Hoax Detection

© 2001 by Walt Howe
(last revised 1 April 2001 -- an appropriate date)

This is the last of a series of seven pages on Hoaxes and Urban Legends. It summarizes the things you should do to spot hoaxes and stop them from spreading further. If you have not read the six preceding pages, go to the Beginning.

In summary, if you receive a message that asks you to tell all your friends or comes to you with the appearance of a chain letter (lots of addresses and multiple quoted headers), it should be viewed with suspicion. Take the time to check the facts.

For virus warnings, it only takes a minute to check out Computer Incident Advisory Committee or Symantec Anti-Virus Research Center. Remember that the FCC does not issue virus warnings.

If a charitable organization is mentioned like the American Cancer Society or the Children's Make-A-Wish Foundation, check their web sites first. Use a search engine, if necessary, to find their sites.

If missing children are mentioned, check The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Chain letters in general violate the rules of most Internet Providers. Pyramid money-making schemes are usually illegal. If they make a point of assuring you that they are legitimate, they probably are not.

Resist passing along second-hand information to mailing lists and newsgroups unless they are substantiated and on target for the purpose of the list or newsgroup. Do virus warnings, even if legitimate, really belong in most mailing lists or newsgroups? Do they belong in chain letters? When you do uncover a hoax, send the facts back to the person who "informed" you.

If you want to read a lot more about hoaxes and urban legends, visit:

So when you receive a chain letter asking you to send a get well cookie recipe to every congressman on Internet Clean-Up Day or a message that tells you to send a virus to everyone you know to support making money fast for stolen kidney research, think twice. Check the facts, and avoid making an April Fool of yourself.


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