The Top 25 Web Hoaxes and Pranks

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Hoaxes 6 Through 10

The lower half of our top 10 ranges from a kidneynapping scare to a cookie recipe worth its weight in saffron.

6. It's Kidney Harvesting Time (1996)

The subject line is laden with exclamation points: "Travelers Beware!!!" If that's not enough to get your attention, the chilling story certainly will. The message warns that an organ-harvesting crime ring is drugging tourists in New Orleans and Las Vegas, snatching their "extra" kidneys, selling the organs to non-Hippocratic hospitals, and leaving the victims to wake up in a bathtub full of ice and find a brief note that explains the situation and conveniently identifies the phone number of the nearest emergency room. Hey, maybe they'll get lucky and the hospital will have a compatible replacement kidney on hand. But travelers, fear not!!! According to the National Kidney Foundation, this scenario has never actually occurred--though it does have the makings of a great horror flick. (Freddy's Last Harvest, anyone?)

7. You've Got Virus! (1999 and on)

There's isn't a Teddy Bear virus. Nor is there a sulfnbk.exe or A Virtual Card for You ("the "WORST VIRUS EVER!!!...CNN ANNOUNCED IT. PLEASE SEND THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW!!!").

The jdbgmgr.exe hoax (also known as Teddy Bear because the jdbgmgr.exe file is represented by a teddy bear icon) warned recipients of the e-mail message that they were at risk of infection from a virus sent via address books or Microsoft Messenger, and that they should delete the file immediately. But in reality there was no virus--and unfortunately, jdbgmgr.exe was a necessary Java file. The sulfnbk.exe hoax nailed even advanced users with its insistence that the file--a legit one that's used for fixing long file names--was a virus. Lots of people removed it.

Similarly, A Virtual Card for You claimed that McAfee had discovered a virus that, when opened, would destroy the hard drive on an infected system and would automatically send itself to everyone on the user's e-mail contacts list. Of course, it didn't do anything except scare people. So before you forward an e-mail virus warning to anyone (especially to me), look it up on Sophos or Vmyths to make sure it isn't a fraud.

8. Microsoft Buys Firefox (2006)

Microsoft Firefox 2007 Pro: Closed-source and better than ever!
Talk about scaring the entire open-source community. In October 2006, a
previously unknown Web site popped up, announcing Microsoft's acquisition of Firefox and promoting the company's new Microsoft Firefox 2007 Professional. The site talks glowingly about the browser's new features and provides a video advertisement for the product. It was a great prank, and the image of the Microsoft Firefox 2007 box was so elaborate and professional looking that the blood pressure of real Firefox users went sky-high.

9. The Really Big Kitty (2001)

How many half-lives does an atomic cat have?
There are big cats and then there are even bigger cats. This one, reportedly tipping the scales at almost 90 pounds, was enormous. The claim seemed plausible and even snookered a lot of e-mail cynics (I'm raising my hand)--until they read the accompanying copy, that is. With nonsense about the owner working at Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, and more balderdash about nuclear reactors, the jig was up. Eventually, the cat's owner fessed up to a
creative Photoshop session, though he claimed that he never expected anyone to believe the photo was real.

Image courtesy of

10. $250 Cookie Recipe (1996)

The woman loved the cookie she had just nibbled at a Neiman Marcus cafe in Houston, so she asked her waiter for the recipe. "Two-fifty," he said, and she agreed without hesitation, instructing him to add it to her tab. But when the woman's Visa bill arrived, it read $250, instead of $2.50. Bent on revenge, she proceeded to ask you to blast the recipe to--okay, ready?--EVERYONE YOU KNOW!!! Like many hoaxes, this one predated the Internet, only to resurface in the electronic age. It appeared in a cookbook in the late 1940s as the $25 fudge cake, popped up in the 1960s as the Waldorf-Astoria red-velvet cake recipe, and re-emerged in the 1970s as the Mrs. Fields cookie recipe.

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