How to spot an Internet hoax

Tips & Hints

Posted 28 March, 2003

Email is the greatest hoax and myth spreading tool. Every day we receive a couple of queries about virus warnings and telling us about rehashed urban legends. While some are well written, most can be recognised for what they are.

There are a number of things that most hoaxes have in common. This list will help you spot the obvious ones.

  1. Who sent it to you?
  2. Your mum, best friend or business partner has your best interests at heart. They are doing you a favour warning you about new viruses or telling you Bill Gates is paying three hundred dollars for each email he receives. But do they really know what they are talking about?

  3. False Authority
  4. Myths and hoaxes often include claims supporting them from Microsoft, the government or another big organisation. Generally, these outfits don’t warn about viruses. When they do, it makes the news.

  5. Extravagant claims.
  6. This is the most destructive virus of all time? Microsoft will pay you how much for each e-mail? The more amazing the claim, the less feasible the email.

  7. Silly claims.
  8. In the case of the Teddy Bear virus, the warning claims the popular anti-virus programs can’t detect it. What exactly do these companies do for a living? If there is a new virus they can’t detect then there is a race to fix it.

    There are some real viruses that damage anti-virus programs. If you are concerned that you do have an undetected virus, run an online virus scan. If you are on a dialup connection, this will be very slow.

  9. Pass it on
  10. Does the message ask you to send it to everybody you know? One of the most obvious give-aways is asking you to pass the message on to all your friends and colleagues. Save yourself the embarrassment, don’t.

  11. Check the facts.
  12. Probably the two most reliable sites for identifying hoax emails are the Urban Myths and Vmyths sites. Before acting on these these e-mails check with these sites. It can save a lot of embarrassment.

Apart from the embarrassment of falling for one, these hoaxes are generally harmless. Their worst effects are the red faces and wasted time dealing with these. Check before passing an Internet message onto everybody you know.

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