because you most certainly have or will get this new virus that will  delete everything on your hard drive if you don’t  send all your money to some poor man in Nigeria whose niece is in the hospital. But maybe that’s okay, because if you just  forward the e-mail to all of your friends,  Bill Gates will send you $500 per message and  a free computer. (I often think it’s too bad that more people don’t read these articles. Helloooo?)
Anyway, computer users these days are called upon to be more and more discerning as they process the things that land in their inbox. If I had to narrow your focus to a single “what to worry about,” it would be this: identity theft. Period. Protect your personal information. All of those e-mails you get about viruses or someone suffering some great misfortune if you don’t pass on their chain letter… all of that is just noise. If your computer breaks, it can be fixed. If someone empties your bank account because you gave them personal information about yourself, that’s a lot harder to remedy. But I digress. This is an article about how to know what to ignore when it comes to those dire warnings passed on to you by your well-meaning friends (or your less-well-meaning spammers). It comes to this: almost all of it is nonsense and can be ignored.
“…but my husband’s cousin’s hairdresser’s IT guy said that…” Yeah. Nonsense. If you’ve got nothing better to worry about, feel free. BUT, please spare everyone else… don’t forward the message on until you’ve done a bit of homework. Here’s where I can help you look smart, because it takes very little time to spot the hoaxes and break the chain.
There are some typical characteristics of hoaxes that make them easy to spot. The first is a request that you should forward the warning to everyone you know (or some variant of that statement). This should raise a red flag that the warning is probably a hoax. No real warning message from a credible source would tell you to send it to everyone you know.
Next, you’ll notice that the warning often contains some technical jargon. For instance, the Good Times hoax claims to put your computer’s CPU in “an nth-complexity infinite binary loop which can severely damage the processor”. The hoax warns you not to read or download anything with the subject “Good Times” because the message is a virus. The first time you read this, it sounds like it might be something real. Of course, there is no such thing as an nth-complexity infinite binary loop and we know that processors are designed to run loops for weeks at a time without damage.
Here’s what anti-virus company F-Secure has to say about it: “Do not forward hoax messages. Hoax warnings are typically scare alerts started by malicious people – and passed on by innocent individuals that think they are helping the community by spreading the warning. Corporate users can get rid of the hoax problem by simply setting a strict company guideline: End users must not forward virus alarms. Ever. It’s not the job of an end user anyway.” Not bad advice. In any case, if you’re still unsure, contact your building technology coordinator.
Want to learn more? Read the 25 Hottest Urban Legends (updated regularly) from Snopes.com.
So what do you do? Start with this. In the form below, enter some text from the e-mail and hit “search”… like the subject of the e-mail, or the first line or something. That’ll search a website called “Snopes,” which is highly regarded for it’s breadth of information regarding Internet hoaxes. Chances are, you’ll find something there and you’ll be able to delete the (nonsense) e-mail with confidence. Or, just Google part of the message. You’ll find a lot of things clear up pretty quickly.