HOAXES AND URBAN LEGENDS
How to Hoax-Proof Yourself

©2001 by Walt Howe
(last updated 23 October 2001)

Sadly, some persons are trying to take advantage of the current crisis to profit by fake charity appeals. In particular, appeals to support the Red Cross with contributions through web sites or non=Red Cross addresses are probably scams. Amazon.com is one site that is legitimately accepting donations. Others are probably not. Make sure you don't throw money to these despicable profiteers out of your own generosity at this terrible time. Take time to check out any questionable appeal.

No, Nostradamus did not predict the World Trade Center disaster, despite a chain letter claiming he did.

The anthrax scare has brought new life to the Klingerman Virus warning. It suggests that blue envelopes containing a sponge saturated with a human virus is being mailed to many people. There is no truth to it.

No, AOL and INTEL are not merging and Microsoft will not pay you to inform people about it! Neither will the RH Tracker company or the Gap or Outback Steak House. It is a very far-fetched hoax, but enough people want to believe it that it is spreading widely on the nets.

Have you been warned about the SULFNBK.EXE virus? It is a new category of virus hoax. Find out more in our virus hoax page. Fake virus warnings far outnumber the real ones. We maintain a list here of the virus hoaxes taken from a number of sources on the nets. Check it when you are in doubt.

The Internet and the Web that make communications around the world so easy is a rich ground for hoaxes, lies, jokes, and tall tales. It can sometimes be very difficult to tell when a story passed on the nets is true or not. Some very ingenious people take pride in creating a believable tale and getting others to accept it and pass it along in chain letters. There is currently a fload of missing children hoaxes, which some idiots take pride in creating. Who can resist passing along a missing children report? We tell you in our section on Appeals to Sympathy and Warm Fuzzy Stories how to sort the real ones from the hoaxes.

Or how about the dreaded Modem Tax hoax, or the threat to charge 5 cents postage on all e-mail? Or that the FCC is going to ban "Touched by an Angel" for mentioning the word God? See the Government Hoaxes page for more on these.

Should you warn everyone about the contaminated needles placed in coin returns or theater seats or gas pumps? Or cars without headlights on driven by gang members? Read lots like these in our collection of Tall Tales from the horrible to the funny.

A major trend, inspired by the commercialization of the nets, is the money-making hoax. Pyramid schemes where people are asked to send money to those higher on the pyramid in promise of future riches have been with us for a long time. They are getting more ingenious, though. What about the summer '98 story about an 18-year-old couple, just out of High School, who claimed they were virgins and were going to give up their virginity in front of web cameras on August 4th? What happened? Read on! Another one that is terribly persistent is that Microsoft will pay you to test their software.

Appeals to sympathy are fodder for many stories, too. Some ask for cards; some ask for money. Always suspect a hoax if you get one of these appeals, and real or not, NEVER spread them by chain letters. Similar to them are the Warm Fuzzy Stories that make you feel good about human nature and ask you to pass them along to lots of people for good luck. While they aren't necessarily hoaxes, they are just as bad in clogging the nets as the hoaxes. Don't spread these either.

In this six-page article, we'll review some of the classic hoaxes, which have come to be known as Urban Legends, and tell you how to avoid getting caught in the traps.

CONTENTS:

  1. Virus hoaxes

  2. Appeals to Sympathy and Warm Fuzzy Stories

  3. Money-Making Schemes

  4. Tall Tales

  5. Government Hoaxes

  6. Summary: Hoax Detection
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