34 Hoaxes People Actually Believed

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Get your gullibility cap on. Here are 34 hoaxes—from alien autopsies to left-handed Whoppers—that people actually believed.

1. The One-Question Psychopath Test

A young girl chooses a smiley face over a frowning face being held by a woman
KatarzynaBialasiewicz iStock via Getty Images

While at her mother's funeral, a girl meets a guy whom she doesn't know; she falls in love with the guy on the spot, and then a few days later, that girl kills her own sister. What is her motive for killing her sister? If you answered that she was hoping that guy would appear at her sister's funeral, you think like a psychopath, as proven by a genuine psychological test conducted by a famous psychologist. The only problem is it isn't a question from a genuine psychological test conducted by a famous psychologist. It's just an internet hoax you probably got in a forwarded email.

2. A Televised Alien Autopsy

Autopsy tools.
James Player/iStock via Getty Images Plus

In 1995, Fox Television played a film featuring the dismantling of an alien corpse whose UFO had allegedly crashed in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. The culprit was Ray Santilli, an English filmmaker whose false footage was the basis of Fox's extraordinarily popular broadcast. Later, Santilli and his partner fessed up that their footage was merely a "re-enactment" of a real alien autopsy, which they didn't capture on camera, because, you know, reasons.

3. Lonelygirl15

Vlogging equipment.
sutiporn/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

So pretty much every vlogger here on the Internet owes a lot to a fake, homeschooled teenage girl video blogger named Bree, whose family just happened to be members of a murderous cult. Lonelygirl15 blew up in 2006, quickly gaining over 100,000 YouTube subscribers, which back then was a lot. But a sting operation by some of her fans revealed a connection between the project and a talent agency in Hollywood. It turns out that Bree was a 20-year-old actress named Jessica Rose, and the entire series was scripted. It ran for two more years after its cover got blown, proving that its popularity wasn't solely because people thought it was real.

4. The Cardiff Giant

Farmland.
Anastasia Yakovleva/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

In 1869, a 10-foot-tall stone giant was uncovered while workers were digging a well in Cardiff, New York. The owner of the New York farm, William Newell, started charging tourists $.50 apiece to view this spectacle, which was later discovered to be a hoax, orchestrated by his cousin, a cigar-maker named George Hull. In reality, this so-called petrified giant was just a hunk of gypsum carved in the shape of a man that cost Hull around $3000 to make.

Hull attempted to deflect blame at the time by telling one newspaper that the scheme was necessary to make some money for his family. But despite the deceit, he did score some money from the whole thing, eventually selling the fake giant for around $23,000 (Newell scored $9500 for his share). That wasn't even Hull's only brush with forgery: He would later pull off a similar, but less successful, stunt in Colorado with the help of P.T. Barnum involving a fake of Darwin's "missing link."

5. Jarno Smeets Flies

A hawk flying.
Dgwildlife/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

Jarno Smeets uploaded a video to YouTube in March 2012 in which he donned wings and then flew through the sky. Turns out, Smeets was not a bird-man, but actually an animator named Floris Kaayk who later admitted to the hoax on Dutch TV.

6. Camel Spiders

A spider web.
Ershela Hazizi/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

So when the second war in Iraq was just beginning, a photo emerged of a gigantic camel spider—this was sent around in emails, asking for sympathy for the troops. This email claimed that flesh-eating spiders were tormenting U.S. troops, could run 25 miles per hour, and jump 3 feet in the air. These spiders do exist, and they are big, but not quite that big. Also, they don't run that fast, and they can't jump at all. Rest easy, arachnophobes.

7. Napoleon Crashes the Stock Market

A portrait of Napoleon.
Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images Plus

In 1814, during the Napoleonic Wars, a man dressed as a colonel went around London claiming that Napoleon was dead, and that the Bourbons had won the war. The news resulted in British stock prices rising, before falling back to normal, when it was revealed that Napoleon was not dead. Lord Thomas Cochrane, the man who benefited from the stock fraud, was subsequently arrested for fraud.

