The photo in question has all the essential qualities of an instant viral hit: a redemption story of a sympathetic character finding fortune and love in the form of a buxom, provocatively dressed blonde woman.
There's only one problem with the image that's been making the rounds on social media in recent days: The story that accompanies it is false.
First some background. The photo, which was first posted online at least as far back as March 2009, shows a pink-faced, overweight gentleman, whose eyes are bulging as an attractive woman in a pink V-neck poses next to him, arm slung around his neck.
A 2009 tagline accompanying the photo reads, "Can you believe it? This guy wins 181 million in the lottery on a Wednesday, and then finds the love of his life just 2 days later. Talk about LUCK!!!!"
Captions on the same image making the rounds Monday mostly read as some variant on the initial theme, sometimes with additional comments deeming the woman a "gold digger," but they are all based on a reworking of an image (see the original, undoctored photo here and below) with unknown origins which was adapted via a humor site to appear to depict a man who had hit the big time.
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Avid users of Cheezburger.com, one of the Web's first meme forums, know that the site has a number of options for people looking to make viral images of their own. And the "lottery winner" photo was created via one of the most popular of these generators, "Breaking News," which slaps a logo for the fake news station "TVN" below any photo, accompanied by a faux headline, providing the blueprint for a hoax.
Click on this link to see the original image posted on Cheezburger with the TVN headline, "Breaking News: LIVE: $181 million dollar lottery winner finds Love of His Life two days after hitting it big!" The image is very convincing, and it has apparently duped the many Twitter and Facebook users who helped it to spread like wildfire over the past few days. But like so many other pieces of viral content, there is no truth behind this heart-warming story.
Upon doing a basic Google search by image query, Web sleuths will find a 2000 New York Times article about a Michigan man who actually did win $181 million playing the lottery. But that man, Larry Ross, bears no resemblance to the one depicted in the meme, according to a photo of Ross posted by Forbes. It's all just a hoax.
Once again, the Internet has fallen for a gag that has no basis in reality, though this one will likely result in little harm to those who buy into it. Remember, don't trust anything you read online.