The Net's Most Heinous Hoaxes

MySpace Suicide

This hoax may have been the most senselessly cruel of any listed here. In 2007, a 13-year-old girl committed suicide after being dumped by her MySpace "boyfriend."

The girl's family later learned that the MySpace "boyfriend"--a cute boy named Josh--never existed. He was a fictional character made up by the mother of another girl. The Josh character had gained the girl's confidence before sending her a message that told her he didn't want to be friend anymore because he'd heard she was a mean person. The girl, who was on medication for depression and attention deficit disorder, took her own life the next day.

Our take: Unforgivable.

419 Nigerian Money Scams

419 Scam
You say you'll give me millions of dollars if I travel to your country and give you cash first? Well, OK...
Nigerian money scams are so overexposed in the media these days that it's hard to believe people still fall for them. Then again, the scammers send out thousands of e-mail appeals every day in the hope of getting just one gullible person to reply.

The scam itself is pretty simple: The grifter promises the randomly chosen e-mail recipient an absurd amount of money to help the crook "transfer funds" from one bank to another (or some variation thereof). To help the con artist, all the victim has to do is provide his/her personal information, bank information, and, oh yeah, a small fee (around $200--a small price to pay, considering the impending payoff) to help transfer the money. If the scammee goes along, bam! The scammer obtains all of the scammee's personal info, and a tidy little sum besides.

Not bad for one e-mail.

These scams can be life-threatening as well as costly. In some cases, the scammers invite the victims to travel to Nigeria or a bordering country to complete the transaction. In 1995, an American was killed in Lagos, Nigeria, while pursuing such a scam. Truly horrific.

Work-At-Home Scams

Like the Nigerian money scams, work-at-home come-ons are heavily reported in the media. Yet people still fall for them. Most people know that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But desperation or greed makes some people forget.

Work-at-home scams promise you the opportunity to make quick, easy money from the comfort of your house; all you need is a computer--which, of course, you have. Any number of activities may be your ticket to riches--stuffing envelopes, transcribing, medical billing--but first you need to do send the scammer some money for preliminary materials. Except, of course, that materials will never come, and you'll have lost your money, and you still won't have a job.

Heinous? Such scams aren't life threatening, but they can certainly put a dent in your savings--especially if you fall for them more than once. And the fact that they prey primarily on unemployed or underemployed people who aren't exactly swimming in discretionary income (it's hard to imagine Warren Buffett jumping at the chance to make money by stuffing envelopes) increases their vileness quotient at least a little. Remember, if prospective employers ask you to send money before you start working for them...it's probably a scam.

Facebook Hoax on TechCrunch

TechCrunch Facebook Hoax
Those kids at Facebook have a sense of humor.
Guess you should stay on the good side of people who run your primary social networking site. In September 2009, Facebook's PR went rogue and punk'd TechCrunch with a "Fax This Photo" option.

TechCrunch reporter Jason Kincaid opened his Facebook on September 10, 2009, and discovered that under every photo there was a new option: "Fax This Photo." It seemed ridiculous--but everyone in the TechCrunch network saw it, so he sent an e-mail to Facebook. They didn't respond, so he posted a skeptical note. He then called Facebook PR...and discovered that it was all a big prank, and that Facebook staffers were placing bets on how long it would be before TechCrunch posted it.

Heinous? Not at all. TechCrunch got PWN'd.

Of Related Interest

For two discussions--one old and one fairly new--of online scams, check out these stories:

• "Top Five Online Scams" (2005)

• "5 Facebook Schemes That Threaten Your Privacy" (2009)

For a look at some relatively benign online hoaxes (mixed in with some evil ones), read this:

• "The Top 25 Web Hoaxes and Pranks" (2007)

And from deep in the vaults of PCWorld.com come these chestnuts:

• "Devious Internet Hoaxes" (2002)

• "The Worst Internet Hoaxes" (2001)

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