Avoid email hoaxes

Tips & Hints

Posted 3 July, 2003

Did you know British Airlines will give you free air tickets for sending email? Have you heard about the virus that has a teddy bear icon? How about sending an email to help a sick child?

If you do, don’t tell your friends because they’re hoaxes.

Email is a fantastic breeding ground for hoaxes. The story is feasible, it comes from someone you know and it takes a moment for you to send it to everyone you know. An hour later you have an inbox full of irate emails pointing out you’ve fallen for a hoax.

While hoaxes are generally spread by well meaning people, they aren’t harmless. At their most benign, they take up people’s time and cause embarassment. In the worst cases, they can have a malicious intent.

There’s an even stranger twist. Some of the sick child stories are actually true. The problem with passing on these genuine stories is that the parents are deluged with sympathy emails for years after the crisis has passed.

Regardless of the intent, the resources of the Internet make it easy to check a story’s authenticity. A quick search on a few key words in your favourite search engine will quickly tell you if it’s an old hoax. Sometimes you don’t even have to do that, we’ve previously listed the ways you can spot an incoming hoax.

There is an ettiquette for sending email. Probably the most important rule is to think before pressing the send button. In the case of hoaxes, think and check before passing them on.

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