Were you a victim of a prank on April Fools’ Day?
If you weren’t don’t feel too left out. With the advent of the Internet every day is April Fools’ Day. There’s always an ongoing prank on the World Wide Web, and more often than not, the innocent are the victims.
Have you received an e-mail saying your account at such and such a bank has been suspended and you are required to click on a web address to release your account? If you have, beware. It’s a hoax meant to deprive you of your personal information for a nefarious purpose — identity theft. Do not click on the web address! Immediately dump the e-mail into the trash bin. The fraudsters are quite clever, as their sites are disguised to look similar to a legitimate bank address, including using a near-copy of a bank’s logo. The first hint that it’s fraud in the making is when you realize that you don’t have an account at the financial institution mentioned. That in itself should be a red flag warning you not to proceed any further.
Other hoaxes include some doctor, lawyer, prince, general or diplomat requesting money to free up an overseas account or inheritance for which you will receive a financial windfall. Don’t reply. Delete the e-mail, or all that you will receive is an emptied wallet.
The fraudulent e-mails are sent to millions of people on a daily basis. What the fraudsters rely upon is just a small percentage of people opening the e-mail and proceeding further. But it’s a fool’s game. Even with a tiny percentage of the recipients replying, the hoaxers could net millions in ill-gotten dollars.
On April Fools’ Day, the nature of pranks are not so much on a personal level, as was the case in the past, but aimed at the wider audience provided by YouTube and Twitter. Fortunately, most of these spoofs are completely innocent and quite funny. A really good joke has a chance of “going viral.”
Even e-mails can be used for a good laugh. A photoshopped picture to display some outrageous or preposterous hoax that’s not meant to be mean-spirited always solicits a few chuckles. In 2001, National Geographic was inundated with messages when a photo of a shark leaping out of the water to attack an helicopter was sent around the world by e-mail. The e-mail claimed the picture was National Geographic’s “Photo of the Year.”
National Geographic had to inform the public that the photo was a hoax and set out to track down the perpetrator. They found out that the image was spliced together from a U.S. Air Force photo taken near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge by Lance Chueng (April Fools’ Special: History’s Hoaxes, by John Roach, National Geographic News), and the photo of the breaching great white shark was taken by South African photographer Charles Maxwell. The perpetrator of the hoax was never discovered.
When contacted by Roach, Maxwell, who has also worked for National Geographic, was not thrilled that his photo was used in such a way, but said he’d like to connect with the hoaxer, “not to get him into trouble, but because it’s a lot of fun and it is a good job.”
Perhaps the greatest April Fools’ Day joke is that the so-called origin of the day is often falsely reported. I heard a radio talk-show host telling a story about its origin that is false, according to Alex Boese, the curator of the online Museum of Hoaxes in San Diego, California.
Another theory is April Fools’ Day began when France switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, which moved the New Year from around April 1 to January 1. The story goes that people made fun of those who had stuck with the old calendar.
Boese disagreed with this theory, pointing out to Roach that the French calendar reformation was in the late 1500s — after Flemish poet Eduard de Dene wrote in 1539 of a nobleman who sent his servants on foolish errands on April 1. Also, the French never celebrated New Year’s on the exact date of April 1, he said.
“Traditionally,” he told Roach, “it was only a legal start of the year — people in France did actually celebrate (the New Year) on January 1 for as long as anyone could remember.”
Boese believes April Fools’ Day grew out of traditions associated with spring festivals in Europe, which invariably involved pranks and disguises.
The quickest thinking about creating a fake origin for April Fools’ Day came from Boston University professor Joe Boskin.
“In 1983, the Associated Press called Boskin for an interview about how April Fools’ Day started,” wrote Roach.
“Boskin told the reporter he didn’t know. The reporter insisted Boskin not be so modest, Boskin said in an interview with USA TODAY.”
“So, Boskin made up a story about how April Fools’ Day began in the fifth century, when King Constantine’s jesters organized a union and demanded one jester be
allowed to be king for the day.
“The king for the day would be known as ‘King Kugel’ — named after the traditional Jewish pudding dish.
“I was expecting him to say, ‘Truly, you’re putting me on,’ Boskin said. “But he said, ‘How do you spell that?’”
“The AP published the story, and Boskin got calls from other news outlets wanting interviews about the holiday’s origins.
“When the AP discovered the story was false, they called Boskin, furious.
“They said I lied to them,” Boskin said. “I said, ‘I lied? How can you lie on April Fools’ Day?’”
Before there was the Internet, the BBC aired a 1957 report on the news program Panorama about a bumper spaghetti crop in Switzerland. I can remember seeing the news clip years later and bursting out into peels of laughter. As I watched, the bumper crop of spaghetti hanging from the branches of trees was being harvested by Swiss farmers.
Richard Dimbleby, the anchor of the clip, said the bounty had resulted from a mild winter and the absence of the spaghetti “weevil.”
The BBC subsequently received thousands of calls from gullible people asking how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. The reply was “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”
If that’s not hilarious, I don’t know what is. It’s priceless and shows an amazing level of imagination. Spaghetti trees in Switzerland! In the world of comedy, there is no other better analogy for the outright ridiculous becoming the believable for some. And you wonder how conspiracy theories arise.
The first warning that it was a hoax should have been the fact that spaghetti is as closely associated with Italy as clocks and cheese are to Switzerland.
Remember, always see the humour in a situation. Laugh at what deserves to be laughed at and dismiss as laughable all those e-mail hoaxes asking you to send money or personal data. Chuckle at the foolish attempts to trick you as you click on the trash icon.