PRWebIn an almost comic case of pretty much everybody getting it wrong, a score of major publishers ran with a big-news press release that turned out to be fake–and the incident now looks more and more like an old-fashioned financial crime.

As if to offer further proof that anyone can use PRWeb, some shady individual with an interest in making a quick, illegal buck wrote and released a post announcing that Google had just acquired ICOA, a “neutral host” broadband wi-fi provider, for $400 million. If true, this announcement would have been something of a big deal signifying Google’s desire to move deeper into the competitive world of Internet service providers. Yet no one bothered to fact-check the release (probably because ICOA isn’t a big name), and now much of the Internet has egg on its face.

What was this funny business all about? In a follow-up email, ICOA’s CEO guessed that “a stock promoter with a dubious interest is disseminating wrong, false and misleading info in the PR circles”. Sounds like someone living in the notoriously lawful land of Aruba wanted to spark a short-lived bump in ICOA’s stock price—and according to a Buzzfeed follow-up report, said individual may have earned six digits’ worth of easy profits by briefly pushing the company’s share price up from one penny to five. We’re not terribly familiar with stock trader lingo, but we’re fairly sure this one falls under “fraud.”

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