April 1, 2001 -- In the spirit of P.T. Barnum, web hoaxers know a sucker clicks every minute and then some.
The Internet, simply by its nature, is a place for suckers to breed and multiply and to form unwitting relationships with hucksters.
Through the Web, chat rooms, e-mail and more, hucksters can spread the germs of phenomena faster than P.T. Barnum could have ever presented us with the half man/half woman specimen.
"Hysteria has its own momentum," said Rob Rosenberger, computer virus expert and editor-in-chief of vmyths.com, a Web site devoted to dispelling virus hoaxes.
"The media latches on and is part of the hysteria machine. So, viruses, like the original hoax of the Good Times virus get spread and the media covers it and then it turns out to be nothing, but rarely do people get a follow up."
That virus supposedly had the ability to erase a computer's hard drive.
Then, there was the supposed Post Office five-cent surcharge on e-mails, a planned "Bill 602P," that turned out to be an e-mail Internet hoax that circulated from in-box to in-box for much of last year.
Think of all the e-mails you've received telling you some dying person would be aided if you forwarded an e-mail, or some charity would benefit, or perhaps just that you'd be helping your luck, or that of your friends.
Pregnant Men and More
Ling Mingwei, a New York City-based artist, designed the Web site malepregnancy.com which includes video and tales of the first male pregnancy in the world.
If a user clicks on "Current Vitals" he is greeted with this update on Mingwei's condition: "Mr. Lee's pregnancy has been remarkably normal.
"Early in the pregnancy, he experienced some severe facial acne but otherwise, no significant medical problems. Mr. Lee's blood pressure is normal and his fundal height is now at 37cm from the symphysis pubis. He is starting to experience some minor hemorrhoids and incontinence." It's all attributed to Elizabeth Preatner, M.D., Ph.D., GenoChoice Laboratory.
BonsaiKitten.com purports to be "dedicated to preserving the long lost [Oriental] art of body modification in housepets" (by raising them inside jars so that they remain small even when mature and their bodies take on the contours of the vessel used).
It's actually a bit of fictional humor put up just before the end of the year 2000 by some MIT grad students to satirize "the human belief of nature as commodity" and to "punish the hypocritical and easily offended by upsetting them, and to amuse those who understand."
Send This Story to All Your Friends
The hoaxes that seem to have the most life lie in virus e-mails and false rumors spread through e-mails, according to Rosenberger.
"People will believe this stuff because a virus alert will get sent to them by friends of family in an e-mail and it lives forever," he said. "The media then latch onto it and it takes on a life of its own."
But, according to the Federal Trade Commission and Internet Fraud Watch, fraudulent schemes appearing on online auction sites are the most frequently reported form of Internet fraud.
These schemes, and similar schemes for online retail goods, typically purport to offer high-value items — ranging from Cartier watches to computers to collectibles such as Beanie Babies — that are likely to attract many consumers. The schemes induce victims to send money for the promised items, but then deliver nothing or only an item far less valuable than what was promised.
Human Kidneys and Rolex's for Sale
In August, 1999, four individuals were indicted in New York on securities fraud charges for their alleged roles in the fraudulent promotion of eight stocks through misleading Internet Web site and e-mail newsletter profiles.
eBay, the popular Web auction site, has been victim to hoaxes including one for a human kidney. The bidding hit $5.7 million before the company put a stop to it.
eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove said at the time that he had no idea if the offering was for real, but the auction was stopped because the seller broke eBay's rules outlawing the sale of body parts. Selling one's own organs is also illegal under federal law. It is punishable by up to five years in prison or a $50,000 fine.
"Any time you have an open trading environment with almost 6 million registered users, you're likely to see somebody who tries to bend the rules or to pull a prank on their fellow users," Pursglove said. ABCNEWS.com's Dorian Benkoil contributed to this report.