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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Hoaxes and Urban Legend News

Bad Astronomy: Is Betelgeuse about to blow?

by Ken Newquist / June 2, 2010

Is the red supergiant Betelgeuse about to go supernova, giving Earth a second sun and half of its inhabitants a nasty burn? The short answer according to astronomer Phil Plait, is that yes, Betelgeuse could go tomorrow, but if it did it's greatest impact on the Earth would be to give us a new celestial phenomenon as bright as a full moon. It's too far away to do us any real harm. Fake AOL e-mail billing scam reported

by Ken Newquist / September 30, 2008

First: I continue to be shocked that AOL is still around.

Second, it seems those old familiar scams continue to haunt the online service. My local newspaper has a debunking of an email billing scam in which an email claiming to be from AOL arrives in the victim's email box. It says there's a problem with their account ... and that they should immediately e-mail AOL back with their account information, bank account information, etc.

At this point, I think it's safe to say we should be highly skeptical of any incoming billing e-mail, even ones we're expecting. Phishing schemes like this play with people's expectations -- they work by getting you to see what you expect to see. That causes you to trust the e-mail, and do things like mail in your credentials. If you get an e-mail from someone like AOL, your bank, Netflix or some other company you do business with, it's always best to login to their web site directly (not through any of the links in the email). If there really is an important message or account update for you, it'll be on their web site as well as in your e-mail. If you can't find it after logging in, call the company's customer service line.

AP: Doctor finds spiders in ear of boy with earache

by Ken Newquist / May 7, 2007

Given the history of spider urban legends, this is sure to mutate into its own horrifying story in about, oh, 20 minutes. According to this Associated Press story (which includes a photo of the kid holding up a jar with the drowned spiders in it and quotes from the doctor involved), 9-year-old Jesse Courtney of Albany, Oregon complained of hearing crackling and popping noises in his ear.

Snopes: Is Bill Clinton a Draft-Dodging Pardoned Felon?

by Ken Newquist / February 3, 2007

Ah, Bill Clinton. I'd almost forgotten about all the great hoaxes, urban legends and miscellaneous crap that was circulating the Internet back in the heady days of the Dot Boom. Now that his wife is looking to make a presidential run, it's all floating back to the surface, as is illustrated by the email alleging that Bill Clinton is the first pardoned felon ever to server as the president of the United States. It's alleged that he broke the law by dodging the draft, and then was pardoned as part of Jimmy Carter's blanket draft-dodging pardon in 1977. has an excellent debunking of this e-mail, pointing out that while he may have used political favors and broken promises to avoid the draft, Bill Clinton never officially broke the law.

CNN: Holidays Bring Out Online Scammers

by Ken Newquist / November 21, 2006

Phishing season is about to begin in earnest as holiday shoppers flock to web sites to buy presents for their loved ones ... and fall victim to a variety of scams aimed at tricking folks into believing their at a trusted retailer's web site when it fact its a dummy site created by a bunch of scammers in [insert obscure country name here]. CNN looks at a bunch of possible scams, from phishing to fake auctions.

Open Thread: Hoax Debunking Requests

by Ken Newquist / October 24, 2006

I need more hoaxes to debunk. From Nuketown's search logs, I can tell that people are looking for information about hoaxes, including many hoaxes that I haven't debunked. What they're not doing, however, is telling me about those hoaxes. And there's not a lot I can do debunking-wise if I don't have the text of a hoax to investigate.

This is an open call for hoax submissions. If you have one you'd like to see debunked send the complete text of the suspect e-mail to me by emailing me at,

Wired: Baiters Teach Scammers a Lesson

by Ken Newquist / August 6, 2006

For years, third-world scammers have been getting first-world greedy fools to part with their money by promising them millions in exchange for their account information. Now international bands of vigilantes are turning the tables by replying the scammers and getting them to undertake all manner of bizarre tasks, from getting tattooes to taking photographs of themselves to sending money. has the full story.

My sympathy for those who get scammed is limited -- if you honestly think that you can get 10% of the fortune left to the widow of a Nigeran army general by allowing your bank account to serve as a money laundry, then you'll probably get what you deserve.