Five ways to spot an April Fool's hoax

thumbing her nose

April Fool! Have you been caught out yet? It’s the day of the year when jokers everywhere try to catch out the unwary and turn them into fools.

It could be as simple as swapping the salt or sugar in the office kitchen or as elaborate as the famous Spaghetti Tree prank in 1957 when Panorama broadcast a report on the bumper pasta harvest in Switzerland.

As accountants, it’s important to be on your guard year round – not just on 1 April – and to have a good sense of what’s real and what’s not. Being suspicious today about the reports of see-through Marmite, psychic pets and tartan paint rollers might stop you from looking stupid, but that same instinct will serve you well the rest of the year.

Having professional scepticism doesn’t mean mistrusting your clients and contacts

Lecturer Fiona Winter said: "Professional scepticism is the cornerstone for professional practice for accountants, tax professionals, and auditors. Professional scepticism involves having an attitude which includes a questioning and challenging mind, always being open to the chance that something may not be entirely as it seems.

“As a professional, you should be questioning whether the information and facts appear reasonable and appropriate given your knowledge of the situation. Is there a consistency with other facts?  Having professional scepticism doesn’t mean mistrusting your clients and contacts, but means always ensuring that you have sufficient evidence to be confident in the information you are faced with, and investigating further if not.”

Here’s how to spot a hoaxer’s work:

Look for clues

Most April Fools will hide a giveaway hint somewhere in their story. For example, the 2012 discovery by The British Library of a medieval manuscript detailing recipes for cooking uniforms might appear plausible until you see that the compiler was one Geoffrey Fule. Last year, the Daily Mail reported that Longleat Safari Park had offered a car bubble wrapping service for visitors wanting to avoid damage by monkeys. The service would be carried out by anagramatical employee Paolo Flirs.

Read material thoroughly

It could well be that the headline alone is credible, but when you add up all the information it starts to look decidedly fishy. In 1974 sports writer Bob Peel of the Syracuse Post Standard warned anglers not to go near the water because a “mix up” had seen thousands of piranhas released into trout-fishing waters. The last line concluded: “This is all pure baloney.” However, a hapless TV reporter didn’t read the whole story and shared the warning with viewers across the country.

It shakes the unshakeable

Jeremy Clarkson rejecting petrol, hens producing square eggs and Big Ben going digital are clearly not true. If what you’re witnessing messes with something that’s a national treasure or one of the fundamental natural laws, it’s worth checking the date and looking for clues before you proceed. If you have to ask yourself how something works, then chances are, it doesn’t.

You get the feeling you’re being watched

Let’s face it, there isn’t much point in setting up a prank if you’re not going to enjoy the fruits of your labour. Therefore, if you feel like someone’s paying you unexpected attention at home or at work, be on your guard and take nothing for granted. You may be about to be an April Fool victim.

You really want to believe it

Make sure you’re not fooling yourself too. A hoax such as carrots that whistle when they’re cooked to perfection (Tesco 2002) would be so useful, you might find yourself overlooking the fact that it’s obviously impossible. In the same vein, the 2002 report about a new line of socks, FatSox, that “sucked body fat out of sweating feet, banishing it forever” was sadly entirely fictional, as was news of Viagra for sexually frustrated hamsters. If it’s too good to be true, it almost certainly isn’t.

Be alert, there’s a hoaxer about and you don’t want to be their fool.


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