Email hoaxes are more than mere
annoyances. Many are created and circulated for pure mischief and
sensationalism, but the most dangerous are virus hoaxes that could
lead some users to routinely ignore all virus warning messages,
leaving them vulnerable to a genuine, destructive virus.
You may have received a sensational email like the "Starbucks refused
free product to G.I.s serving
in Iraq ..." message. Did you know that almost every alarming email like
that is a hoax?
But, how can you tell and what can you do about it?
In particular, is there a way for you to keep hoaxes out of
your Inbox? Yes there is, and here's how to go about it -
There is usually plenty of evidence to help you decide when
statements in an email are likely to be hoaxes.
Look first for what is called internal evidence and compare it with
any available external evidence. (It's easier than it sounds.) If
evidence proves the information to be false, use it to alert the
sender and request that they stop sending those email hoaxes to your
Internal Evidence is found within the email itself. You will find up
to five clues there.
|First clue: who sent the email?
Usually, it will be someone who routinely sends
you emails. So start
by identifying the sender. If you know them, you can let them know
that the message was a hoax.
|Second clue: this message has been forwarded many times. The Subject
usually start with: "Fw: Starbucks refused ... " or some
similar teaser. You may
see several previous "Fw: ... " lines inside
the text of the email, as well.
|Third clue: the use of unusually large, colored, or mixed fonts,
exhorting you to
some quick action. (The more frantic the fonts, the
more suspicious the
|Fourth clue: has this same email been sent to a long list of people?
"To:" line; how many others are named? Don't recognize many
of them? Aha!
|Fifth, and surest, clue: the insistent call to forward this letter
to everyone you
know. Right now!
External Evidence is any evidence gathered
from outside of
the actual document. To get to the truth, compare the internal
evidence with any external evidence you can find.
Do this to find external evidence -
Once you suspect a hoax, do a web search on the "subject" line. Quote
the whole line in the search box; if it's a known hoax you will get
plenty of hits. Your search engine will point you to several
"hoax-busting" websites for information about email hoaxes
using those exact words.
If your search engine comes up empty then try again, using some of
the other key words in the hoax message instead.
You can also search directly at any or, even better, all of these
Do this a couple of times and you'll be able to judge the internal
evidence almost at a glance and go straight to searching for
external evidence for positive proof.
Now you know how to spot fake warnings. But how do you actually keep
email hoaxes out of your Inbox? Just send them right back, with a
twist. Wait and see, it works!
Copy every single scrap of information from a hoax-busting site,
preferably several sites if you have the time. Overwhelm the sender
with proof that they may have acted rashly.
Do that by pasting all the evidence you've gathered to the original
hoax email, using the "Reply" function.
IMPORTANT: you are obligated to credit the source for each quote.
a quote without attribution could make you appear
Refrain from commenting; simply return their email with the addition
of your thorough rebuttal from several verified sources. After a
couple of your "replies", your pals will stop forwarding unfounded
messages, at least to you.
This works because nobody, even persistent friends, likes to look foolish, especially when
leaving such a public paper trail. Keep in mind that your friends
merely victims of the hoaxes, too. So here you have a chance to
help rid them of their bad habits while achieving your goal: to keep email
hoaxes out of your Inbox. All this, without a single reproving
or offending word.
Be especially alert for virus hoaxes like urgent virus warning emails.
You've seen them: predictions of impending doom due to some
nasty sounding virus lurking inside your very own computer. Many of
these warnings will seem authentic.
Note, though, that you are always urged to take some drastic action,
usually to delete this "virus", which often turns out to be a
necessary file with an unfortunate name.
Don't delete that "virus" yet. Now you know better and you know exactly what to do.
Right... start by looking up the "virus" at the
McAfee Virus Host Listing web page. Tell your email friends
about this article and refer them to the
Virus Hoax page on
Firewalls and Virus Protection website.
Help them keep email hoaxes out of their inboxes and they won't have
any hoaxes to forward to your email inbox.
... Richard Rossbauer