Famous Hoaxes & Lies

Famous Hoaxes & Lies, Throughout the years many people have perpetrated hoaxes – often for publicity, and sometimes just for the hell of it. Of all the hoaxes through history, the ten in this list are the most famous. In at least two cases  millions of people have been fooled – or continue to be fooled! In no particular order, here they are Fooled you! Celebrity deaths, unexplained creatures, plagiarisms and fake kidnappings are just a few hoaxes and lies that have fooled the masses over the years. Check out these newsmakers and see how they managed to pull the wool over so many eyes.
Ray J. discovered Whitney Houston's body

February 2012

CNN reported that the body of the late singer and actress was discovered by her on-again off-again boyfriend Ray J. Norwood. It was later reported that Ray J. was nowhere near the hotel when Houston's body was found.
Cher's death hoax

January 2012

A tweet by a famous reality television star gave momentum to the false rumor that iconic singer Cher had died and the fabricated re-tweet by a major news network announcing the singer's death.
Joe Paterno premature death announcement

January 2012

The false reports of the death of the legendary Penn State college football coach Joe Paterno was announced by several media outlets more than 12 hours before his actual death
Jon Bon Jovi death hoax

December 2011

When tweets of rocker Jon Bon Jovi's death overtook the Internet just before Christmas, he posted this photo of himself as proof that he was alive and well.
Jackie Chan dead

August 2011

Twitter followers claimed yet another victim when rumors of this actor and martial artist’s death ran rampant. This wasn't the first Chan death rumor.
Twitter Obama death hoax

July 2011

There was no need to fly the U.S. flag at half-staff because reports about the death of President Barack Obama were quickly attributed to hackers of this network’s Twitter feed.
Gay girl in Damascus

June 2011

A blog about the struggles of Amina Arraf, a lesbian Syrian-American living in Damascus, gained national attention in 2011 when she was thought to have been kidnapped by armed men, but it turned out to be tantalizing Internet fiction.
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition - Cerda family

May 2011

Doctors determined that this family of four conned ABC into building them a new home by claiming that their two daughters suffered from this disease caused by toxins in their home.
Botox mom hoax

May 2011

A woman claiming to be named Kerry Campbell duped everyone into thinking she injected her 8-year-old daughter with Botox.
Bethany Storro acid attack hoax

September 2010

The Vancouver, Wash., woman gained international sympathy when she claimed a stranger threw acid on her face outside a coffee shop, causing horrific burns
Balloon boy hoax

October 2009

A family featured on this reality show gained sympathy from around the world when they claimed their 6-year-old son had floated away in a giant helium-filled balloon.
Gov. Mark Sanford disappearance

June 2009

This former governor initially attributed his abrupt six-day departure in 2009 to a hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail. After a reporter intercepted him at an airport, he made a startling confession.
April's mom blog

June 2009

This Chicago woman captivated anti-abortion proponents with false tales about choosing to carry her terminally ill child to term. Who was the baby?
Shane Fitzgerald Wikipedia hoax

May 2009

This 22-year-old college student’s fake quote on Wikipedia about the 2009 death of this Oscar-winning composer was used in major newspaper obituaries around the world.
Ashley Todd mugging hoax

October 2008

A volunteer for this 2008 presidential candidate, Todd falsely claimed to have been the victim of a politically motivated mugging and assault by a supporter of this Democratic opponent.
Kidnapping of Shannon Matthews

February 2008

The staged disappearance of this 9-year-old turned out to be a family affair, leading to the convictions of her mother and several family members.
Bigfoot's body

August 2008

Halloween came early in 2008 when a Georgia police officer and a former corrections officer claimed to have discovered the corpse of Bigfoot while hiking in the woods. DNA evidence proved them wrong.
The Montauk monster

July 2008

Do you believe in monsters? Some were left gawking when the carcass of this unidentified creature washed ashore on a New York beach in the summer of 2008.
JonBenet Ramsey murder confession

August 2006

Many were skeptical when former school teacher John Mark Carr confessed to the murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey. However, his DNA was not a match to evidence found on JonBenet’s body.
Lonelygirl 15

September 2006

A YouTube video blog by 15-year-old Bree Avery was outed as fictional
James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces"

February 2006

Many were shocked to learn that Frey’s memoir about his battle with alcohol and drug addiction was a work of fiction.
Runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks

