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News Outlets Punk'd, Somebody Profits: Google Wi-Fi Buy Is A Hoax

This Associated Press report today wasn't true:

"Google has bought an operator of Wi-Fi hotspots in high-traffic locations such as airports, hotels and fast-food restaurants. Google Inc. is paying $400 million for ICOA Inc., a Warwick, R.I., company, as part of the search company's efforts to diversify its portfolio."

It was so wrong, in fact, that the AP later moved a "KILL BULLETIN" saying it was:

"Withdrawing its story about a purported acquisition of ICOA Inc., a wireless and broadband internet provider, by Google Inc. ICOA says the story is not true, and said a purported news release about the acquisition was a hoax. Google declined to comment, but a person close to Google with knowledge of the situation also said the report was not true."

So what happened?

All Things D reports that a press release was "posted on PRWeb, a free service operated by the PR firm Vocus" and that "the situation bears all the markings of an attempt to 'pump-and-dump' the shares of a thinly traded over-the-counter stock."

According to that blog:

"Whoever sent the press release likely counted on it being propagated by journalists who wouldn't bother to confirm whether it was true or not, so that traders would bid the price up. The shares trade at a price so low that they amount to fractions of a penny per share. Whatever the price, the shares tripled or quadrupled in value as the false news made its way around the Web."

Were there clues that something might be amiss? Yes.

-- The press release contained no comments from either company.

-- There was no contact information for those who had questions, other than the main url address for ICOA (where there was no information about any such acquisition).

-- And the announcement included several typos or grammatical mistakes, something you might expect from a blogger — but not in an announcement involving one of the world's biggest companies.

According to the AP, while ICOA's stock went up after the announcement, "shares of Google fell $6.07, or 0.9 percent, to $661.90 in morning trading Monday." At 2:30 p.m. ET, it was still down about 0.75 percent.

As All Thing D adds, such hoaxes have led to jail time before.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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