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From Carney to Napoleon: the 10 hottest financial hoaxes

In light of top finance professionals' recent email gaffes, we round up the top industry pranks and hoaxes. 

Staley stumbles

Jes Staley may still be feeling a bit hot under the collar after details about the Barclays boss’ embarrassing email exchange with a prankster emerged last week.

Staley replied enthusiastically to an email thought to be from the bank’s chairman, which read ‘you owe me a large Scotch,’ referencing a particularly heated meeting with shareholders.

But Staley’s not alone in falling foul of a jape – here’s a roundup of some of the best hoaxes to hit the finance industry in history.

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Staley stumbles

Jes Staley may still be feeling a bit hot under the collar after details about the Barclays boss’ embarrassing email exchange with a prankster emerged last week.

Staley replied enthusiastically to an email thought to be from the bank’s chairman, which read ‘you owe me a large Scotch,’ referencing a particularly heated meeting with shareholders.

But Staley’s not alone in falling foul of a jape – here’s a roundup of some of the best hoaxes to hit the finance industry in history.

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Carney Crossed

Bank of England governor Mark Carney has also been caught out by Staley’s swindler. The email exchange turned sour when Carney shut down a sexist comment from the prankster, who Carney believed to chairman of the court of the Bank of England, Anthony Habgood.

Not before engaging in a chat about scotch and soirees, however, in which Carney wrote: ‘I will drink the martini and order another two. Apparently that was [former governor] Eddie George’s daily in take [sic]…before lunch.’

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All a construction

A fake press release appearing to have been sent by French construction company Vinci caused a sting to the business last year when shares fell nearly 19% as a result.

The fake release claimed the company had fired its chief financial officer Christian Labeyrie and had discovered large losses. The company issued a statement uncovering the hoax just 24 minutes later, however, and had smoothed over the wounds by the end of the day.

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Stars in their eyes

We all sometimes wish we could be our favourite movie stars, but maybe not as much as one prankster did when he called into restaurant company Ruby Tuesday’s earnings call back in 2016 pretending to be Buddy Fox from Geneva Roth Holding Corporation – a character played by Charlie Sheen in the 1987 film Wall Street.

The caller asked the company’s chief executive whether falling sales were related to the death of the gorilla Harambe, which had recently made headlines. ‘Buddy’ disconnected from the call before he received his answer.

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Makeup made up

Avon Products was hit with a hoax in 2015 when PTG Capital Partners announced on the Securities and Exchange Commission website it had launched an $8.2 billion tender offer for the company, causing shares to jump for joy. Questions about the existence of the seemingly mighty PTG soon put an end to the rally, however.

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Teenage trader

In 2014, it was the media who were duped, by 17-year-old Mohammed Islam from Queens, New York. The teenager rose to fame after a New York Magazine interview with him revealed he had made $72 million trading penny stocks during his lunch breaks before graduating to the stock market during middle school.

Unfortunately for Islam and the countless media outlets who covered the story, the so-called trading prodigy had made it all up. Fortunately perhaps, there’s no secret trading recipe for success to be found just yet!

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Rastani's real talk

Back in the days before Trump and fake news, people generally said what they were expected to say during TV interviews and debates. So viewers and reporters alike were baffled when in 2011, trader Alessio Rastani appeared to set the record straight about the Eurozone crisis on BBC news.

His statements that the stock market was toast, Goldman Sachs ruled the world and making money was more important than fixing the economy left many questioning whether the whole thing was just a hoax. The BBC later issued a statement confirming Rastani’s status as an independent market trader – perhaps Rastani was just saying what other traders would not.

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Aviva taken for a ride

Ten years prior to Staley and Carney’s emailer, Aviva was the company being duped by a fake identity. An internal memo claiming to be from finance director Philip Scott pointed to financial difficulties within the insurer and suggested the group was insolvent.

It urged chief executive Andrew Moss to come clean about the problems to the company’s board and auditors. The rumour-mongering was quickly staunched, however, and didn’t impact negatively on Aviva’s share prices.

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A Fool-Proof Prank

It would be wrong to get this far without the mention of a good old-fashioned April Fool’s Day hoax. The AFP Detroit gaffe certainly is old-fashioned, having occurred in 1922.

When an apparently new stock appeared on the Detroit stock exchange, it was thought to stand for American Fire Protection. Despite little being known about it, the new listing received lively trading until someone contacted the Michigan Securities Commission and discovered the stock was not sanctioned. It quickly emerged that AFP actually stood for April Fool Preferred.

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From beyond the grave

Going even further back in time, the rumour of Napoleon’s defeat during the Napoleonic Wars sent the London Stock Exchange into a spiral now known as The Great Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814.

When the news made it from Dover to traders in London (passed on mainly by inn-goers along the route) government securities soared, only to slip as confirmation ceased to arrive, and finally settle again when the hoax was unearthed. Three men were charged with fraud as a result.

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