“Want a free computer? Just forward this e-mail to 8 people.” Not only did someone send me that e-mail, but it’s the third time in the course of a week I had gotten the same one. Shouldn’t I forward it to my entire address book just in case it’s for real? Well…no. It’s a hoax. Two things tell me that:

  1. Common sense. (Come on. Why in the world would anybody be giving away free computers for just forwarding an e-mail?)
  2. A quick little copy and paste into Google. It takes all of five seconds, and armed with this simple technique, you can figure out which e-mails are on the up-and-up and which are hoaxes.

Here is all you need to do:

  1. Highlight a hunk of text from the e-mail and use the Copy command (Control-C).
  2. Go to Google.
  3. Click in the search line and use the paste command (Control-V).
  4. Hit enter.
  5. Sit back and watch the fireworks. You are going to get hits that tell you instantly whether or not you have hooked a hoax.

Aren’t Hoaxes Just Simple, Harmless Fun?
If you call wasting your own work time, contributing the problem of junk e-mail in everyone’s in-box, and clogging up your employer’s server simple, harmless fun, I guess you have a good point.

Other hoaxes are actually more harmful. Take, for example, the Teddy Bear Hoax. It was a popular one five to ten years ago, but I would not be surprised to see it crank up again. Readers were warned about a virus and told how to search for a particular file. If the file was present, the computer was infected. The e-mail would go on to explain how to get rid of the infected file. Finally, the e-mail would ask that people forward the e-mail to everyone else.

It seemed everyone receiving the e-mail was finding that yes indeed, they did have this suspect file on their computer. Well, there was good reason everyone was finding they had that file…everyone was supposed to have that file! It was a part of Windows and served a very good function! (Now the problem was figuring out how to get the deleted file back again.)

A school system found that the Teddy Bear Hoax had been circulated widely before it came to the attention of its tech support folks. Pretty frantic notices went out for people to stop forwarding the hoax and not to delete the file described in the e-mail.

Being Part of the Solution
Whenever I get one of these suspect e-mails, the drill I follow is:

  1. Under no circumstances add to the problem by forwarding the email.
  2. Use the “copy-Google-paste” routine I described earlier.
  3. Copy the URL of one of the sites that explains the hoax.
  4. Go back to the e-mail and hit “Reply.”
  5. Paste the URL into the message.
  6. Just above the link, I generally include the message, “Run for your life! It’s a hoax!”
  7. Hit “Send.”

By the way, I have some shares of the Brooklyn Bridge I would be willing to sell if anyone is interested.

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