8. Microsoft Buys The Catholic Church

A Catholic priest.
pmmart/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

People went wild in 1994 when an internet press release made the rounds stating that Microsoft had acquired "the Roman Catholic Church in exchange for an unspecified number of shares of Microsoft common stock." The press release was, of course, phony, but Microsoft had to come out with an official statement, assuring that they were not going to make sacraments available online anytime soon.

9. Fairy Bones

Bones at an excavation site.
Ирина Мещерякова/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

A widely circulated email in 2007 claimed that an 8-inch mummified fairy was found in a garden in Derbyshire, England, with descriptions of wings, teeth, hollow bones, along with pictures. Many people were hopeful that we had finally located Tinker Bell, but it was a hoax perpetrated by a professional illusion designer.

10. Fairy photos

Fairy mushrooms.
Shaiith/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

That's not the first fairy hoax, either; perhaps the most famous was the Cottingley Fairies, which were pictures taken by two young girls "proving" the existence of fairies in 1917. The fairies turned out to be cardboard cutouts, because, you know, no Photoshop.

11. The Mechanical Turk

The mechanical Turk.

Marcin Wichary, Flickr/CC BY 2.0

In the 1800s, in Hungary, the Mechanical Turk amazed everyone with its ability to play clever chess against human opponents, often winning. It even beat Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon. But it was a hoax—turns out, there was a man inside controlling it the whole time.

12. The Fiji Mermaid

Mermaid Statue.
ELENAPHOTOS/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

The Fiji mermaid, allegedly discovered by an English doctor (known only as "Dr. J. Griffin"), was a widely discussed hoax in the mid-1800s. Many came to see it and were immediately disappointed by its non-beauty, which makes sense, considering that the mermaid was just a papier-mâché'd monkey connected to a fish bottom.

13. Not The Missing Link

Bigfoot Crossing Sign.
pabradyphoto/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

In 1912, Charles Dawson found a bunch of skull fragments which were put together by his team to reveal the Piltdown Man. This completed skull would essentially serve as proof of evolution by fitting the description of half-man, half-ape. The scientists were right to be skeptical: the Piltdown Man skull was actually comprised of the bones of three different species.

14. Marathons Made Easy

People running in a marathon.
Sportpoint/iStock via Getty Images Plus

In 1904, Frederick Lorz won the marathon at the Summer Olympics...sort of. Lorz stopped after nine miles, got a car ride from his manager for the next 11, and when the car broke down, he walked back to the Olympic stadium and still wound up winning the marathon. Then he went on to claim that it was all a big joke, but only once people started to accuse him of not actually running the entire race.

15. Crop Circles

An ornate crop circle in the middle of a field
yuelan iStock via Getty Images

Alien crop circles are pretty common hoaxes these days, including in M. Night Shyamalan movies. That's all thanks to Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, who cut the first of many flying saucer nests in an English wheat field in 1976.

16. The War of the Worlds

Orson Welles.
Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images

In 1938, Orson Welles went on CBS Radio, reading from The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, but in a standard news format. Confused listeners believed that they were listening to a report of an actual alien invasion occurring in the United States, and this unintentional hoax was so believable that some people initially tried (but failed) to sue CBS for mental anguish.

Ready for a double hoax? The accepted knowledge that people panicked because of the broadcast might not be real.

17. Operation Copperhead

D-Day Landing.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A hoax was actually used to help ensure D-Day's success in World War II. Ten days before the fighting began in Normandy, the British used actor-soldier M. E. Clifton James, a general Monty Montgomery lookalike, to distract the Germans by doing high-profile appearances in Gibraltar. It's not clear whether the deception had much impact beyond confusion, but M. E. Clifton James later played both himself and Montgomery in a movie dramatizing the hoax.

18. The Left-Handed Whopper

A Whopper from Burger King.

Mike Mozart, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Did Burger King announce a Whopper specifically for hungry people with dominant left hands? Yes. That was a real hoax that had right-handed Whopper-eaters up in arms. Burger King said they were rotating condiments 180º for their left-handed customers, but that turned out to be an April Fool's Day joke, despite customers showing up and asking for it.

