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Latest Email Hoaxes - Current Internet Scams - Hoax-Slayer

Hoax-Slayer is dedicated to debunking email hoaxes, thwarting Internet scammers, combating spam, and educating web users about email and Internet security issues. Hoax-Slayer allows Internet users to check the veracity of common email hoaxes and aims to counteract criminal activity by publishing information about common types of Internet scams. Hoax-Slayer also includes anti-spam tips, computer and email security information, articles about true email forwards, and much more. New articles are added to the Hoax-Slayer website every week.

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How to spot an Email Hoax - Guide to Recognizing Hoaxes

Spotting the latest email hoaxes may be easier than you think!

There are thousands of email hoaxes moving around the Internet at any given time. Some may be the latest email hoaxes around. Others may be mutated versions of hoax messages that have travelled the Internet for years. These email hoaxes cover a range of subject matter, including:

The good news is that, with a little bit of foreknowledge, email hoaxes are easy to detect. Hidden within the colourful prose of your average email hoax often lurk telling indicators of the email's veracity.

Probably the most obvious of these indicators is a line such as "Send this email to everyone in your address book". Hoax writers want their material to spread as far and as fast as possible, so almost every hoax email will in some way exhort you to send it to other people. Some email hoaxes take a more targeted approach and suggest that you send the email to a specified number of people in order to collect a prize or realize a benefit.

Another indicator is that hoaxes tend not to provide checkable references to back up their spurious claims. Genuine competitions, promotions, giveaways or charity drives will usually provide a link to a company website or publication. Real virus warnings are likely to include a link to a reputable virus information website. Emails containing Government or company policy information are likely to include references to checkable sources such as news articles, websites or other publications.

A third indicator is often the actual language used. Email hoax writers have a tendency to use an emotive, "over-the-top" style of writing peppered with words and phrases such as "Urgent", "Danger", "worst ever virus!!", "sign now before it's too late" and so on, often rendered in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS for added emphasis. Paragraphs dripping with pathos speak of dying children; others "shout" with almost rabid excitement about free air travel or mobile phones. As well, some email hoaxes try to add credibility by using highly technical language.

Before forwarding an email, ask yourself these questions:
  1. Does the email ask you to send it to a lot of other people?
  2. Does the email fail to provide confirmation sources?
  3. Is the language used overly emotive or highly technical?
A "yes" answer to one or more of the above questions, should start some alarm bells ringing. These indicators do not offer conclusive evidence that the email is a hoax but they are certainly enough to warrant further investigation before you hit the "Forward" Button.

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Common Internet Scams - An Overview

Email and the Internet is a wonderful resource that has revolutionized the way humans communicate and access information. Unfortunately, it has also proved to be a fertile medium for the unscrupulous and the morally challenged. Scammers regularly use email in attempts to steal money or personal information from unsuspecting victims. Those inexperienced in the ways of the Internet are especially vulnerable to current Internet scams.

The good news is that it is not difficult to learn how to recognise current Internet scams that arrive via email. Included below are descriptions of three of the most common types of email driven scams as well as some general indicators that should help you recognize scam emails.

Phishing Scams:

You may receive an email from a bank/online service provider/ financial institution that asks you to click a link and visit a website in order to provide personal information. Such an email is more than likely the type of Internet scam known as "phishing".

A phishing scam is one in which victims are tricked into providing personal information such as account numbers and passwords to what they believe to be a legitimate company or organization. In order to carry out this trick, the scammers often create a "look-a-like" website that is designed to resemble the target company's official website. Typically, emails are used as "bait" in order to get the potential victim to visit the bogus website. Be wary of any email that asks you to click on a link and provide sensitive personal information such as banking details. Information submitted on these bogus websites is harvested by the scammers and may then be used to steal funds from the user's accounts and/or steal the victim's identity.

Most legitimate companies would not request sensitive information from customers via email. DO NOT click on the links in these emails. DO NOT provide any information about yourself. If you have any doubts at all about the veracity of an email, contact the company directly.

Find out more about Phishing scams

Nigerian Scams:

You may receive an email/letter/fax that asks for your help to access a large sum of money in a foreign bank account. The message says that you will get a percentage of the funds in exchange for your help.

In all probability, the message is an example of the type of scam known as a Nigerian or "419" scam. The "large sum of money" does not exist. The messages are an opening gambit designed to draw potential victims deeper into the scam. Those who initiate a dialogue with the scammers by replying to the scam messages will eventually be asked for advance fees supposedly required to allow the deal to proceed. They may also become the victims of identity theft. The scammers use a variety of stories to explain why they need your help to access the funds.

For example:
If you receive one of these scam emails, it is important that you do not respond to it in any way. The scammers are likely to act upon any response from those they see as potential victims.

