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Keep Email Hoaxes Out Of Your Inbox

By Charles Hopkins Published 07/6/2006 | Internet
You get this email: "Starbucks refused free product to G.I.s serving in Iraq ... " Did you know that almost every alarming email like this one is a hoax? How can you tell? What can you do about it?

In particular, can you keep email hoaxes out of your Inbox? You bet you can!

There is usually abundant evidence to help you decide whether statements in an email are likely to be hoaxes.

Look first for what we call internal evidence and compare it with any available external evidence. (It's easier than it sounds.) If the evidence proves the information to be false, use it to embarrass the sender. He will soon enough stop sending those email hoaxes to your Inbox.

Internal Evidence is found within the email itself. You will find up to five clues there.

First clue: who sent the email? Usually, it will be someone who routinely sends you emails. So start by identifying the sender. If you know him you can shame him.

Second clue: this message has been forwarded many times. The Subject line will usually start with: "Fw: Starbucks refused ... " or some similar teaser. You may see several previous "Fw: ... " lines inside the text of the email, as well.

Third clue: the use of unusually large, colored, or mixed fonts, exhorting you to some quick action. (The more frantic the fonts, the more suspicious the message.)

Fourth clue: has this same email been sent to a long list of people? Read the "To:" line; how many others are named? Don't recognize many of them? Aha!

Fifth, and surest, clue: the insistent call to forward this letter to everyone you know. Right now!

External Evidence is any evidence gathered apart from, or outside, the actual document. To get to the truth, compare the internal evidence with any external evidence you can find.

So where do you find external evidence?

Once you suspect a hoax, do a web search on the subject line. Quote the whole line in the search box; if it's a known hoax you will get plenty of hits. Your search engine will point you to several "hoax-busting" websites that offer information about email hoaxes using those exact words.

If your search engine comes up empty then try again, using some of the key words instead.

You can also search directly at any or, even better, all of these sites:


With very little practice you will be able to judge the internal evidence almost at a glance and go straight to searching for external evidence for positive proof.

Now you know how to spot fake warnings. But how do you actually keep email hoaxes out of your Inbox? Just send them right back, with a twist. Wait and see, it works!

Copy every single scrap of information from a hoax-busting site, preferably several sites if you have the time. Overwhelm the culprit with proof that he acted rashly.

Do that by pasting all the evidence you've gathered to the original hoax email, using the "Reply" function.

IMPORTANT: you are obligated to credit the source for each quote. Besides, a quote without attribution could make you appear untrustworthy, yourself.

Refrain from commenting; simply return his email with the addition of your thorough rebuttal from several verified sources. After a comeuppance or two, your pal will stop forwarding unfounded messages, at least to you.

This works because nobody likes to look foolish, especially when leaving such a public paper trail. Keep in mind that your friend is merely a victim of the hoax. So here you have a chance to rid your friend of his bad habit while achieving your goal: to keep email hoaxes out of your Inbox. All this, without a single reproving word.

Be especially alert for virus hoaxes, urgent virus warning emails. You know them: predictions of impending electronic doom due to some evil sounding virus lurking inside your very own computer. Many of these warnings will seem authentic.

Note, though, that you are always urged to take some drastic action, usually to delete this "virus", which usually turns out to be a necessary file with an unfortunate name.

But wait! Now you know better.

Right... start by looking up the "virus" here:

Act the savvy pro that you are. You now know how to keep email hoaxes out of your Inbox.