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Tips from Tonna for your PC
Is it a hoax or is it real?
by Tonna Kutner

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Q: I frequently get email telling me about some terrible virus with some exotic name.  They say I should send the message to everyone I know.  Are these real?  Should I be sending these to everyone I know?

A: What you have described is a classic email hoax.  A hoax is some kind of scare alert or story that is not true.  They are started by strange/malicious people and passed on by innocent users who think they are helping the community by spreading the warning.  Imagine if one person sent a hoax out to 50 others; they each sent it out to 50 more and then to 50 more.  That’s already 125,000 messages that aren’t true taking up time and space on the internet and in your life.  Hoaxes are not viruses in the traditional sense, but they are a big waste of time and energy.  And, NO you shouldn’t be sending them out to everyone you know.

So how do you tell the difference between a hoax and a real message?  I’ll get to that, but first lets go over some of the other kinds of email hoaxes.

Give Away Hoax: These indicate they are from some large company like Microsoft or Disney or Victoria's Secret and if you just send the email to enough people you will get big money or free stuff.  Trust me, you will be waiting a long time. 

Urban Myths and Legends: These can be warnings about bad things happening to people and animals that never really happened.  These can be stories or medical information that are well written and appear to come from a professional source.  For example there was a hoax going around about tampon companies putting asbestos in tampons making them toxic – all totally false.

Chain Letters:  These usually offer good luck if you send them out or bad luck if you don’t.  If they want you to send money to the top people on the list, they’re actually illegal.  If you’re superstitious, bless these as you hit the delete key.

True Legends: Sometimes the stories are actually true – like a popular email petition circulating about Women in Afghanistan.  However, after tons of email overwhelmed the listed address, it was cut off and can no longer be used.  The petitions go nowhere.  Better to lookup “Afghanistan Women” on a search engine and get current information.

This is just the tip of the hoax iceberg, but you get the idea. 

So how do you tell if it’s a hoax or not?  Here are some tips:

  • Genuine virus alerts do not go into detail about how terrible a computer virus might be.  Usually they summarize the threat and provide a link to more information stored on a well-known anti-virus organization web site.  The email will come from the anti-virus organization and not through your friends and relatives.

  • If you are urged to send the email to everyone you know, be very skeptical.  No reputable company would use such a chaotic means of distribution.

  • Look for overly emphatic language, the frequent use of UPPERCASE LETTERS and multiple exclamation points!!!!!!!  These are hoax flags.

  • Check the references.  Look up names, references, or other key words from the email on a search engine.  For example, if you receive the email about Asbestos in Tampons, look up “tampon asbestos” on a search engine.  You’ll find numerous references indicating that it is a hoax.  ALWAYS check out an email before sending it out to others.

If you want to find out more about hoaxes, check out these web sites:

Remember that information written in an email is not guaranteed to be true.  Check it out for yourself

If you have a computer question you would like answered in this space, send it to tonna@computer-lynx.com.

For past columns of Tips from Tonna, check out the web site: www.computer-lynx.com.

Tonna Kutner, Computer LYNX, works with companies to list and develop their web sites.  Phone (206) 575-3979 or email tonna@computer-lynx.com. Visit Tonna’s website at www.computer-lynx.com.

Printed in "Verve" - December  2001. Copyright Tonna Kutner

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