising, really.

It was Vanegas' friend Daniel Rasheed that turned him in to the police. He says he wasn't expecting such repercussions.

On September 13th 2006, Vanegas was arrested.

On the day of Vanegas's arrest, criminal trespass charges were filed against him (but later dismissed). Within the next few weeks, campus administrators alleged that Vanegas had taken close to $3,700 worth of food from Rice cafeterias. On September 28, the district attorney's office filed felony charges for aggregate theft. Bail was set at $2,000.

The reason he gave for his fake studies? He didn't get into the university, but it would have broken his mother's heart for him not to attend.
Posted: Tue Oct 17, 2006.   Comments (34)

1990 Buckwheat Hoax — In October 1990 ABC aired an interview with a man who, so they believed, had played Buckwheat in the Our Gang series during the 1930s. I have a page about this case of mistaken identity in the hoaxes throughout history gallery:
Buckwheat was the wide-eyed, African-American character played for almost ten years by William Thomas. He was famous for his signature phrase, "O-Tay!" After leaving the show, Thomas dropped from the public eye. 20/20 claimed that it had tracked him down to Tempe, Arizona where he was working at a low-paying job as a grocery bagger. It aired an interview with him in which he talked about the cruel twists and turns his life had taken. Unfortunately for 20/20, the man they interviewed was not William Thomas... The man 20/20 interviewed was an impostor named Bill English who had been claiming to be Buckwheat for the past 30 years.
And I've just now discovered that YouTube has a video from 1990 of A Current Affair interviewing the Buckwheat imposter, after he was exposed. Even though it was clear no one was buying his story any more, the guy still insisted he was Buckwheat. Kind of sad and funny at the same time.

Posted: Tue Oct 10, 2006.   Comments (11)

Quick Links: Itsy Bitsy Imposter, etc. — Itsy Bitsy Imposter
Paul Vance, co-writer of the song 'Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini' was slightly startled to read his own obituary - the result of an imposter.

Robot Art Goes On Display
A Portugese artist has devised a robot that creates its own paintings.

Teddy Bear Causes 2,500 Trout Deaths
A teddy bear that fell into a pool at a Fish and Game Department hatchery earlier this month clogged a drain, and suffocated a large number of trout in New Hampshire.
A written warning has been given: "RELEASE OF ANY TEDDY BEARS into the fish hatchery water IS NOT PERMITTED."

(Thanks, Accipiter.)
Posted: Thu Sep 28, 2006.   Comments (15)

Writer Behind J.T. LeRoy Comes Clean — Laura Albert, the writer behind J.T. LeRoy, has finally confessed to the hoax.

She says that her psychiatrist encouraged her to write when she was in therapy.
In terms of her attitude to perpetrating a hoax, the article says: When asked if she felt any shame about misleading people, she replied: "I bleed, but it's a different kind of shame... If knowing that I'm 15 years older than (LeRoy) devalues the work, then I'm sorry they feel that way."

Although it was fairly clear that the young man was fictional, even when Geoffrey Knoop (the partner of Laura Albert, and half-brother to LeRoy's 'public face', Savannah Knoop) confessed to his part in the scam, he said he doubted Albert would ever admit it, and was quoted as saying:"For her, it's very personal. It's not a hoax. It's a part of her."

Seems he was wrong.

Previous posts on J.T. LeRoy:
February 07 2006 Knoop Confesses JT Leroy Was a Hoax
October 10, 2005: Is JT Leroy A Hoax?
January 9, 2006: JT Leroy: An Update

(Thanks, J.)
Posted: Thu Sep 28, 2006.   Comments (3)

LonelyGirl15 — image I've been guilty of ignoring LonelyGirl15. For months I've been getting emails asking me whether or not she's real. I checked out her YouTube videos, and I'll admit that I found it hard to care whether or not she was real (maybe because I'm getting old), so I never posted about her. (Though there has been a thread in the forum about her for over a month.) But I evidently misjudged her appeal, because this week there have been hundreds of articles about her following the revelation that she was a fake.

For anyone who has somehow missed all the hoopla, LonelyGirl15 (aka Bree) was the screenname of a young woman posting confessional-style videos on YouTube. She was attractive and there was a good amount of drama in her life. (Always a winning formula.) A lot of the drama focused around tension with her extremely religious parents, especially since it was not clear what religion they were. Allusions to Satanist occultist Aleister Crowley suggested they weren't your run-of-the-mill religion.

Many people suspected LonelyGirl15 to be a fake. Some of her videos seemed too self-consciously amateur while others displayed professional editing touches.

The issue came to a head when internet sleuths linked the ip address of her emails to a Hollywood talent agency. Then, early in September, a message appeared on the LonelyGirl website from its "Creators" declaring that they were filmmakers and that the entire video blog series was fiction. Their identity remained unknown until a few days ago when LonelyGirl was revealed to be Jessica Rose, a 19-year-old graduate of the New York Film Academy, and "The Creators" were Ramesh Flinders and Miles Beckett.