April 2005

After Wilbanks disappeared four days before her wedding, she called her fiancé and claimed to have been abducted and sexually assaulted, sparking media frenzy and a nationwide search.
Jude Finisterra Dow Chemical hoax on BBC

December 2004

The Yes Men made a mockery of the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, when Andy Bichlbaum appeared on BBC World News in a fake news hijinks.
Daily Mirror torture photos

May 2004

Photos published in the Daily Mirror of Iraqi prisoners being tortured by British soldiers were proven to be staged, resulting in a newsroom shake-up.
Audrey Seiler kidnapping

March 2004

When this college student vanished in 2004 and was found four days later in a marsh, police quickly concluded that she had faked her kidnapping
Jayson Blair

May 2003

This New York Times reporter resigned in 2003 when it was proven that he had plagiarized and fabricated multiple articles.
Kaycee Nicole Swenson

May 2001

Thousands mourned the death of this 19-year-old from Kansas after following her online diary detailing her battle with cancer. But she never existed.
The Blair Witch Project


Believed by some to be the most elaborate movie hoax in history, this 1999 “documentary” unveiling the recovered footage of three missing filmmakers left audiences debating its authenticity.
"Hack Heaven" by Stephen Glass


From 1995 to 1998, this former journalist at The New Republic fabricated multiple articles, but it was this story about a 15-year-old hacker that initiated his downfall.
Alien autopsy


Music and video producer Ray Santilli claimed to have acquired a film of the autopsy of an extraterrestrial that had been discovered in the wreckage of a flying saucer that crashed in 1947 near Roswell, N.M.
Microsoft buys the Catholic Church


Thought to be the first Internet hoax to reach the masses, a 1994 press release bearing a Vatican City dateline announced that Microsoft was purchasing the Roman Catholic Church to capitalize on the potential growth in the religious market.
Susan Smith


The South Carolina woman was convicted of murdering her children after initially reporting to police that a black man had stolen her car with her children still inside.
The Internet Drunk Surfing Bill

April 1994

A magazine article announcing a bill prohibiting web surfing while intoxicated generated so many outraged phone calls to Congress that this senator's office released a denial of the rumor that he was the bill's sponsor.
The Hitler Diaries

April 1983

Handwritten volumes of secret diaries written by Adolf Hitler were proven to be forgeries, causing a major shake-up at these media publications.
Janet Cooke and "Jimmy’s World"


After Cooke accepted this prestigious award in 1981, the editors at the Washington Post began to doubt her 1980 article detailing the life of Jimmy, an 8-year-old heroin addict, when she was unable to provide proof of his existence.
Rosie Ruiz wins Boston Marathon


Ruiz was stripped of her first-place title when the Boston Athletic Association determined that she did not complete the entire course.
"Paul is Dead"


American college students started a rumor that The Beatles' guitarist Paul McCartney had died in 1966 and was replaced by this look-alike
Piltdown Man


This fossilized skull and jaw of an early human unearthed in 1912 was later proven to be a composite of multiple species.
War of the Worlds hoax


On Halloween Eve in 1938, this CBS radio drama about an alien invasion prompted mass hysteria in many American households.
Fiji Mermaid


Showman P.T. Barnum fooled and shocked audiences with this horrific manmade creature

Cardiff Giant


Dubbed as the greatest hoax in American history, this 10-foot-tallstone giant, exhumed in 1869 in Cardiff, in upstate New York, sparked heated religious debates concerning this biblical passage.

The Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon is considered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to be a divinely inspired book of equal value to the Bible. Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon religion, claimed that he was directed by an Angel to a hill near his home in which he found golden tablets containing the full text of the book. With the books he found two objects called the Urim and Thummim which he described as a pair of crystals joined in the form of a large pair of spectacles. Unfortunately, after Smith finished his translation, he had to return the tablets to the Angel, so there is no physical evidence that they ever existed.

The book refers to a group of Jews that moved to and settled in America where Jesus visited them. Some segments of the Book of Mormon contain sections copied directly from the King James version of the Bible – the Bible that was most popular at the time and used by Joseph Smith. One example is Mark 16:15-18 which is quoted nearly word-for-word in Mormon 9:22-24. In addition, the book mimics the literary and linguistic style of the King James Bible. Linguistic experts have stated that the entire book is written by one man, and is not written by a combination of authors (the prophets as claimed by Smith). Additionally, the book refers to animals and crops that did not exist in America until Columbus arrived: ass, bull, calf, cattle, cow, domestic goat, horse, ox, domestic sheep, sow, swine, elephants, wheat, and barley.

