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Scamming people for money can be an incredibly complex and risky venture, which is probably why it's not tried very often. Those who are caught often face criminal fraud charges.

In these hoaxes, journalists are used to carry or back up a claim that the hoaxer hopes will win money from third parties, such as investors or companies. Sometimes news organizations are the initial targets, because the hoax is based on publicity that causes a certain action - such as news reports about a company that could affect its stock prices. Other times, the hoaxing takes place in another venue, such as in documents or testimony in a lawsuit, and the media pick up the claims, becoming secondary victims.

By spreading the hoax, the media often help the hoaxer by creating a greater sense that the story is true. This could backfire, however, as the publicity can prompt people to scrutinize the claim more closely, or can bring the claim to the attention of people who have reason to suspect that it's false.

Journalists usually do not uncover these hoaxes. They are usually uncovered by someone associated with whoever would be paying the money, such as a utility company or stock market regulators.

Key Factors

Credibility: When the claimant provides authentic-looking documents, such as a press release or copies of court records, the reporter can cite forms of sources that are traditionally credible.

Media Bandwagon: These hoaxes are rarely made to just one news outlet. The information is sent out in batches. The more it is reported on, the greater its acceptance among journalists.

Confirmation Obstacles: Fake financial claims tend to involve information that is difficult to verify. The information might have been gathered as part of an investigation for a lawsuit, with witnesses unavailable to the media, or it involves matters that initially are known first hand only to the hoaxer.

The "We Believe What We Read in the Papers" Syndrome: When all the papers and stations around you are doing or have done stories about the hero, it surely must be true. And who are you to question a hero without any specific cause for suspicion?

No Doubting Thomas: Few people know enough about the situation on which the claims are based to call the story-teller a liar. However, this often changes as investigators look into the claim.

Sympathy: When the claim involves a sad story, such as someone suffering injuries, journalists are often reluctant to skeptically question it.

Red Flags

Unconfirmable Details: There are no witnesses, or nobody who would be in a position to know is able to confirm the story.

A Lot to Gain: The source is making a financial claim or trying to avoid a financial loss.

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