After posting a farcical virus advisory on his Joke-A-Day site warning people to delete the "insidious" AOL.exe virus, Webmaster Ray Owens found that quite a few of his readers actually believed it.
Worse, they forwarded it to their friends.
The result: Owens received more than 700 letters, some congratulating him on the joke, but quite a few others asking him if the "warning" was real. He even got a handful from people who had taken the warning seriously and deleted America Online from their system.
"The smart people had a good laugh, and the dumb people were scared as all get out," he said.
The joke advisory mimicked a sham that spread through email recently. The hoax told people that a benign Windows file--sulfnbk.exe, used to allow long filenames under DOS--was actually a virus. Many people believed the message and deleted the file.
"It has been brought to my attention that there's an insidious new computer virus which has already affected close to 30 million computers," Owens' satirical advisory read. "Even though I'm running the latest McAfee and Norton viri scans, neither have picked up this virus, as it's a mutating virus that isn't set to go off until Friday, June 8, 2001."
Copies of the AOL.exe hoax made it as far as Rob Rosenberger, editor of the Virus Myths home page. While Rosenberger hasn't seen many copies of it, he did warn his readers of the hoax.
"There was about four or five people who deleted it, but there was only one AOL person who contacted me," Owens said. "Maybe that's because all the others can't get online anymore."