The most compelling proof that Joseph Smith was perpetuating a fraud is the Book of Abraham. In 1835 Smith was able to use his Urim and Thummim to translate some Egyptian scrolls that he was given access to (at that time no one could read hieroglyphics). Upon inspection, Smith declared that they contained the Book of Abraham. He promptly translated the lot and it was accepted as scripture by the church. The scrolls vanished and everyone thought the story would end there. But it didn’t – in 1966 the original scrolls were found in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. The scrolls turned out to be a standard Egyptian text that was often buried with the dead. To this day the Book of Abraham is a source of discomfort for the Mormon religion..

The Cottingley Fairies

The Cottingley Fairies are a series of five photographs taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, two young cousins living in Cottingley, near Bradford, England, depicting the two in various activities with supposed fairies. Elsie was the daughter of Arthur Wright, one of the earliest qualified electrical engineers. She borrowed her father’s quarter plate camera and took photos in the beck behind the family house. When Mr. Wright, upon developing the plates, saw fairies in the pictures, he considered them fake. After the taking of the second picture, he banned Elsie from using the camera again. Her mother, Polly, however was convinced of their authenticity.

In the summer of 1919, the matter became public and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (author of Sherlock Holmes) wrote an article for a leading magazine claiming that they were authentic. Not everyone was taken in by the fraud, as this statement from a leading Doctor at the time attests:
“On the evidence I have no hesitation in saying that these photographs could have been `faked’. I criticise the attitude of those who declared there is something supernatural in the circumstances attending to the taking of these pictures because, as a medical man, I believe that the inculcation of such absurd ideas into the minds of children will result in later life in manifestations and nervous disorder and mental disturbances…”

For fifty years the girls avoided publicity and the hoax continued to be believed by many. In late 1981 and mid 1982 respectively, Frances Way (née Griffiths) and Elsie Hill (née Wright), who took the photographs admitted that the first four pictures were fakes. Speaking of the first photograph in particular, Frances has said: “I don’t see how people could believe they’re real fairies. I could see the backs of them and the hatpins when the photo was being taken.” Both of the girls claimed, right up to their deaths, that the fifth photo was, in fact, authentic.

The Priory of Sion

The Priory of Sion has been characterized as anything from the most influential secret society in Western history to a modern Rosicrucian-esque group, but, ultimately, has been shown to be a hoax created in 1956 by Pierre Plantard, a pretender to the French throne. The evidence presented in support of its historical existence is not considered authentic or persuasive by established historians, academics, and universities, and the evidence was later discovered to have been forged and then planted in various locations around France by Plantard and his associates.

Between 1961 and 1984 Plantard contrived a mythical pedigree of the Priory of Sion claiming that it was the offshoot of the monastic order housed in the Abbey of Sion, which had been founded in the Kingdom of Jerusalem during the First Crusade and later absorbed by the Jesuits in 1617. Plantard hoped that the Priory of Sion would become an influential cryptopolitical irregular masonic lodge dedicated to the restoration of chivalry and monarchy, which would promote Plantard’s own claim to the throne of France.

The priory recently gained interest again (despite easily obtainable proof that it is a fake) through the publication of the book The Davinci Code which the author, Dan Brown, claims to be fact (proving that he lied outright about his alleged years of research for the book).

The Turk

The Turk was a fake chess-playing machine of the late 18th century, promoted as an automaton but later proved to be a hoax. The Turk made its debut in 1770 at Schönbrunn Palace. Its owner, Kempelen addressed the court, presenting what he had built, and began the demonstration of the machine and its parts. With every showing of the Turk, Kempelen began by opening the doors and drawers of the cabinet, allowing members of the audience to inspect the machine. Following this display, Kempelen would announce that the machine was ready for a challenger.