19. Hitler's Diaries

An old diary.
BlackQuetzal/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

Those Hitler Diaries, purchased by a German news magazine for $6 million? Hmm...not Hitler's diaries, in fact.

20. Pope Joan

Pope Joan shrine.
A shrine to the nonexistent Pope Joan in Rome.
MarcPo/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

And I'm sorry, everyone, but Pope Joan, the pope who casually went into labor during a procession, is a hoax, deriving from folklore. There has never been a female pope.

21. Home Remedies for Burns

A knife with a pad of spreadable butter over a tub of butter
Gingagi iStock via Getty Images

Despite what you've heard on the internet: egg whites, flour, and butter do not heal burns. In fact, butter helps trap heat in the skin, which is really not good for burns. These ingredients do, however, make for delicious baking, if you want to turn your burns into cookies.

22. Balloon Boy

Hot air balloon.
Michael Kulmar/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

Balloon Boy was up in the attic the entire time his family claimed that he was on a crazy balloon ride. The wildest part? They pulled the stunt to try to score a reality TV show.

23. A Font Predicting 9/11

A person typing on a keyboard.
undefined undefined/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

Repeat after me. The Wingdings computer font did not predict 9/11. Yes, typing in "Q33NY" does give you an airplane, towers (more like rectangles), a skull, and a Star of David. But no, Q33 was not the flight number of either of the planes.

24. Triple WaterSpouts

A hurricane
Elen11/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

There's no such thing as triple waterspouts. The photo from Hurricane Lili was doctored.

25. Andy Kaufman Is Still Alive

Comedian Andy Kaufman.
Joan Adlen/Getty Images

He's not. Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Tupac, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison are also definitely dead.

26. And Paul McCartney is Dead

A picture of Paul McCartney.
John Downing/Getty Images

He's alive! Despite the perennial hoax machine revving up to mourn people who are still with us, the Beatles bassist is still alive and kicking and having a wonderful Christmas time. So are Gene Simmons, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Garth Brooks, Eddie Murphy, Tony Danza, Justin Bieber, and Dave Matthews.

27. The Masked Marauders

A picture of singer Bob Dylan.
Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Speaking of Paul McCartney, the Masked Marauders—an album featuring a collaboration between him, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, and John Lennon—was the subject of a satirical article in Rolling Stone, much to the disappointment of many fans.

28. Charging Your iPod With an Onion

A pile of onions.
SabdiZ/iStock via Getty Images Plus

You can't charge your iPod using electrolytes. That YouTube video was a hoax; stop asking Yahoo! Answers and plugging your iPod into onions!

29. The Blair Witch Project

A production still from 'The Blair Witch Project.'
Artisan Entertainment/Getty Images

Groundbreaking in fusing advertising with its film, the cinematic tale of a trio going into the woods to find a witch made everyone wonder if the found footage was the real deal.

30. Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity movie audience.
Phillip Massey/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

It's surprising that a movie could pull it off years after Blair Witch, but a lot of audience members bought it wholesale, which is probably because it's still terrifying even when you know it's fiction.

31. Ghostwatch

A ghost in a haunted house.
solarseven/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

The original horror reality fake-out. Broadcast to unwitting British viewers in 1992 as a live, in-progress investigative report, Ghostwatch borrowed from War of the Worlds and used the news format to trick people into thinking ghosts were very, very real.

32. Youtube is shutting down

YouTube logo on a TV.
Stan Fisher/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

YouTube is not shutting down to select a winner of all-time best video; that was an April Fool's Day prank. Besides, we all know Mental Floss would win.

33. Facebook Is thinking about charging customers

A person scrolling through Facebook.
CASEZY/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

Also, Facebook is not considering charging, because who would pay for that?

34. At-Home LASIK Surgery

Optometrist equipment.
Andrei Orlov/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

And lastly, this should really go without saying: Do not trust any website offering to sell you a device for at-home, do-it-yourself LASIK surgery. Maybe don't buy something online that will shoot lasers into your eyes. Just appreciate Lasik@Home as a joke, everybody.

