Within any given day, thousands of emails are circulated around the world claiming to have vital information or important news -or even some spiritual platitude to spread. Unfortunately most of these messages are simply a hoax of one kind or another but there are ways of spotting these guys if you know a what to look for. Below are some simple ways I’ve gleaned over the years that I hope will help.
To start off, I’d first suggest adding a couple websites to your collection:
If you’ve never heard of a “Google-Slap”, you now officially have! If you’re not sure of anything you’re reading, simply “Google it”! Normally the first thing I do with a suspicious email is throw in a few key words from the email into this search engine and add the word “hoax” and see if I find a match. I like to use any name that’s mentioned in the email as my best bet for a search.
Snopes.com – Urban Legends Reference Pages
Probably one of the best databases of email hoaxes I’ve ever used. I can normally find out if an email is a hoax here faster than anywhere else. The amount of research these guys do is amazing!
Now here’s a few tell-tale signs to look for in your emails:
“I heard this on CNN… This celebrity said this… Etc…”
If someone sends you an email claiming to contain information from some sort of authoritative source (CNN is a popular one) but doesn’t include an actual LINK to that site, it’s guaranteed to be a hoax. Plain and simple.
“Send this to all your friends…”
To begin with, the moment you see this in the message, you can be 99% sure it’s a hoax. The entire point of an email hoax is to get it to spread all over the world. There is a danger with this characteristic though, most people simply forward the message from their email client without cleaning out the text of all the other email addresses that lay inside. What happens over time is the message gradually increases in size as the list of email addresses grows. Many marketing groups will use these addresses to send you unsolicited advertisements.
NOTE: If you are planning on forwarding an email that contains previous email addresses and/or needs to be cleaned up, I’m working on another page that will explain how to do this and safely distribute you message to many addresses without revealing your address list.
“There’s an email virus warning out there…”
Another common email hoax. These have been around almost as long as there has been email! You can almost immediately dismiss these messages but there are simple ways of checking of they are true. Claims about viruses that don’t include a link to a credible or trustworthy website (like Symantec.com) would be a big clue that the message is a hoax. If the best virus detectors in the planet don’t know about the virus, chances are it doesn’t exist!
–But understand this: if you ever DO receive an email from ANYONE that contains a file attachment you weren’t expecting, it’s a good practice to contact them and make sure they truly intended to send it to you. Although viruses that spread through email file attachments are not nearly as popular as they used to be, they are still a vulnerability to be aware of.
“Blessings from Heaven…”
Sadly the next most common email hoax has a Christian twist to it. These messages usually have ASCII (or “text-based”) art that shows angels and the like. They will talk of not being ashamed of what you believe in and make you feel guilty for not sending it on. Some even talk of blessings people have received when forwarding the message and curses that people have had that didn’t pass it on. As a devout Christian myself, these messages make me the most upset as it puts Christianity in a bit of a bad light to those who don’t understand what Christianity is all about. I hardly think that Jesus would be using email if he had it available 2000 years ago to spread His message. In reality, most of the people that create these message aren’t even Christians at all. Their interest isn’t to spread the the Word of God as much as to simply see how far they can get their email to go.
“The government wants to start taxing your email…”
Another hoax running around regards some pending legislation that will end life as we know it today. The message will have official-sounding information and names mentioned (all fake). If there isn’t a link to an official government website (that is, one ending in .gov) then it is surely a hoax.
This is by no means a complete list of email hoaxes. There are many variations on the theme that exist. But using these simple principles you should be able to protect yourself from any others that pop up in the future. Understand that just because a friend sent you the message doesn’t mean it’s true. Always check out the sources before forwarding anything that may be false.