It's a Hoax! It's a Joke! It's in Your Email Inbox!

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What do a $250 Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookie recipe, a deposed Nigerian dictator who needs a little help from your bank account, and an Australian boy who is dying of cancer and wants a lot of email have in common? If you're an email user you probably guessed it immediately. That's right. All three are hoaxes that have been showing up in inboxes around the world for almost a decade now.

Who falls for these scams anyway? Well, most of us at one time or another, or they wouldn't continue to resurface year after year. But take heart, oh gullible ones! Help is nigh. Read on for tips to help you spot a scam a mile away.

Lots of entertaining reading about the most current scams can be found online at www.snopes.com, www.urbanlegends.com, www.hoaxbusters.com. The funny thing about these scams is that not one of them is anything new. Well, okay, except the ubiquitous virus hoaxes. They must be new because they are obviously PC-specific. The rest of them have been around since long before the PC was just a gleam in Bill Gates' eye.

Four clues to look for in identifying a hoax:

  • Sense of urgency or fear factor. Easily identified by a lot of !!!!!!! following words in all caps such as URGENT!!!!! or PLEASE READ THIS NOW!!!!
  • Pass it on. Any email that asks you to forward it to everyone you know (for whatever reason) is a hoax. Is there anyone who hasn't dreaded receiving chain letters for years? Why would anyone all-of-a-sudden appreciate them now? And p-l-e-a-s-e don't forward those jokes or sappy stories. We've heard them all.
  • May include a disclaimer. If it says "THIS IS NOT A HOAX!!!!!" you can be pretty sure that it is. Or how about "THIS IS NOT ILLEGAL!!!!" Don't bet on it.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Period.

If you still have questions, do a little investigating of your own before reacting to an email, or before passing it on. You can visit any of the sites listed above for late-breaking hoax info; however, chances are you will find your brand new hoax has been circulating for years. (It's okay. No need for embarrassment. We've all been there.) And before you sound the virus alarm to your entire address book, check with http://www.mcafee.com/anti-virus/default.asp or www.symantec.com/avcenter for legitimate viruses. Of course it goes without saying here, keep your anti-virus protection updated and scanning automatically.

And PLEASE PASS THIS ARTICLE ON TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW!!!!! (Sorry.)