So is there anything new or never-before-seen about the LonelyGirl hoax? Well, the fake confessional format certainly isn't new. Examples of that can be found as far back as the 18th century with Benjamin Franklin's Silence Dogood letters. Fake confessional blogs aren't new either. Remember the Plain Layne hoax from a few years back? The only novel aspect of LonelyGirl is that it's the first major fake blog in a video format. In other words, it's not all that new.

The other question is: Will people continue to be interested in LonelyGirl now that they know it's fiction. The LonelyGirl creators certainly hope so, but I'm not sure. People display very different attitudes towards what they believe to be real versus what they know to be false, and it's usually not easy for them to change their attitudes. Specifically, people tend to be forgiving of rough edges in reality, whereas they're more demanding of fiction. (Which is one of the reasons why Reality TV shows can get away with being so low-budget.) So now that they know LonelyGirl was fiction they may think back and say, 'Well, it wasn't really all that great.' However, if the story is good, the audience might stay.
Posted: Sun Sep 17, 2006.   Comments (23)

Quick Links, KFCruelty.com, etc. —
Mr. KentuckyFriedCruelty.com Changes Name
Last year Christopher Garnett officially changed his name to "Kentucky fried cruelty.com". (It was a PETA publicity stunt.) Now he's had enough and is changing it back. Anyone feel like changing their name to "Museum of Hoaxes.com"? I'll give you a free book if you do. (Thanks, Beverley)

Thames Town, China
image The cobbled streets, Georgian houses, and Tudor-style pub might make you think you're in England. But you're really in Thames Town, a faux British village being constructed in China. I've heard of faux English towns in Korea also, but the Korean ones are used for English-language instruction.

Imitation French Fries
In response to a ban on fried food in school cafeterias, some Arizona schools are now serving "imitation fries." Or so claims the headline of the article. In reality, they're just fries that have been baked rather than fried. I don't think that really makes them imitation fries. Baked fries can taste pretty good, especially the curly ones seasoned with chili powder.

Religion-Related Fraud Worsens
Scams targeting churchgoers are on the rise. One passage from this article caught my eye: "Leaders of Greater Ministries International, based in Tampa, Fla., defrauded thousands of people of half a billion dollars by promising to double money on investments that ministry officials said were blessed by God." Instead of Sunday school, maybe churches should offer classes in critical thinking. Just an idea.
Posted: Tue Aug 15, 2006.   Comments (19)

Sheep Thinks She’s A Dog —
Status: Case of mistaken identity
imageIt's not quite as dramatic as the cases of humans raised with wolves, but it's interesting nevertheless. Rolo the Sheep was raised with collies, and now seems to believe that she's a dog. The BBC reports:
Rolo - named after her favourite sweets - competes with sheepdogs to jump through hoops, walks on a lead and herds ducks at her Gwynedd home. Owner Emlyn Roberts says Rolo likes nothing more than watching football on TV after calling up for her food...
"She comes to the house to be fed and to watch the television," he added.
"She comes in dead on time every day and knocks the door with her head if I've forgotten," he added.
"She is growing up exactly like a dog. You can tell she thinks of herself as a dog."
Once her dinner is finished, Rolo will then sit with Mr Roberts as he watches the television and seems to especially enjoy ball games with plenty of action.
I'm not sure what my cat thinks she is. She definitely considers herself better than other cats, but also better than us humans. She probably considers herself a deity.

Posted: Tue Jun 06, 2006.   Comments (10)

Vatican Warns on Fake Papal Organist —
Status: Imposter
This is over a week old, but it struck me as odd enough to be worth posting anyway:
The archpriest of St. Peter's basilica has warned European concert organizers against a musician who is falsely advertising himself as the "official organist" to Pope Benedict XVI... An Italian musician, Massimiliano Mussi, has issued publicity brochures in which he claims to a papal appointment. The cardinal warned promoters that the Vatican has only one official organist, American James Edward Goettsche. "Any other person who claims similar titles or merits should be considered dishonest," the cardinal said.
So I'm really curious about what this guy's story is. Has he resorted to deception to get a leg-up in the cut-throat world of organ playing? Or is he using this as a line to pick up girls? "Hey baby, I play the Pope's organ."
Posted: Thu Jun 01, 2006.   Comments (6)

Will The Real Guy Kewney Please Stand Up? —
Status: Case of mistaken identity
Guy Kewney, editor of newswireless.net, was scheduled to be interviewed by the BBC about the Apple Computer vs. Apple record label case. But as he stood in the lobby of the BBC building waiting to be met by the studio manager, he saw, to his surprise, someone else introduced and then interviewed under his name. Guy Kewney, according to his own description, is "fair-haired, blue-eyed, prominent-nosed, and with the sort of pale skin that makes my dermatologist wince each time I complain about an itchy mole." By contrast, the Guy Kewney being interviewed on air was "Black. Also, he spoke with a French-sounding accent, and he seemed as baffled as I felt."

