The Art of Deception: 45 Instances When Fake Things Tricked the Masses

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1Mad Magazine's Counterfeit Bill

Mad Magazine's Counterfeit Bill

In 1967, Mad Magazine printed a counterfeit $3 bill. Unfortunately, since change machines were just beginning to be installed, they failed to identify the bills as fake and dispensed real change in exchange for the phony currency.

2. During the War of 1812, Britain dispatched a forged letter to Detroit, falsely claiming to possess 5,000 Native American warriors (while they actually had only a tenth of that number), and deliberately ensured that their American enemy obtained this memo. The ruse led to the surrender of the US forces in Detroit without a single British casualty.

3. Despite widespread reports, it is untrue that Bruce Willis ever sold the rights to use his likeness with deep fake technology. A Russian advertising company fabricated the story and illegally employed his image in a commercial.

4. Orson Welles often wore a fake nose in most of his films because he believed his natural nose was too small. Welles occasionally crafted and applied his own prosthetics, and there are accounts suggesting he even had a personal collection of various fake noses.

5. In 2005, burglars stole $71.6 million from a bank in Fortaleza, Brazil, by establishing a fraudulent landscaping company near the bank and digging a 256-foot tunnel beneath two city blocks over a period of three months. Although neighbors noticed vanloads of soil being removed daily, they assumed it was related to business activities.

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6Criminal's Faked Identity

Criminal's Faked Identity

Nicholas Alahverdian is a criminal who turned into an incel leader after committing various crimes. He then claimed to be a victim of libel. He then disappeared for four years, faked lymphoma and his death, and eventually moved to Scotland, where he posed as a professor. He was apprehended in the hospital while being treated for COVID-19.

7. In 1992, the British government established a fictitious trading company to purchase Russian T-80 tanks for assessment. To avoid arousing suspicion, the tanks were bought for $5 million each and were intended to be shipped to Morocco, with one being gifted to the United States.

8. In 2004, a fake 'Sri Lankan national handball team' managed to deceive its way into a German tournament, only to lose all of their matches and subsequently vanish without a trace. A farewell letter expressed gratitude to the Bavarians for their hospitality.

9. In 1990, Michigan police orchestrated the arrest of a group of local drug dealers by inviting them to a fictitious wedding for two of the dealers' regular customers, who were actually undercover police officers. The arrests commenced after the band (also composed of undercover officers) played "I Fought the Law."

10. In 2018, the FBI, in collaboration with other countries, established a counterfeit "secure" messaging app named "ANOM" to monitor criminal communications, which later led to multiple arrests worldwide in 2021.

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11Fake Pro-China Party

Fake Pro-China Party

In 1969, the Dutch secret service set up a fake pro-China communist party as a means to gather intelligence on the Chinese government. The party's leader, secret agent Pieter Boevé, cultivated friendly relations with the Chinese government and even had a personal encounter with Mao Zedong himself.

12. In 1980, the FBI created a fictional company and attempted to bribe members of Congress. Nearly 25% of those targeted accepted the bribe and were subsequently convicted.

13. A synthetic hymen, developed in Japan and manufactured by a Chinese company, contains a red dye that imitates blood when the product is ruptured. In 2009, lawmakers in Egypt called for its prohibition out of concern that newlywed women might use the product to feign virginity.

14. Paper Sons emerged as a consequence of anti-immigration laws enacted in the early 1900s to restrict Chinese immigration into the United States. Chinese individuals forged birth certificates indicating they were children of individuals who had already immigrated, effectively becoming "sons" or "daughters" on paper.

15. LBJ frequently demanded that the flight crew of Air Force One adjust the cabin temperature. Eventually, a fake control knob was installed for him, allowing the president to "control" the temperature himself. Subsequently, the president ceased his complaints.

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16Agloe's Fictional Transformation

Agloe's Fictional Transformation

A fictitious town named "Agloe" was intentionally added to a map for copyright purposes. Some individuals then established a shop at that very location and named it the "Agloe General Store," effectively transforming the fictitious town into a real one.

17. James McCormick sold the ADE 651, a counterfeit 'bomb detector,' worldwide (particularly in Iraq) by purchasing novelty golf ball detectors for less than $20 and reselling them for $5000 each. His scam has resulted in the loss of lives, and these 'bomb detectors' are likely still in use today.

18. Auto manufacturers have been incorporating fake engine noises into their car speaker systems, or even installing separate speaker systems, to enhance the rumble and depth of engine sounds, compensating for the reduced impact of modern efficiency. This augmentation is referred to as a Soundaktor.

19. In 1869, George Hull hired individuals to create a stone statue of a man, bury it, and later pretend to discover an ancient giant. The hoax proved to be so profitable that P.T. Barnum offered $50,000 for it. However, the owner declined the offer. In response, Barnum had a replica made, claiming to possess the real giant while accusing the owner of having a fake.

20. An art curator named Xiao Yuan once replaced over 140 paintings in a museum in China with his own forgeries and managed to sell 125 of them for a total of $6 million. However, he later discovered that his own fakes were being stolen and replaced with yet more copies.

21Payless's "Palessi" Experiment


Payless once created a fake luxury store called "Palessi" and invited influencers to gauge how much people would be willing to pay for $20 shoes. The highest offer received was $640, resulting in an 1800% markup.

22. In order to apprehend two Russian hackers, the FBI established a fictitious startup company named Invita and invited the hackers to the United States for a supposed job interview. The hackers accepted the invitation and were subsequently arrested. Prior to their capture, they had hacked into the networks of at least 40 U.S. companies and attempted extortion.

23. A man created a fictitious restaurant named "The Shed at Dulwich" on TripAdvisor and solicited favorable reviews. Eventually, the fake restaurant became the number one ranked eatery in London, receiving hundreds of calls daily for bookings. For a day, the man set up a makeshift "café" in his backyard, serving frozen food to enthusiastic reviews.

24. Leading up to the Normandy invasion, MI-5 conducted one of the largest military deception campaigns to convince the Germans that the landing would take place at Calais instead. They went to great lengths, including creating a fictitious army, transmitting coded gibberish via radio messages, deploying fake vehicles, and setting up ersatz camps to mislead reconnaissance planes.

25. The world record for the deepest scuba dive (332.35 meters) set by Ahmed Gabr in 2014 is highly controversial and likely faked. Numerous discrepancies exist in the provided evidence for the dive, some of which could have been fatal had he actually descended to that depth.

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