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The Greatest Internet Hoaxes of All Time

November 3, 2009 , Posted by byu at 8:29 AM

For centuries, countless hoaxes have made fools out of people gullible enough to believe that the likes of the Loch Ness monster or that Roswell alien autopsy video were real. You would think that with the advent of modern technology, people would smarten up and take whatever tall tale comes their way with a grain of salt. Wrong.

With the whole world practically online, the number of suckers for hoaxes has increased exponentially. Most of the time, all it takes is one email or one photo to turn even the most highly educated of people into ardent believers in dead fairies, aliens running their own websites, or killer bananas.

Listed below are 12 of the greatest Internet hoaxes of all time. And yes, I was a sucker for at least one when it first came out. As the wrongly-attributed quote goes, there’s one born every minute.

1) 9/11 WTC Tourist Guy Hoax

 This is the hoax that had me and millions of people all over the world. With emotions running high over the 9/11 attacks, it is but natural that a picture of a clueless male tourist posing on the World Trade Center observation deck with one of the hijacked planes ominously approaching from behind would grab so much attention. And considering that it started appearing online a mere two weeks after the attacks, this is probably the most tasteless and cruel joke I’ve ever come across.

2. Killer Bananas Hoax

The Center for Disease Control purportedly issued this email “warning” sometime in 2000: "several shipments of bananas from Costa Rica have been infected with necrotizing fasciitis, otherwise known as flesh eating bacteria. Recently this disease has decimated the monkey population in Costa Rica. We are now learning that the disease has been able to graft itself to the skin of fruits in the region, most notably the Banana, which is Costa Rica's largest export."

Mark Wahlberg’s character in “Planet of the Apes” sure could have used some of those bananas.

3. "Tommy Hilfiger is a racist" Hoax

A vicious email that circulated sometime in the 1990s said that famous American fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and said something like "If I'd known that African-Americans, Hispanics, Jewish, and Asians would buy my clothes, I would not have made them so nice." Never mind that Hilfiger has never appeared on Oprah until May 2007, and that the establishment of a Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C. is a cause close to his heart.

Naturally, the designer lost money because of the rumor. And his efforts at tracing the origin of the email proved fruitless.

4. Bill Gates Is Giving Away Money!

There are numerous variations of this email about Bill Gates personally contacting people and giving money away, and all you have to do is forward the email. It’s still in circulation, and I bet you $245 this has got to be the most forwarded email ever. At least that’s the amount that was promised me for every person that I send it to that forwards it on.


Some MIT grad students succeeded in twisting the panties of animal rights activists and the FBI in 2001 when it put up this site which taught people how to shape a "bonsai cat" by squishing a kitten inside a Mason jar using muscle relaxant and feeding tubes. It was all a prank of course.

6. The $250 cookie recipe

Neiman Marcus is known for its pricey items, but this story of a $250 chocolate chip cookie recipe it offers is downright ridiculous. The tale of a woman and her daughter being charged that amount just for the recipe of the store’s delicious cookies has actually been around for decades, and the wonders of email guarantee that it will be around for decades more.

And oh, Neiman Marcus now offers its cookie recipe on its website—for free.

7) The KFC Hoax

According to an email that spread in 2000, Kentucky Fried Chicken has officially changed its name to "KFC" because it no longer used real chickens, but "genetically manipulated organisms." That had "no beaks, no feathers, and no feet. Their bone structure is dramatically shrunk to get more meat out of them."

If you stopped eating at KFC because of this, then good for you and your health. Now all we have to do is circulate an email saying that McDonalds uses earthworms in its burgers or something and we’ll see a significant drop in stroke and heart attack cases everywhere.

8. The Helius Project

Not yet totally and definitively debunked as a hoax, but come on! An alien maintaining a website and communicating with people? Typically enough, many people who have communicated with this “alien” believe that The Helius Project is the real thing. Click here to make contact.

9. Deodorant Causes Cancer

This is probably one of the most convincing forwarded emails ever, and I still have it in my inbox. A woman who was at a health seminar purportedly forwarded a message warning that deodorants can cause breast cancer. The American Cancer Society said this isn’t true, but enough people believed it that the number of people using deodorants went down and the number of smelly people subsequently went up.

10. The "Panic PIN" hoax

The “Panic PIN” hoax is a hoax many people wish wasn’t one. As the story goes, bank customers being forced by robbers to withdraw money from an ATM can alert the police just by entering their PIN in reverse order. Chalk this up to “too good to be true”.

11. Dead fairy hoax

It’s been 90 years since two English girls fooled the world with their pictures of fairies, but not much has changed, really. People are as gullible as ever. Early this year, a website featured pictures of what it claimed to be the mummified remains of a fairy, complete with ears, wings, hair, skin, teeth. Naturally, there was an overwhelming response from fairy believers, who say they’ve also seen something like that before. Even when Dan Baines, the website’s owner, ‘fessed up that it was all a joke, the believers just didn’t believe him. He sold the “remains” on eBay for 280 pounds.

12. "Osama Bin Laden has been captured" hoax

Another hoax that we wish were true: Osama Bin Laden had been captured, says an email that spread in November 2004, that the Bush Administration was just holding the announcement off until right before the 2004 presidential elections. It’s September 2007, and nary a single strand of Osama’s beard has been apprehended.

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