With the Internet and e-mail providing a free, viral platform for online scammers, hackers and cyber criminals, there’s no doubt that at some point you’ll receive an e-mail hoax. Some are harmless, but many can lead to virus infections, identity theft or worse. Here are some common themes to watch out for:

  • Supposedly free giveaways in exchange for forwarding e-mails
  • Bogus virus alerts
  • False appeals to help sick children
  • Pointless petitions that lead nowhere and accomplish nothing
  • Dire, and completely fictional, warnings about products, companies, government policies or coming events

Probably the most common indicator that an e-mail is a hoax is the “Send this e-mail to everyone in your address book” request. Hoax writers want their material to be spread as far and wide as possible, so almost every hoax e-mail will have this request built into the message. In some cases, e-mail hoaxes will even give you a specific number of people to send the message to in order to collect a prize or get something for free.

Another surefire indicator that an e-mail is a hoax is that they don’t provide a checkable reference to back up claims. Genuine competitions, promotions, giveaways or charity drives will almost always provide a link to a company website or publication. Real virus warnings should only come from your installed anti-virus software. E-mails 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. E-mail hoax writers have a tendency to use an emotive, “over-the-top” style of writing peppered with words and phrases such as “Urgent,” “Danger,” “Worse virus ever,” and so on.Another indication is that these messages contain ALL CAPITAL LETTERS for added emphasis. When in doubt, don’t forward the message or take the action requested.