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What Hoaxes Cost Taxpayers


The balloon boy is just the latest of a long history of costly pranks.


First of all, this was not a hoax. Falcon was missing when the balloon lifted off. Why would we make a hoax with our kid?
-- Richard Heene

We all know about that balloon and we all have our own theories about that hoax. Although Richard Heene denies it, his wife admitted to authorities that "the helium balloon was specifically created for a hoax to draw media attention," according to

No matter what the final verdict is, it's appropriate to ask just who will pay for this "inadvertent" episode that required a full personnel rescue crew and a national wave of media coverage for the extent of the balloon's flight.

If Heene is found to be innocent, the balloon boy incident's benefactors will most likely be yours truly: Taxpayers.

Drawing from the information we have at hand, the Examiner took a stab at the total cost of the Heene's "hoax" and how solemnly it will wring the pockets of the guiltless taxpayers:

At the present time it is unknown how much the balloon boy has cost taxpayers. Hard figures include the Black Hawk in the air for three hours at a cost of $4,600 an hour and the smaller Kiowa helicopter that was in the air for one hour at the cost of $700 an hour. …Obviously, there are other costs as well.

The Daily Finance breaks down the expenditure in a more unorthodox approach, calling for the US to sue Richard Heene for $2.8 billion in lost productivity. The argument goes like this:

To reach that $2.8 billion, I estimated the US GDP per hour: $53.61 ($7.1 billion = $14,151 billion/250 work-days/eight work-hours/day) per worker (132 million) and multiplied that by the number of workers distracted by watching the bubble boy: 26.4 million (20% of the workforce) times the number of hours they were distracted: two hours.

The writer suggests that 40% of the total should be paid by the Heene family, another 40% by the media, such as Fox (NWS), CNN (TWX), and NBC (GE) who broadcasted it and disrupted at least two hours of "real work," and 20% by those workers who should have been working but instead focused their attention on the publicity scheme. This will never happen, of course, but it's surely entertaining.

Back to reality, how does such a blatant gimmick caused by one family potentially burden a whole mass of American citizens?

The Heene spectacle is just one of many episodes every year in which a prankster manipulates a serious situation for his own pleasure, leaving the taxpayer to sweep up the remnant disarray.

Here, we look at some of the best of the worst pranks that pinched the pennies of sensible taxpayers worldwide.

The Great Biological Attack
Estimated cost: more than $3.4 million

Throughout December 1998, five separate "emergencies" resulted in mass building evacuations in Southern California because of rumors that hazardous biological agents were released in the vicinity. One instance even required a municipal court to cease operations pending a full investigative clearance for safety by authorities.

The LA Times reported that the shutdown of the court would cost taxpayers an estimated $400,000 and the cost of all incidents involving the anthrax scare in the city was estimated at $2 million. All for a little fun, right?
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