So what was going on? It turned out that the studio manager had confused a taxi driver sitting in the reception area for Guy Kewney. The taxi driver didn't really understand what was going on and happily followed the studio manager's lead. The Times gives this description of the interview:
The cabbie, who is better qualified to talk about traffic jams in Shepherds Bush, answered questions for several minutes on Apple Computer’s victory at the High Court against Apple Corps, the record label for the Beatles, The Times has learnt. Karen Bowerman, the BBC’s consumer affairs correspondent, asked the driver what the implications were for Apple Computer, which is allowed to continue using its name and symbol for its iTunes music download service. He gave a rambling answer about how people would be able to download songs at internet cafés. Ms Bowerman was nonplussed, but persisted. What about Apple? "I don’t know," the driver replied. "I'm not at all sure what I'm doing here."
I've always thought that many of the "experts" interviewed on news shows aren't much more knowledgeable about the topics being discussed than any random person would be. They just happen to be the first person the news show could find who was willing to go on-air. So I think this cabbie should start a new second career as a freelance expert on all topics. Once he hones his b.s. skills, he could be as good as any of them.
Posted: Sat May 13, 2006.   Comments (5)

The Earl of Buckingham —
Status: Imposter
image The scam of pretending to be British peerage is still going strong. A few months ago we heard about that guy in Minnesota who was picking up teenage girls by claiming to be the Fifth Duke of Cleveland (aka the Earl of Scooby). Now comes word of a far more elaborate scam. The man in question called himself Christopher Buckingham, the Earl of Buckingham. He had been living under that identity for almost twenty years. Police realized last year that he was living under a false name when his passport got checked as he was crossing the Channel. (The real Christopher Buckingham had died as an infant.) But police couldn't figure out what his true identity was. Until now. Turns out he's Charles Stopford of Florida. The Stopford family recognized him when they saw a story about him in The Times. He had disappeared twenty years ago and they had no clue what became of him.

Posted: Mon May 08, 2006.   Comments (8)

Inauthentic Paper Detector —
Status: anti-counterfeit technology
Last year I posted about a group of MIT students who created an Automatic Scientific Paper Generator, capable of creating "random Computer Science research papers, including graphs, figures, and citations." One of the papers created by this program was accepted for presentation at the World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics. To stop something like this happening again, researchers at the Indiana University School of Informaics have invented an Inauthentic Paper Detector. It's supposed to be able to tell whether a paper has been written by a human or a machine. The researchers write: "The main purpose of this software is to detect whether a technical document conforms to the statistical standards of an expository text... We are trying to detect new, machine written texts that are simply generated not to have any meaning, yet appear to have meaning on the surface."

I tested the Inauthentic Paper Detector by having it analyze the last couple of entries I've written. It told me: "This text had been classified as INAUTHENTIC with a 38.4% chance of being authentic text." I guess this confirms the theory that the real Alex drowned in Loch Ness back in September 2004 and was replaced by replicant Alex. (via New Scientist)
Posted: Thu Apr 27, 2006.   Comments (15)

Mystery Man Found On Raft —
Status: Undetermined
image Last Friday a man was found floating on a makeshift raft in the Skagerrak strait between Sweden and Norway. He claimed that he had been set adrift four days ago by another ship. He also said that his name was George Williams, and that he had been born in Cape Town. Within a day he had added details to his story and now said that his parents were Russian-Jewish parents, but that he had been given up for adoption at an early age. Authorities doubt that he could have been floating out there for four days, given the cold temperatures. So the guy presents a bit of a mystery. Who is he really? And how did he end up on a raft in the middle of the ocean? The story has shades of last year's Piano Man mystery. (Thanks to Asheim for the links)
Posted: Mon Apr 24, 2006.   Comments (2)

Victoria’s Secret Basketball Prank —
Status: prank
image Here's a prank that definitely rates as one of the more inventive (and cruel) student pranks of recent years. The set-up occurred a week before a NCAA game pitting UC Berkeley against the University of Southern California. USC's starting guard, Gabe Pruitt (pictured), met a UCLA coed named Victoria online. They traded messages via AOL Instant Messenger. She sent him her picture. He sent her his. They arranged to meet after the game on March 4.

The sinker occurred during the March 4th game. When Pruitt appeared on the court, UC fans started to chant "VIC-TOR-IA, VIC-TOR-IA." Their chants continued throughout the game, escalating to include the recitation of Pruitt's phone number. Transcripts of Pruitt's IM chats with "Victoria" were also circulated throughout the crowd (including classic lines such as "You look like you have a very fit body... Now I want to c u so bad"). Pruitt was visibly shocked, missed a bunch of free throws, and ended up 3-for-13 from the field.

