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Crime

One of the main reasons that people concoct stories that make the news is to get themselves out of trouble.

Usually the trouble is with the law, and the hoaxes are designed to cover up the person's involvement in an actual crime.

Other times, people fabricate their involvement in a crime, make up stories about crimes that didn't occur, or actually create a crime as part of a hoax. The motives include avoiding trouble with someone (such as a parent), advocating a cause or just getting attention.

In many of these cases the hoaxers are not targeting journalists; they're usually out to fool law enforcement. Journalists are collateral victims, getting caught up in the hoaxes because police and courts are major sources of news. The police and courts may be the biggest sources of lies reported by journalists in such hoaxes.

Key Factors

Credibility: Crime claims are routinely found in or backed up by police reports and court records, which carry significant credibility with journalists. When police investigate a crime, journalists usually accept that a crime occurred and pursue the story from that basis.

Confirmation Obstacles: It's often difficult to independently verify parts of a crime claim, particularly in the manner in which reporters typically pursue crime reports: through interviews with police and/or the victim, often over the phone, and on daily or even hourly deadlines. When the claim involves unidentified perpetrators who have fled, major parts of the tale are unconfirmable without significant investigation.

The Media Bandwagon: The reporting of the crime by other news outlets adds credibility to the story and makes it difficult for any news outlet with doubts to ignore it or play it down.

The Public Bandwagon: Public response to an alleged crime - such as rallies against hate crimes, or fund raisers for the crime victims - pushes the allegation and the coverage into the context of a larger social issue, with many questions about the crime itself largely forgotten.

No Doubting Thomas: Reporters who have any doubts often have a hard time finding a source to express those doubts on air or in print.

Sympathy for Victims: Journalists tend to sympathize with victims and are reluctant to skeptically question them.

The Hoaxer's Investment: The deeper someone goes into telling their story - standing before the TV cameras in tears, for instance - the more believable the story is.

Deadlines: Most police stories are breaking news. Reporters have little time to check out the details before filing.

Red Flags

Unconfirmable Details: There are no witnesses. Mysterious assailants appear to have fled into oblivion.

Hate Crimes: Victims claim they were targeted because of their race, religion or sexual orientation.

Race-baiting: Even when race is not portrayed as a reason for the crime, victims sometimes try to boost their credibility by playing on racial stereotypes about crime - for instance, by saying their assailants were black males.

Kidnappers: Missing children hoaxes are often based on tales of a child being kidnapped by a stranger - a rare occurrence.

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