If anyone needed further proof that Internet bulletin boards attract fools like winged vermin to a Shell No-Pest Strip, Steve Tracy offered it last week when he publicly "confessed" online that he was being paid to bash stocks.

In the week that followed, lots of the gullible folk still apparently didn't realize just how badly they were being had. So badly that Tracy, the originator of the little hoax, was sheepishly wondering if his prank had spiraled out of control.

"In my view, this thing has gotten totally ridiculous," he wrote in an email interview. "While at first I was pleased at the reception it received, I am quite dismayed that so many people would believe what I had thought to be an obvious joke."

The fun began last Wednesday when Tracy, who goes by the Internet alias

firebird_1965

, posted a tome entitled, "Confessions of a Paid Basher", on

Raging Bull

.

Blastoff

Tracy posted the purported mea culpa with considerable fanfare, including a message-by-message countdown to its launch.

In the missive, he came clean in gushing prose about what many of the conspiratorial types have suspected for months about the Internet message boards: He claimed he was being paid to bash stocks as part of an orchestrated effort to drive their prices down. He said he worked for a boiler room operation called

Franklin Andrews Kramer & Edelstein

in Stamford, Conn.

He said he was ashamed and wanted to be able to look himself in the mirror again. "I'm too broken up to continue. I hope this confession can make up for my sordid deeds," he wrote.

OK, that kind of talk usually brings a skeptical smirk to any reporter's face. This is Raging Bull, after all, not the

Little Sisters of the Poor

. And there were other red flags fluttering around this tale.

There is no listing for Franklin Andrews in the Stamford phone directory. No sign of it in standard corporate records databases either. One clever

observer later noticed a pattern in the first initials of each name in the firm when linked together: F-A-K-E.

"Come on, that's as obvious and silly as those acronyms they used in the old 1960s spy movies," Tracy said.

There was also a nearly identical posting of a so-called paid basher confession on another message board site with a different name for the supposed boiler room. Then there was the clincher. At the bottom of Tracy's "confession," well past the signature (for anyone who bothered to continue scrolling), read this innocuous line: "And if you believe this -- lol."

In Internet posting lingo, "lol" is short for "laughing out loud."

Bingo.

But that's the part no one picked up initially when they electronically copied the confession and began posting it all over other message board sites under headings for at least a dozen different stocks.

Those included boards for

Urbana

(URBA)

,

Sun Microsystems

(SUNW) - Get Report

,

Cyber-Care

(CYBR) - Get Report

and

WaveRider Communications

(WAVC)

.

"It put 'bashers' in a whole new light for me" one person

wrote in a posting on Raging Bull.

Tracy claims on his Raging Bull profile to be a 35-year old Texas marketing consultant with an MBA who likes "fast cars, faster women." But we know how much to believe about what he says online.

Still, in an email interview, he said: "I would ask that it be made clear ... that I am not a paid basher."

"The truly sad thing is that after learning it was a put on, some of these people still want to believe it was part of some grand conspiracy," he said. "My suggestion to these people is: Don't go to

Burger King

for a while -- you've already had your share of Whoppers!"