Charismatic Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o may have just sealed his place in the history books, not for his impressive victories on the field, but for being involved in (knowingly or not) a widespread hoax involving a dying girlfriend who, it turns out, never existed.
In interviews last year, Te'o spoke about the personal obstacles and tragedies he'd overcome on his way to football excellence — most notably the deaths of his beloved grandmother and his girlfriend and love of his life, Lennay Kekua, within the same day. Te'o talked about the pain of losing both so close to him, as well as Kekua's emotional struggle — and finally losing battle — with leukemia. Though Te'o never met Kekua, the pair communicated mainly through e-mails and text messages.
Information is contradictory and details remain murky: Was Te'o in on the hoax, capitalizing on a crowd-pleasing sympathetic rags-to-riches story? Or was he himself the victim of a cruel hoax by someone sharing her (or his) fictional but emotionally moving life story? Or does the truth lie somewhere in between?
There are of course many different types of hoaxes. For example author James Frey wrote a 2003 novel about drug addiction recovery, claiming it was a memoir; homeowners in Amityville, N.Y., created a hoax in 1977 by claiming that their house was haunted by demons; and in 1996 physicist Alan Sokal submitted a gibberish article that was accepted and published in "Social Text," a respected cultural studies journal. [Haunted? 10 Most Famous Ghosts]
A hoax that costs money, embarrassment, or inconvenience may be merely a nuisance. But some of the most damaging and outrageous hoaxes are those that manipulate people's emotions and outrage the world. Here are a few of the most outlandish.
Flight of the Balloon Boy
In 2009 a 6-year-old boy named Falcon Heene was said to be in grave danger as he floated through Colorado skies in a silvery weather balloon created by his inventor father. His family claimed that he had climbed aboard the homemade balloon and launched, triggering a nationwide police search and rescue mission. It turned out that Heene, who became known as balloon boy, was in fact safe at home, and the family was suspected of staging the event in hopes of getting a reality TV show.