How To Spot An Internet Hoax

Cyber-sleuths can stem the tide of annoying Net-spiracies

a third party. The point of these chain-hoaxes is either to harass the recipient or do something “nice” but misguided for someone. Orvis reminds potential do-gooders that some ISPs charge their users for each piece of mail they receive.

All messages that claim a company is engaged in wrongdoing (as with the AOL hard drive invasion hoax) should be treated as libelous until you have the facts.

All messages that claim you can get a computer virus by merely reading a plain-text e-mail are hoaxes. Computer viruses have to be “executable code”-not plain text Binary attachments are a different story: always treat something you can’t read with a plain-text editor as a potential hazard.

Word processing documents, for example, may contain executable macros, and should be screened with a virus checker or thrown away unread. You can double check virus alerts at the Computer Virus Myths Page at If the alleged virus isn’t listed, check at one of the anti-virus makers’ sites. Your Network security “expert” may or may not be able to help, depending on qualifications.

If a hoax appears in a Usenet newsgroup, see if someone else rebuts it before adding your voice to the fray. And by all means, add the subject line to your killfile! You may not be able to put a stake through the heart of a hoax, but you don’t have to invite it into your place of business.

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