Money Making Hoaxes

© 2001 by Walt Howe
(last revised 25 April 2001)


This get-rich quick scheme and its many variants appears every day in many newsgroups and in e-mail, posted by newbies who are taken in by it. If you will send $5 (or some other amount) to the top name on a list of 5 or so, make 5 or 10 copies of it erasing the top name and adding your own at the bottom, in a few weeks, you will receive $50,000 or so, says the message. The author of the scheme tells how he got rich with it and how it is perfectly legal to do so, usually under the guise that you are selling business advice. The typical person who posts this figures that they can't lose, particularly if they don't bother to send the $10 to the first name, but they add their names and post it everywhere they can think of. Noone else sends the $10 either, and noone gets rich, but the message continues to clutter up newsgroups and e-mail every day. It is an illegal pyramid scheme, of course.

Pyramid or Ponzi schemes that depend on large numbers of people providing small amounts of money to the few at the top are completely illegal. Even if large numbers of people are taken in and send money to strangers, the supply of gullible people is sonn exhausted, and the scheme falls apart, leaving the late comers completely out of money. Some of these schemes claim they are legitimate multi-level marketing enterprises, and perhaps a few are. If you think you have a chance to make money based on a pyramidal sales organization, investigate it carefully with Better Business Bureaus and state Attorney General's ofices before you spend a cent. If its success depends on spamming large numbers with appeal by e-mail, think twice! Then think again!

E-mail tracker hoaxes

A number of hoaxes have been based on the idea that an "e-mail tracker" can keep track of everyone that you forward a message. If you help publicize whatever the cause is, you will get paid for each person you send it to and in turn for each person your addressees send it to. There are several Micorosoft variations, and Walt Disney, Jr. (who doesn't exist) or Outback Steak House or RH Power or the Newell Company will all send you money. Or the Gap will send you cargo pants. Ignore them all. There is no such technology as an e-mail tracker.

The 18-year-old virgins!

A recent money-making scam was the event, widely announced on the net, that two 18-year old virgins just out of high school, inspired by the recent birth of a baby, were going to lose their virginity on August 4th live on their web site. They "argued" that the launch of a baby is just as beautiful and educational as the birth of a baby. They stated that there are no commercial motives at all, and no one would make any money from their experience! Do you believe it?

When you first visited their website in July at, you would see slick professional pictures of a beautiful couple (it has now degenerated into a come-on for porn). If you look up in InterNIC's WhoIs registry, you will find that it is registered to First Time Productions in Toluca Lake, CA. Toluca Lake is located halfway between Warner Bros. and Universal Studios in Hollywood, CA. Coincidence?

The street address is shared by several other media related companies. The Administrative Contact is Oscar Wells. Consider that the War of the Worlds radio hoax, introduced by Orson Welles happened just 60 years ago. Phone book searches reveal that no Oscar Wells is listed in that part of California. Apparently Oscar Wells is a take-off of Orson Welles and perhaps Oscar Wilde. According to Mark Egan's Reuters report (no longer online), Oscar Wells is really Ken Tipton, who organized the whole event. Planned follow-up was to reveal AIDS tests for the couple and introduce the couple's commercial search for the best condom. Viewers were going to be asked to verify their ages and then pay $5 for the "privilege" of viewing the event.

The event itself never took place; it was never intended to. The media finally caught on that it was a commercial hoax from the beginning, and debunked the whole thing. Still, the hoaxers got enormous publicity and millions of hits on the site--which is what they wanted from the beginning.

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