For more hoaxes that fooled the public, check out the full video below.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

8 Facts About David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'

Express/Express/Getty Images
Express/Express/Getty Images

On July 20, 1969, astronauts walked on the Moon for the first time. Just a few weeks earlier, another space-age event had rocked the world: David Bowie’s single “Space Oddity” hit airwaves. The song, whose lyrics tell the story of an astronaut’s doomed journey into space, helped propel the artist to icon status, and five decades later, it’s still one of his most popular works. 

1. "Space Oddity" was inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Many listeners assumed that "Space Oddity" was riffing on the Apollo 11 Moon landing of 1969, but it was actually inspired by a Stanley Kubrick film released a year earlier. Bowie watched 2001: A Space Odyssey multiple times when it premiered in theaters in 1968. “It was the sense of isolation I related to,” Bowie told Classic Rock in 2012. “I found the whole thing amazing. I was out of my gourd, very stoned when I went to see it—several times—and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing.”

2. "Space Oddity" was also inspired by heartbreak.

The track was also partly inspired by the more universal experience of heartbreak. Bowie wrote the song after ending his relationship with actress Hermione Farthingale. The break inspired several songs, including “Letter to Hermione” and “Life on Mars,” and in “Space Oddity,” Bowie’s post-breakup loneliness and melancholy is especially apparent.

3. "Space Oddity" helped him sign a record deal.

In 1969, a few years into David Bowie’s career, the musician recorded a demo tape with plans to use it to land a deal with Mercury Records. That tape featured an early iteration of “Space Oddity,” and based on the demo, Mercury signed him for a one-album deal. But the song failed to win over one producer. Tony Visconti, who produced Bowie’s self-titled 1969 album, thought the song was a cheap attempt to cash in on the Apollo 11 mission, and he tapped someone else to produce that particular single.

4. The BBC played "Space Oddity" during the Moon landing.

"Space Oddity" was released on July 11, 1969—just five days before NASA launched Apollo 11. The song doesn’t exactly sound like promotional material for the mission. It ends on a somber note, with Major Tom "floating in a tin can" through space. But the timing and general subject matter were too perfect for the BBC to resist. The network played the track over footage of the Moon landing. Bowie later remarked upon the situation, saying, "Obviously, some BBC official said, 'Oh, right then, that space song, Major Tom, blah blah blah, that’ll be great. 'Um, but he gets stranded in space, sir.' Nobody had the heart to tell the producer that."

5. David Bowie recorded an Italian version of "Space Oddity."

The same year "Space Oddity" was released, a different version David Bowie recorded with Italian lyrics was played by radio stations in Italy. Instead of directly translating the English words, the Italian songwriter Mogul was hired to write new lyrics practically from scratch. "Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola" ("Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl") is a straightforward love song, and Major Tom is never mentioned.

6. Major Tom appeared in future songs.

Major Tom, the fictional astronaut at the center of "Space Oddity," is one of the most iconic characters invented for a pop song. It took a decade for him to resurface in David Bowie’s discography. In his 1980 single "Ashes to Ashes," the artists presents a different version of the character, singing: "We know Major Tom's a junkie/Strung out in heaven's high/Hitting an all-time low." Bowie also references Major Tom in "Hallo Spaceboy" from the 1995 album Outside.

7. "Space Oddity" is featured in Chris Hadfield's ISS music video.

When choosing a song for the first music filmed in space, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield naturally went with David Bowie’s out-of-this-world anthem. The video above was recorded on the International Space Station in 2013, with Hadfield playing guitar and singing from space and other performers providing musical accompaniment from Earth. Some lyrics were tweaked for the cover. Hadfield mentions the "Soyuz hatch" of the capsule that would eventually shuttle him to Earth.

8. "Space Oddity" played on the Tesla that Elon Musk sent to space.

Dummy in Tesla roadster in space with Earth in background.
SpaceX via Getty Images

In 2018, Elon Musk used SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket to launch his Tesla Roadster into space. The car was decked out with pop culture Easter eggs—according to Musk, "Space Oddity" was playing over the car’s radio system during the historic journey. The dummy’s name, Starman, is the name of another space-themed song on Bowie's 1972 masterpiece The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.