Find out more about Nigerian Scams

Lottery Scams:

You may receive an email/letter/fax that claims that you have won a great deal of money in an international lottery even though you have never bought a ticket. The email may claim that your email address was randomly chosen out of a large pool of addresses as a "winning entry". Such emails are almost certainly fraudulent. In some cases, the emails claim to be endorsed by well-known companies such as Microsoft or include links to legitimate lottery organization websites. Any relationships implied by these endorsements and links will be completely bogus.

There is no lottery and no prize. Those who initiate a dialogue with the scammers by replying to the messages will be first asked to provide a great deal of personal information. Eventually, they will be asked to send money, ostensibly to cover expenses associated with delivery of the supposed "winnings". They may also become the victims of identity theft. DO NOT respond to these messages. DO NOT supply any personal information whatsoever to the scammers.

Find out more about Lottery Scams

General Scam Indicators:

The current Internet scams described above are some of the most common types of Internet fraud. However, these fraudsters are clever people who may use many variations of the above scams to achieve their nefarious ends.

In general, be wary of unsolicited emails that:
By taking the time to educate yourself about these common types of scam, and/or by sharing this information with others, you can make a valuable contribution to the war against Internet fraud.

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Why do People Create Email Hoaxes?

At any one time, there is likely to be many thousands of completely bogus hoax messages travelling via email, from the very latest email hoaxes to older email hoaxes that have been circulating in various forms for years.

I am often asked why people create such hoaxes in the first place. This is an interesting question that probably has no definitive answer. For example, what could possibly motivate somebody to write and distribute a fictional message about a dying child? Why would someone author a bogus warning about a non-existent computer virus or falsely claim that a well-known company was giving away money or products?

Unlike a scammer, whose efforts may be rewarded in the form of stolen funds or stolen identities, a hoax writer does not stand to reap such a tangible reward. The motives of a scammer are not hard to ascertain. Hoaxsters, on the other hand, have motives that are less transparent.

Perhaps people most commonly start hoax emails simply to see how far, and for how long, their nonsensical messages will spread. If they create a hoax that regularly has recipients clicking on the "Forward" button, they may feel "successful" by their own twisted standards. By pulling the wool over the eyes of a substantial number of Internet users, these pranksters may feel that they have "made their mark" on society. Perhaps it is something akin to vandalism out in the "real" world. Perhaps there are similar underlying motives that drive those who create hoaxes and those who spray graffiti or slash train seats? Such vandalism may seem completely pointless to the rest of us, but the vandals must gain some intrinsic value out of it - a venting of anger against a society they resent - a sense of power - just a cheap thrill, perhaps.

In some cases, a newly created hoax message might spread a lot further than the author originally intended. Some hoaxes start out as just a practical joke aimed squarely at a select group of friends. But the friends send it to their friends and, in short order, the message has irretrievably escaped into the wilds of Cyberspace. Some time back, a widely distributed email hoax about a group of Cambodian midgets fighting a lion started in exactly this way.

In other cases an email hoax might be originally sent out simply because the author misinterpreted something and genuinely felt compelled to let others know about it. For example, the infamous "Bonsai Kittens" website appears to have prompted one outraged visitor to create and send out an email petition calling for authorities to close down the site. However, the creator of the email petition apparently did not realize that the site was just a joke. In spite of the fact that nobody is really making Bonsai Kittens, this misguided petition continues to circulate and collect email addresses years after it was first launched.

Hoaxes might also be started solely for the purpose of discrediting a company or individual. For example, some virus hoaxes, such as the Elf Bowling hoax name a particular software program and may have been started simply because the author had some unnamed grievance and was seeking revenge.

Some have postulated that spammers deliberately create email hoaxes as a way of subsequently collecting email addresses. Certainly, messages that get forwarded many times can accumulate a great many email addresses and spammers may well harvest these addresses for use on spam lists. However, generally speaking, I'm not convinced that spammers are the ones who actually create these hoaxes in the first place. For such an exercise to be successful (from the spammer's point of view), he or she would have to set up a mechanism by which the email hoax messages were eventually returned after they had accumulated a large number of email addresses. Typically, email hoaxes do not have any such mechanism. If they did, it would perhaps make it possible to identify the original author.

As I said earlier, it is probably quite difficult to pinpoint one definitive reason why some individuals in the Internet community decide to create and distribute email hoaxes. Given the sometimes unfathomable complexity of human psychology, there is likely to be quite a number of reasons why people author email hoaxes and I've only touched on a few possible motives here.

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Are Email Petitions Useful?

If you have been using email for any length of time, at some point you have probably received an email in the form of a petition. The message requests you to "sign" the petition by adding your name before sending it on to others in your address book. Emails of this nature generally contain a few paragraphs of text explaining the purpose and intended goals of the petition as well as instructions about how to sign and forward the message. Such email-based petitions have focused on a large variety of causes.

