The Lure of an E-Mail Hoax
A couple of weekends ago, while scarfing down a hot dog at a friend's cookout, I overheard a woman saying to her girlfriend that she'd received a rather disturbing e-mail notifying her that telemarketers would soon begin bombarding her cell phone with sales pitches unless she registered her cell phone number on a national do-not-call list. I politely butted in and said there was no such thing as a national cell phone do-not-call list maintained by the federal government, and suggested that what she'd received is what's known as an "e-mail hoax."
The woman's friend protested that she'd also received the very same e-mail and had visited the Web site listed in the e-mail to register her wireless phone number as well. I then suggested the two of them should pay a visit to "Hoaxbusters," -- one of many sites dedicated to debunking these types of rumors -- and left it at that.
[AUTHOR'S NOTE: Since this original post, a couple of readers wrote in to say that people can in fact place their cell phone numbers on this list. That is, of course true - there is nothing wrong with people listing their cell phone numbers on the national do-not-call registry. What I did not state in my first entry is something that the Hoaxbusters site correctly notes: that auto-dialing cell phones is already illegal, and that alone eliminates much of today's telemarketing calls over cell phones. In addition, this particular e-mail hoax says recipients who don't sign up before a certain date will miss their chance at being on the registry, when in fact there is no such expiration date. What's more, some of these scams offer to register you for this service for a mere $3 a month, when you can do it yourself by calling 1-888-382-1222 or visiting the Do-Not-Call Web site.]
The other day I got a different e-mail hoax that warned about the dangers of venomous, ravenous spiders that could be lurking underneath toilet seats. I have to admit that the prospect of being bitten on the tail by a brown recluse is sufficiently terrifying, but before you hit that "forward" button on the e-mail, take a second to research the validity of the message.
There are both real and opportunity costs involved when you forward junk to even a few friends. Consider what could happen if you forwarded an e-mail hoax to just a third of the names in your e-mail address book -- say 30 people -- and everyone you sent it to forwarded it everyone they knew. Even if it takes just one minute for everyone in that chain to read and delete the e-mail, you may have just wasted many hours of other peoples' time that could otherwise have been spent more productively. Not to mention the fact that more than a few of the people you thought you were helping or warning probably now think you're a naive, gullible Internet rube.
E-mail hoaxes usually urge recipients to forward them to everyone they know, and often attribute the information contained within to someone with an impressive-sounding title or position, such as a scientist, government official or corporate executive. The messages also often are sprinkled with complex jargon, according to Hoaxbusters
Learning to spot e-mail hoaxes -- whether they are about viruses that will destroy your computer, or offering a share in Bill Gates's fortune -- is good practice for learning to avoid more serious e-mail threats, like those that try to get you to open virus-infected file attachments, participate in "advanced fee" or Nigerian 419 scams, or enter your financial information at a bogus bank Web site.
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