If you have an e-mail address, chances are you've been the recipient of messages that have invited you to share Bill Gates' fortune, or warned about telephone company scams, exploding cellphones, Internet taxation rumors and the always popular DCSMN (Dying-Child-Send-Money-Now) scam.
You can avoid online pitfalls by being aware of the following "red flags" that all hoaxes or scams display, in whole or in part:
A sense of urgency. It doesn't matter if it's a phony alert about a newly discovered virus or a desperate plea for help because Little Scotty's disabled mother's crutch poked a hole in his oxygen tent, these types of breathlessly desperate messages always implore recipients to respond immediately. Also, look for the liberal use of exclamation points!!!!, messages typed IN ALL CAPS, or the inclusion of words that suggest that time is of the essence.
A prediction of dire consequences, if you do nothing. If it's a virus alert, your hard drive will explode, spiders will take up residence in your modem or your house pets will turn on you while you're sleeping. The "consequences" of failing to heed this type of phony e-mail alert are usually so horrific, they would give Stephen King nightmares.
Authentication/Corroboration. Hoaxes usually contain bogus authentication by some highfalutin yet highly fictitious official at Microsoft, AOL, IBM or other well-known institution. Other hoaxes are authenticated by phony police officials, insurance companies, the government or somebody's brother-in-law who purportedly works for a company referenced, as if to suggest the message contains insider information. It's all nonsense.
A request to forward the message to as many people as possible. This "town crier" approach takes advantage of our good nature and the fact that most of us want to help others. Plus, let's face it, we all love to share bad news. As soon as you see a request to forward a message to everybody you know, you don't even have to think twice about it: Reach for the delete key and stop the madness.
The best way to thwart the spread of these random acts of error is through awareness. Keep an eye out for any of the above telltale signs and make frequent use of your delete key. If you have any doubts about a given message, before you consider forwarding it, spend a few minutes researching it at Snopes, www.snopes.com, or Hoaxbusters, www.hoaxbusters.org.
For answers to your computer questions, visit www.MrModem.com.