It turned out that "Victoria" didn't exist. She was the fictional creation of a couple of UC fans. Pruitt had been punk'd. Understandably, some USC fans aren't too happy about the prank. (So are they plotting revenge?) (via Deadspin and Schneier on Security)

By coincidence, a similar prank was in the news last week (though it was far creepier and more disturbing in its implications). Five boys created an online profile of a fictitious 15-year-old girl they called "Jessica." To their surprise, a 48-year-old guy contacted "Jessica" and started to chat her up. The five boys played along, and eventually lured the guy into meeting Jessica in real life. But when the guy showed up for the meeting, it was the police, not Jessica, who were waiting for him.

Both these incidents go to show that you never really know who you're talking to on the internet. Or as Reality Rule 6.3 from Hippo Eats Dwarf states: "On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog." (It makes more sense if you see the cartoon it refers to.)

Related Posts:
Jan. 6, 2004: Vixen Love
Sep. 6, 2005: Skype Prank
Posted: Thu Mar 16, 2006.   Comments (10)

Knoop Confesses JT Leroy Was a Hoax —
Status: Final nail in coffin of JT Leroy
Just in case there was anyone who still doubted that JT Leroy was a hoax, the deception has finally been admitted to by an insider, Geoffrey Knoop. Knoop was the partner of Laura Albert, the woman who (it can now definitely be said) wrote all of JT Leroy's books. The face of JT Leroy, whenever Leroy made any public appearances, was Savannah Knoop, Geoffrey's half-sister. Geoffrey Knoop has said: "The jig is up... I do want to apologize to people who were hurt. It got to a level I didn't expect." Knoop also says that he doubts Laura Albert will ever admit to being JT Leroy: "For her, it's very personal. It's not a hoax. It's a part of her."

Previous posts about JT Leroy:
October 10, 2005: Is JT Leroy A Hoax?
January 9, 2006: JT Leroy: An Update

Posted: Mon Feb 06, 2006.   Comments (2)

Nasdijj, Native-American Memoirist —
Status: Phony
image Here we go again. Another memoirist has been unmasked as a phony. This time it's Nasdijj, celebrated Native-American author of autobiographical works such as The Blood Runs Like A River Through My Dreams and The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping. Turns out he ain't Native American, unless by Native American one means white anglo-saxon protestant. His real identity seems to be that of Tim Barrus, who grew up in a middle-class community in Lansing, Michigan. As Barrus, he was a pioneer of gay "leather" erotica, before the gay community got tired of his antics and he disappeared for a few years, only to resurface as Nasdijj. The Native American community has had its doubts about him for quite a while, since he never seemed to have a firm grasp on the nuances of Navajo culture. But he's been fully unmasked by Matthew Fleischer in an article in this week's LA Weekly.

So this month alone we've seen the work of JT LeRoy, James Frey, and now Nasdijj called into question. One common theme is that the work of all three was widely praised for its raw, brutal honesty. Given how artificial and pre-packaged much of our world seems, there's obviously a big demand for things that seem uncommercialized and genuine. But as we're seeing, this demand has provided a perfect opportunity for con artists who can cynically exploit it by serving up fake experience as the real thing. (Thanks to Joe Littrell for forwarding the link.)
Posted: Thu Jan 26, 2006.   Comments (5)

Man Pretends To Be Nazi To Get Fired —
Status: Bizarre Excuse
Last year Jacques Pluss was fired from his position as a history professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University after the school became aware that he was an active member of the American Nazi Party. Now Pluss is saying that yes, he was a Nazi, but he was only pretending to believe all that stuff. It was all part of an effort to go undercover to collect information for a book. So far undercover that no one was aware of his true feelings, except for his mother, who's now dead. Inside Higher Ed reports:

Told that the links among various white power groups have been well documented by groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, [Pluss] said, “I became a Neo-Nazi because when I was thinking of applying my historical method last year, I wanted to find the most hard-hittingly obnoxious group that I could come up with.” He stressed that he finds Nazi ideology offensive. He said that he realizes his approach upset his former colleagues and students at Fairleigh Dickinson; at William Paterson University, where he previously was a tenured professor of history; and at the University of Chicago, where he earned his Ph.D. Pluss said that he couldn’t tell anyone about his deception as that would have disturbed his “method acting approach.”... Asked if we can know with confidence that he’s not engaged in another hoax, he said, “you don’t know,” but insisted that he was telling the truth — this time.

I think this guy goes beyond simply being full of it. He sounds full-blown delusional.
Posted: Mon Jan 16, 2006.   Comments (8)

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