Kempelen would inform the player that the Turk would use the white pieces and have the first move. Between moves the Turk kept its left arm on the cushion. The Turk could nod twice if it threatened its opponent’s queen, and three times upon placing the king in check. If an opponent made an illegal move, the Turk would shake its head, move the piece back and make its own move, thus forcing a forfeit of its opponent’s move. Observers of the Turk would state that the machine played aggressively, and typically beat its opponents within thirty minutes.

The Turk was in fact a mechanical illusion that allowed a human chess master to hide inside and operate the machine. With a skilled operator, the Turk won most of the games played. The apparatus was demonstrated around Europe and the Americas for over 80 years until its destruction by fire in 1854, playing and defeating many challengers including statesmen such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin.

Loch Ness – the Surgeon’s Photo

One of the most iconic images of Nessie is known as the ‘Surgeon’s Photograph’ which many consider to be good evidence of the monster, although doubts about the photograph’s authenticity were expressed from the beginning. The image was revealed as a hoax in the 1990s. The photographer, a gynecologist named Robert Kenneth Wilson, never claimed it to be a picture of the monster. He merely claimed to have photographed “something in the water”. The photo is often cropped to make the monster seem huge, while the original uncropped shot shows the other end of the loch and the monster in the center.

Just a year before the hoax was revealed, the makers of Discovery Communications’ documentary Loch Ness Discovered did an analysis of the uncropped image and found a white object evident in every version of the photo, implying that it was on the negative. “It seems to be the source of ripples in the water, almost as if the object was towed by something”, the narrator said. “But science cannot rule out it was just a blemish on the negative,” he continued. Additionally, analysis of the full photograph revealed the object to be quite small, only about two to three feet long.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

The Protocol of the Elders of Zion is a text that purports to describe a Jewish and Masonic plot to achieve world domination. It is one of the most well known and discussed examples of literary forgery. Numerous independent investigations have concluded it to be either a plagiarism or a hoax. The Protocols is widely considered to be the beginning of contemporary conspiracy theory literature, and takes the form of an instruction manual to a new member of the “elders,” describing how they will run the world through control of the media and finance, and replace the traditional social order with one based on mass manipulation.

Continued usage of the Protocols as an antisemitic propaganda tool substantially diminished with the defeat of the Nazis in World War II. It is still frequently quoted and reprinted by some anti-Semitic circles, and is sometimes used as evidence of an alleged Jewish cabal, especially in the Middle East. Elements of the text in the Protocols appears to be plagiarized from an 1864 pamphlet, Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, written by the French satirist Maurice Joly. Joly’s work attacks the political ambitions of Napoleon III using Machiavelli as a diabolical plotter in Hell as a stand-in for Napoleon’s views.

Interestingly, many of the protocols aims have been achieved. For example: Universal suffrage, wide acceptance of pornography, the spread of Darwinism, Socialism, and Materialism.

The Cardiff Giant

The Cardiff Giant, one of the most famous hoaxes in American history, was a 10-foot-tall (3m) “petrified man” uncovered on October 16, 1869 by workers digging a well behind the barn of William C. “Stub” Newell in Cardiff, New York. Both it and an unauthorized copy made by P.T. Barnum are still on display. The Giant was the creation of a New York tobacconist named George Hull. Hull, an atheist, decided to create the giant after an argument with a fundamentalist minister named Mr. Turk about a passage in Genesis that stated that there were giants who once lived on earth.

Hull hired men to carve out a 10-feet-long, 4.5 inches block of gypsum in Fort Dodge, Iowa, telling them it was intended for a monument of Abraham Lincoln in New York. He shipped the block to Chicago, where he hired a German stonecutter to carve it into the likeness of a man and swore him to secrecy. Various stains and acids were used to make the giant appear to be old and weather beaten, and the giant’s surface was beaten with steel knitting needles embedded in a board to simulate pores. When the giant had been buried for a year, Newell hired two men, Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols, ostensibly to dig a well. When they found the Giant, one of them has been attributed to saying “I declare, some old Indian has been buried here!”.

The giant drew such crowds that showman P.T. Barnum offered $60,000 for a three-month lease of it (in his memoirs he said he wanted to buy it). When the syndicate turned him down he hired a man to covertly model the giant’s shape in wax and create a plaster replica. He put his giant on display in New York, claiming that his was the real giant and the Cardiff Giant was a fake. On February 2, 1870 both giants were revealed as fakes in court. The judge ruled that Barnum could not be sued for calling a fake giant a fake.