Sadly, tech scams are all too common on the web. Whether it’s criminals posing as Windows Support Team staff members, dodgy listings on eBay, or Nigerian princes pretending to be your long-lost cousin, there are lots of things out there that you need to be alert to.
Of course, you’d never be foolish enough to fall victim to one of those scams, would you?
Unfortunately, plenty of people do become victims. Given how complex some of these scams are, it’s not surprising. But some of them are so unbelievably wacky it’s hard to understand why anyone was ever caught out.
Here are seven of the most ridiculous internet scams of all time.
1. A Fake Hard-Drive
“If seems too good to be true, then it probably is.” It’s an age-old adage that’s served humans well for generations. But some people will never learn.
Back in 2011, a user took his high-capacity Samsung external hard-drive into a Russian repair center. The owner said they’d bought it for a rock-bottom price in a Chinese store, but it kept losing data and they couldn’t understand why.
The guys in the shop opened it up and found nothing more than a 128 MB flash drive taped into the casing. Two bolts had been added to give it a believable weight. The perpetrators had cleverly programmed the drive into a loop mode; when it ran out of space, it started to overwrite the oldest data.
2. Free Trip to Disney World
Most of us are now savvy enough not to fall victim to a Nigerian prince email. But what about if the email came from Walt Disney Jr and Bill Gates? In 1999, an email claiming exactly that was doing the rounds.
It suggested you’d signed up for “Bill Gates’ Beta Email Tracking” service. If you forwarded it to everyone you knew and it reached 13,000 people, 10 percent of them would receive $5,000 cash and all the others would receive a free trip to Disney Land:
Hello Disney fans,
And thank you for signing up for Bill Gates’ Beta Email Tracking. My name is Walt Disney Jr.
Here at Disney we are working with Microsoft which has just compiled an e-mail tracing program that tracks everyone to whom this message is forwarded to. It does this through an unique IP (Internet Protocol) address log book database.
We are experimenting with this and need your help. Forward this to everyone you know and if it reaches 13,000 people, 1,300 of the people on the list will receive $5,000, and the rest will receive a free trip for two to Disney World for one week during the summer of 1999 at our expense.
Note: Duplicate entries will not be counted. You will be notified by email with further instructions once this email has reached 13,000 people.
Walt Disney Jr., Disney, Bill Gates
Crazy? Definitely. But also an eerie reflection of the tracking world we now live in.
3. Killer Bananas
Eat your five fruit and veg every day — it’s a sure-fire way to improve your health and lose weight. Unless the fruit happens to kill you.
At the turn of the millennium, an internet hoax claimed the United States had accidentally imported Costa Rican bananas containing a flesh-eating bacteria called necrotizing fasciitis. The hoax alleged the bacteria could spread faster than the flu.
Sounds ridiculous, but the rumor provoked the LA Times to write a feature-length investigative report, the International Banana Association to issue a statement, and Center for Disease Control to create a “Banana Hotline”.
To be fair, the bananas were probably still more dangerous than the millennium bug.
4. I Am Rich
An iPhone app for $999 must be the best app ever created in the history of the device, right?
Well, if your idea of the “best app ever” is a glowing red gem in the middle of the screen that has absolutely no useful function, then yes.
Tapping the gem displayed an onscreen message that read:
I am rich
I deserv [sic] it
I am good,
healthy & successful
If that doesn’t sound like what you expect from a $999 app, you were sure to be disappointed.
The was called “I Am Rich” and was the brainchild of Armin Heinrich. The app was only available for 24 hours before Apple pulled the plug, but eight people bought it. At least one person claimed their purchase was an accident.
5. Premium Phone Lines
We’re not quite sure why, but some people love to spend their hard-earned money on voting for contestants in various reality shows like Big Brother.
Those lines are already expensive enough to dial, but one enterprising U.K. company tried to capitalize further. It created hundreds of even more costly phone numbers that only had one digit different to the actual number, hoping that users with fat fingers would accidentally press them. Callers who made the error were billed £1.02 and even got a message saying “Thank you for voting”.
U.K. regulators ultimately fined the company behind the con £6,000 and ordered them to refund anyone affected.
6. Dating Site for Millionaires
It seems that “true love” for some people means nothing more than marrying a wealthy millionaire. The person’s looks, personality, and passion are largely meaningless.
One homeless person capitalized on these money-seekers by enrolling on a dating service for millionaires. Posing as a renowned music producer, he managed to convince at least 12 people to put their capital into his investment scheme. It’s thought he managed to pocket at least $100,000 for his originality.
7. Facebook Stock
Mark Zuckerberg is a huge believer in philanthropy. He’s supported countless charitable ventures in the last decade and he recently announced he’d be giving away 99% of his shares in Facebook.
Alas, that doesn’t mean he’s going to blindly give it away to a bunch of freeloaders who use his social network. But that didn’t stop millions of people sharing a post in 2015 in the hope they’d get a share of the 10 percent he was purportedly offering to users.
You almost certainly saw a post like this at the time:
Mark Zuckerberg has announced that he is giving away $45 billion of Facebook stock. What you may not have heard is that he plans to give 10% of it away to people like YOU and ME! All you have to do is copy and paste this message into a post IMMEDIATELY. At midnight PST, Facebook will search through the day’s posts and award 1000 people with $4.5 million EACH as a way of saying thanks!
Obviously, the whole thing was a hoax. You could copy, paste, and tag until you were blue in the face, you weren’t going to get so much as a cup of coffee out of him.
Share Your Funniest, Wackiest, and Craziest Scams
These seven scams might have brought a smile to your face, but there are countless more wonderfully ingenious schemes that people have come up with.
Some are designed to take your money, some are designed to take your property, and some are designed to simply embarrass you.
We’d love to hear some of your favorite scams. Even better, we’d love to know if you were accidentally caught up in one of these hare-brained plans.
As always, you can leave your stories and feedback in the comments section below.
Image Credits: kudla/Shutterstock