I am often asked if such petitions have any value. Well, in my opinion, they are completely worthless. Here's why:
In summary, think twice about "signing" and forwarding email petitions. There are much more effective ways of bringing attention to a problem and registering your protest. You could contact a relevant person directly and outline your grievances. You could also write Letters to the Editor, start a legitimate petition or even organize a demonstration, to name just a few options.

If you still feel that signing and sending an email petition is worth the effort, then at least take the time to check if the information in the email is actually factual and current before proceeding.

View some examples of email petitions
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Email Security Tip - Forward Responsibly

Along with the junk mail that arrives in our inboxes, there may be quite a few gems that just beg to be forwarded. These may be jokes, funny photos or videos, useful information, interesting web links or just juicy bits of gossip. The "forward" function of our email program enables us to fire off these missives to one, a few, or all of the email addresses in our address book with just a few mouse clicks. As easy as pie!

In fact, email forwarding is almost too easy! While the ability to forward messages is a very valuable aid to effective email communication, the forward function should be used responsibly. Before you forward an email to multiple recipients, there are important factors that need to be considered:

Many users are simply not aware of the privacy and security issues connected to forwarding emails. You can take an active role in helping to protect user privacy and reducing spam by making others aware of these issues.

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Responding to Email Hoaxes

What do you do if you get an email that you know is one of the latest email hoaxes going around? If you receive a lot of hoax and other garbage emails, it can be tempting to fire off an irate reply condemning the sender for his or her foolishness. Serial hoax-forwarders might actually deserve such a reply. These email pests consistently refuse to check before forwarding even when recipients repeatedly point out their gullibility. However, the majority of people who forward a hoax email do so in good faith and perhaps simply need a bit of guidance on the issue from a more Internet savvy individual.

That said, I think there is a right way and a wrong way to go about providing this guidance. Here's what works for me:
  1. Be Subtle!
    Nobody likes to be ridiculed. If a reply is overly aggressive and makes people feel stupid they are likely to focus on defending themselves from a perceived attack and your chance to set the record straight may be lost. In other words, if you get a person's back up, he or she probably won't believe anything you try to tell them anyway.

    So, it is well worth spending a few minutes formulating a polite and subtle reply. The outcome is likely to be a lot more positive.

  2. Backup Your Argument
    Even if you are subtle, the sender is unlikely to feel good about being taken in by a hoax. Human nature being what it is, he or she may well try to avoid feeling foolish by defending the claims in the message and disputing your argument. Therefore, always try to include one or more good external references in your message that back up your conclusions.

  3. Take the Chance To Educate
    Your reply also gives you a chance to help the sender learn how to avoid being caught by hoaxes in the future. Explain how and where you check the truth of messages before you forward them.

  4. Don't do a "Reply All"
    Often, the "To" line of the hoax message reveals that it has been sent to many other people besides yourself. (You might also like to talk to the sender about trimming addresses and using Blind Carbon Copy...but that's another story Smile). Some people simply do a "Reply All" when they send their hoax-rebuttal message.

    While it might seem like this is a good method to let everyone know about the hoax at once, I think there are some real problems with this method. Firstly, there is a good chance that you don't know everyone on the list, so you are basically sending an unsolicited message to strangers. Some might call that spamming. Secondly, at least some of the recipients may already know the message is a hoax and have no need to receive another email rebutting the first. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, you run the risk of humiliating the original sender in the eyes of his or her friends and acquaintances. That is quite unlikely to be helpful! (See Point 1 above).

    I generally just suggest that the sender let others know that the message turned out to be a hoax. Whether they do so or not is basically their business.
I've found that a reply something like the following generally gains a good response:
Subject: Re: (whatever hoax message)

Hi [Sender's Name],

Thanks for your message.

However, I need to tell you that the email is actually a known hoax. You can check this for yourself by reading the article(s) at the link(s) below:
[ADD LINK]

There are a great many email hoaxes going around all the time and some keep circulating for years. Most of us have fallen for an email hoax at some point I think, including yours truly (grin). These days, before I forward an email message, I always check it out at:
[Add links to one or more hoax information websites]

Another good way to check if a message is a hoax, is to conduct an Internet search using a key phrase from the message. This will often bring up one or more reputable articles that clearly indicate if the claims in the message are true or false.

You might like to let whoever sent you the message know that it is a hoax as well.

Hope this helps.

Best wishes
[Your Name]

Unfortunately, there are some people that simply will not believe that a message is a hoax regardless of how compelling the evidence you present to them. In most cases, however, by using a good approach to the issue, you can help another Internet user become a little wiser and, indirectly, reduce the amount of nonsense emails that clutter inboxes.

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