The Museum of Hoaxes
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Eras: 0-1699 1700s 1800-1868 1869-1913 1914-1949 1950-1976 1977-1989 1990s 2000s
The Hoax Archive — A collection of the most notorious deceptions throughout history
Financial Scams
Phony 9/11 Deaths. As estimates of the death toll rose in the days following the 9/11 attacks, enormous amounts of sympathy and media attention flowed out towards those who had lost loved ones in the attack. Those who had participated in rescue efforts were hailed as national heroes. But simultaneously, many people (motivated, perhaps, by a desire for sympathy or attention) fabricated tales of phony heroics and lost loved ones in the weeks and months following... Continue…
Redheffer’s Perpetual Motion Machine, 1812. In 1812 a Philadelphia man, Charles Redheffer, claimed to have invented a perpetual motion machine that required no source of energy to run. He built a working model of the machine and applied for funds from the city government to build a larger version. But when inspectors from the city examined it, they realized that Redheffer had simply hidden the power source. To expose Redheffer, they commissioned a local engineer to build a similar machine,... Continue…
The Great Stock Exchange Hoax of 1814. In 1814 a man wearing a British military uniform rowed up to a dock on the coast of the English Channel and told the guards there that Napoleon had been killed. Immediately riders were sent to London. When traders on the London stock exchange heard the news they celebrated by bidding up the price of stocks. But soon after they realized the truth, that the war against Napoleon was still raging on. They had been tricked. Immediately the market... Continue…
The Civil War Gold Hoax, 1864. An attempt at stockmarket manipulation. Several New York papers were tricked into printing bad news about the Civil War. In response, investors dumped stocks and bought gold, perceived as a safer investment. But the bad news had been planted by a newspaper insider who had previously invested heavily in gold, hoping to profit from the anticipated rise in its price. He was tracked down and arrested within 3 days. Continue…
Keely Motor Company, 1875. John Worrell Keely founded the Keely Motor Company in 1875 in order to develop and commercialize his invention: a "vibratory generator" that required only a quart of water to generate the equivalent of the power needed to pull a fully-loaded train for over 75 minutes. Following successful demonstrations of this miraculous device in his workshop, investors rushed to give him money, even though the scientific community derided his claims. For... Continue…
Freund’s Electric Sugar Fraud, 1889. In the mid-1880s, Henry C. Freund showed up in New York, claiming he had invented a process that would revolutionize the sugar refining industry. He said he could refine one ton of raw sugar for 80 cents, whereas the techniques currently in use cost around $10 a ton. Plus, his method took only ten minutes, and it produced a high-quality granulated sugar, far finer than any seen before. But he insisted on keeping his process secret, disclosing... Continue…
The Gold Accumulator, 1896. Prescott Jernegan claimed he had found a way to cheaply extract gold from sea water. His "Gold Accumulator" consisted of a wooden box, inside of which was a pan of mercury mixed with a secret ingredient. A wire connected the mercury to a small battery. When lowered into the ocean, this contraption supposedly sucked gold out of the water. A test conducted in Narragansett Bay in February 1897 proved the gold accumulator worked. After a few hours... Continue…
Cassie Chadwick, 1904. Between 1897 and 1904, Cassie Chadwick scammed millions of dollars from Ohio banks by claiming to be the illegitimate daughter of Andrew Carnegie. The banks, believing they could charge Carnegie high interest rates, happily loaned her the money without asking too many questions. Chadwick had used a simple ruse to lay the groundwork for her scam. She had asked a Cleveland lawyer to accompany her to Carnegie's house. He waited in the carriage... Continue…
Charles Ponzi and the Ponzi Scheme, 1920. Charles Ponzi (1883-1949) Charles Ponzi, an Italian immigrant living in Boston in the early twentieth century, was said by his worshipful followers to have "discovered money." In fact, what he really discovered was a way to bilk the public out of millions of dollars by means of a financial pyramid scheme. There were pyramid schemes before Ponzi came along, but his was so outrageous that this type of scam has ever since borne his name. Continue…
The Brassiere Brigade, 1950. In September 1950, police in Miami, Florida accidentally discovered a crime ring that had been stealing thousands of dollars from the local phone company for years. The thieves were young women employed in the counting room of the Southern Bell Telephone Company. They were smuggling money out of the building by hiding coin rolls in their bras. The combination of attractive young women, lingerie, and money proved irresistible to the media, and the... Continue…
The Emulex Hoax, 2000. A US Attorney announces the arrest of Mark Jakob Disturbing headlines greeted the shareholders of Emulex Corp. on the morning of August 25, 2000: "Emulex Announces Revised Earnings; SEC Launches Investigation Into Accounting Practices. Paul Folino Steps Down As CEO." The company's stock price responded swiftly to this news, which ran on all the major wire services, sinking from a morning high of $113.06 to a low of $43 by 10:30 a.m. Emulex... Continue…
Madoff Investment Securities, 2008. Bernard Madoff founded Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC in 1960. It became a prestigious firm on Wall Street, acting both as a market-maker (a middleman between buyers and sellers of shares) and as an investment fund that managed money for high-net-worth individuals and institutions. Year after year Madoff delivered reliable annual returns of around 10% for his investors. He managed to do this even in down markets when everyone else... Continue…

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  • All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.