My April Fools

I’ve always had a thing for big, overcomplicated April Fools’ gags. Traditionally, we’d always play pranks on Penbryn Halls at the University, but it’s not so easy these days to gain access to halls of residence, now that they’ve installed door locks that don’t open by themselves when you so much as breathe hard on them, so I thought it was time to broaden my sights.

I work for a company based in the Aberystwyth Technium on the marina. A few weeks ago, the Technium management had arranged for the installation of a new fence and automatic car park barriers, to allow the building to better control who has access to the offices’ car parking spaces (car parking spaces being a particularly valuable commodity in Aberystwyth). These barriers haven’t come online yet, but apparently they will “soon” (which is regional-government-speak for “someday, maybe”).

Car Parking Gates at the Aberystwyth Technium

Early on the morning of 1st April, I put out an e-mail to all resident companies at the Technium, spoofed so that it appeared to come from Technium management and emulating their writing style and the way that they typically send out bulk messages to the tenants.

Annwyl pawb ,

The key fobs for the new car park barrier system need to be ordered via an online application form . The application needs to be filled in as your key fobs will be uniquely linked to your vehicle.

The application form is only available online at http://www.techniumnetwork.info/aberystwyth/carparking/

Once you have applied, central office will send out the key fobs to us in a week or two. Please fill in the form as soon as possible so that the key fobs all arrive at the same time.

Diolch

Sion

Sion Meredith
Gweithredydd Technium Aberystwyth
Technium Aberystwyth Executive

<snip>

The techniumnetwork.info domain name is one that I’d picked up the day before for the best part of 49p on a special offer with a registrar – the real Technium website is at www.technium.co.uk, but I figured that people wouldn’t pay attention to the domain name: even the tenants here probably don’t spend much time, if any at all, on the Technium website. I stole the stylesheet and layout for the official website and adapted it to my purposes: there’s a mirror up now at http://techniumnetwork.scatmania.org/aberystwyth/carparking/ if you want to see for yourself.

Spoof website for the car parking key fob scam

The site begins by looking like a genuine application form, asking for all of the key details – your personal and company information, basic details of your car – and slowly starts over many, many pages of forms to ask sillier and sillier questions. “What colour is your car?” is a drop-down with “Red” and “Other” as the only options. “What noise does your car make?” is accompanied by options like “Vroom!” and “Brum-brum.” Later questions ask whether or not your car is capable of transforming into a giant robot and challenge you to correctly identify road signs that have been altered in comedic ways.

The trick worked, and many of the tenants were fooled… some of them well-past the point at which they should have thought the form was genuine; and almost all of them believed, even when they realised that the form was a joke, that it had been set up by the Technium themselves. It was only when one tenant decided to pass a copy of the e-mail on to the real Sion Meredith that the building management heard anything about it, and, sadly, put a stop to it by sending out an e-mail to say that it was all a joke, and not one by them.

After he’d worked out it was me that was behind it… I’d taken steps to make it obvious to anybody who bothered to check up on it, so as to maximise the understanding that it was, in the end, just a joke: the last thing I wanted was some humourless bureaucrat to see this gag (which did, of course, involve feigning the identity of a government employee) as a terrorist threat or something …he got his own back, though. He came up to my office at a few minutes to midday to inform me that he’s had to pass on my details to the Technium legal team, and he managed to make my heart skip a beat before I realised that he, too, was just having a joke.

A selection of feedback so far on the gag after I sent out a “gotcha” e-mail to everybody affected:

  • “Way too much time on your hands………” – Aled, thinkplay.tv
  • “You have far too much time on your hands but it was very amusing!!” – Kayt, MapAnalysis

  • “When I realised it was an April Fool I did look at the email address and questioned it but didn’t think [it could be spoofed]! Must be because I’m a technical dumb ass!” – George, MapAnalysis

  • “Dan, Sion was serious [about the legal team], when he popped his head round the door at 11.45 he had some documents in his hand.” – Nic, Angle Technology

  • “When did you find time to make this, then?” – Simon, SmartData

I had to leave the room when it first started to catch Simon out: I heard him phoning his wife to ask for a reminder of their cars’ number plates and had to excuse myself so as not to give the game away with my girlish giggling.

So, that was all good, and far more successful than my backup plan which involved passing on missed call messages to co-workers to ask them to return a call to Rory Lyons at Captive Audience on 01244 380280. The number is actually the number for Chester Zoo: I so very nearly made some of the people I work with unwittingly call up Chester Zoo on the morning of April 1st and ask, “Can I speak to Rory Lyons, please?” It’s a good prank, anyway – I’ll save it for another time: or if you want to give it a go (it doesn’t even have to be April Fools’ Day, with a great joke like that), let me know how you get on!

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