Tuesday, May 13, 2008 - Almanac Vol. 54, No. 33
Checking Out Hoaxes, Frauds and Spam for Yourself
So, you just got another one of those e-mail messages from a friend, or a family member. You know, the ones that implore you not to open other messages with certain subject headers because “it’s a virus that will wipeout your hard disk”, or that the State Police are about to launch a “frenzy” of issuing speeding tickets on several major local highways. And, of course, the message urges you to “pass this on to everyone in your address book.”
You suspect it’s probably a hoax or fraud of some sort, but how can you be sure? You can forward it to your local support providers and ask them if they have seen it (or ask Penn Information Security at firstname.lastname@example.org) but that takes time that the message implies you don’t have. Or, you can go ahead and forward it to everyone you know and risk getting a reply that says, “You fell for it.” (And in the process, you’ve perpetuated the hoax as well as another form of “spam”). As it turns out, you have the tools at your disposal to check it out yourself and be your own “Internet detective.” Many, if not most, of these frauds and “urban legends” have been around for years and have been “recycled” over and over. As a result, they tend to retain certain keywords and other nuggets of information (names, events, etc.) that remain constant. Plugging certain words from these messages into search engines like Google will usually give you a pretty clear indication as to whether you’re looking at a hoax.
Want to try it yourself? Just plug “speeding ticket frenzy” into a Google search box and watch the hits roll in. Or, get a jump on what is sure to be a hot item this year and do a search on “Olympic torch virus.” You can also be “proactive” and make a point of cruising well-known and respected anti-hoax sites like www.snopes.com, www.hoaxbusters.org and www.quatloos.com.