How to identify a hoax

Any e-mail that asks you to forward it to as many people as possible is a hoax – period. I’ve yet to see a single e-mail asked to be forwarded that was legit. Any time you see a request to spread an e-mail – don’t! Assume it’s a hoax, don’t bother reading on, just delete it and put an end to it.

Every hoax only works if it can convince you that it is legit. They usually do that by claiming that this message comes from some type of authority, some well-known or at least very legitimate sounding organization. Yet the message is being forwarded to you from a friend who got it from a friend who got it from a friend …. you get the picture. If the message was not sent to you directly from said autority, be suspicious, assume it’s bogus until you have verified its authenticity by, for example, visiting said authority’s web site to see if it’s mentioned there. If it’s so important, they would post it, don’t you think?

A hoax spreads by being forwarded. When you forward an e-mail message, most e-mail clients insert the original message with a bracket (>) in front of each line. If you see a message with tons of those brackets, it’s usually a chainletter-type hoax.

The topic of a hoax usually falls into one of the following categories:

  • a virus warning – it describes some horrible new virus that spreads like wildfire and does horrible things to computers. You can easily verify them first by visiting the web site of a reputable virus software manufacturer, they maintain searchable databases where you can look up every virus known to mankind.
  • a scam – it asks you to send something back, whether it’s money, your ISP user name and password, credit card number, etc.
  • an urban legend – some incredible tale of something that happened. If it sounds unbelievable, it usually is.
  • a give-away – it claims that some big well-known company is giving away something for free based on how many times the e-mail is forwarded as it keeps track of how often the e-mail is sent. First of all, there is no such thing as an e-mail tracking system. Secondly, think about it for a moment. Even if the give-away is only worth a dollar and only a few million people get the e-mail, why would anybody give away millions of dollars? Duh!
  • a tear-jerker – a very common hoax is a story of a person on his/her deathbed with the last wish of receiving tons of e-mail or cards, or somebody donating money for each e-mail sent towards research to cure the (ficticious) disease.
  • a regular chain letter – the most common one is to send it on, otherwise you’ll have bad luck. No matter how superstitious you are, this is complete bull.
  • a get-rich-quick scheme – somebody has the secret to getting rich quick, and they are sharing it with everybody on the Internet. Think about it: if someone knows how to make a lot of money then why the hell are they telling YOU about it? Out of the goodness of their heart? I don’t think so. And besides, if this scheme really works and is readily available online, why aren’t there more rich people?


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