Friends don’t let friends fall for email hoaxes, right? Wrong! I get hoax emails from my friends all the time, and sometimes even I am tempted to believe them! Does this scenario sound familiar to you?
You are typing at your computer when your little mail icon pops up. You see the new email is from a good friend and you are excited, until you open it. Instead of an update or a funny joke, it is a forwarded email telling you to avoid buying gas at Exxon or Mobil, or that using Febreeze or Swiffer WetJet will kill your pets, or that Microsoft will send you money if you send the email on to 50 of your closest friends. Did you even for a second think, “But what if it really is true?” And then hurriedly send it to your address book and hope that your friends and relatives wouldn’t hate you for it? Congratulations. You’ve just fallen for an email hoax.
If you are as annoyed by these misinformed emails as I am, help is on the way. Here are some of the most common types of email hoaxes and several ways for you to check the credibility of the next suspicious email you get.
1. The Sick Kid Email Hoax: The names and diseases change, but the premise is basically the same. A young child, stricken with a horrible, fatal disease, wishes for everyone to pass the email along to friends, relatives, work buddies, distant acquaintances, etc. Usually the email says that each person sending it on causes a donation to be made to a charity or research facility so that the world will be eradicated of the disease in the future. Bottom line? There are no email tracking programs that will generate money at the click of the send button. If you really want to help sick kids, call a reputable charity and donate your hard earned money with a clear conscience.
2. The Virus Email Hoax: Pass this on to everybody in your email address book! The “Insert latest virus name here” is going to crash your hard drive, cause you major headaches and cost you tons of money. Okay, reality check. Yes, real viruses can be nasty and expensive. But if your best plan for attack is to rely on your friends for a virus warning, you may have bigger problems. Your best bet is to have a good security program, such as McAfee or Symantec. Rest assured that the virus warnings being circulated by email are either hopelessly outdated or completely made up.
3. The “True” Urban Legend Email Hoax: Is there such a thing as a true urban legend? Usually, no. Your helpful friends want you to be safe and informed, so they send you along the convincing stories warning against all kinds of different dire scenarios. Any of the following sound familiar?
HIV needle in the phone booth/gas nozzle/movie theater.
The poor sap that paid $250 for a cookie.
The man who had his kidneys stolen. (Does anybody still believe that one?)
The person in the shopping mall parking lot waiting to spray you with perfume (which is really ether) so they can debilitate you and steal your cash.
These stories often have lots of details, and are always sent under the guise that it happened to a close friend/family member/friend of a family member who knows a guy whose sister knew someone it happened to. You’d be pretty safe to take them for what they are-made up stories meant to scare.
4. Giveaways and Free Money Email Hoaxes: These are anything from the ones where you send the email on and sit back to wait for your free clothes/candy/money to appear, to the granddaddy of them all: the Nigerian Hoax Email Scam. If anybody sends you an email saying you will get anything free just for sending it on, or that they want to put large amounts of cash in your bank account, don’t fall for it! It’s a scam, there is no such thing as an email tracking software, and no foreign nobleman would willingly give up his money!
5. Chain Letter Emails: Okay, I admit, these are not dangerous, just annoying! You mean to tell me, if I don’t send emails on to at least 10 people, I am an antisocial creep destined to become a lonely elderly cat person? (And I love cats!) Please. I am embarrassed to send these silly letters on to my friends, which is why I never do. And yet, my friends keep sending them to me! Do they really think that if they scroll down and make a wish, it will come true after they send it on to 12 people within the hour? Or that if they don’t send it on, something terrible will happen in 24 hours? I have no problem putting these emails where they belong: in my trash folder.
So how do you find out if an email forward you’ve received is an email hoax? There are a number of good websites that will help you out. My personal favorite is www.truthorfiction.com I can click on the search box, enter in the title or key phrase in the email I have just received, and it will instantly give me the real scoop. (Yes, some are actually true or based on truth.)
There are also other sites that offer good email hoax information: www.hoax-slayer.com, www.vmyths.com for information on computer viruses, www.hoaxbusters.ciac.org, and www.snopes.com. These are just a few of the many sites containing information about hoaxes, myths, and urban legends.
Now, for the more delicate question. What do you do about all those friends who send this junk to you? Do you tell them the email is bogus? Quietly delete it? I, for one, don’t really want to make my friends feel stupid, so I usually quietly ignore the harmless or long-circulating ones. However, when I receive one that I think merits concern, I will usually send a link to one of the hoax sites so they can get the truth. Does it help? Well, I still get stupid forwarded emails. But at least I know I’ve done my part to educate a few people about not always believing what they read. I hope I’ve done my part to help you, too!