Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

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

So, when in doubt, check it out. In addition to Hoaxbusters, there are plenty of other resources for researching Internet hoaxes, including Snopes and TrendMicro, to name just a few.

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.

By Brian Krebs  |  June 27, 2005; 10:52 AM ET
Categories:  Fraud  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Windows 'Survival Time' on the Rise?
Next: Adobe Issues Mac Fixes


While there are no e-mails sent on behalf of the National Do Not Call Registry by the government, the Federal Trade Commission), it does exist, and phone numbers can be registered, an assertion that such a registry does not exists is incorrect. What is accurate that the e-mail is a hoax regarding a threat to register or face telemarketers.

Posted by: Raj Vadi | June 27, 2005 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Let me just ditto the above poster and
mention that at
we read: "[question] 10. Can I register my cell phone number? [Answer:] Yes."

Anyway, when friends forward hoaxes to me,
I reply with a URL to a web page (usually
Snopes) showing that it's a hoax. And I
also encourage these friends to use the
Internet to spread the truth as diligently
as they use it to spread the hoax.
(Yeah, like any of them actually did that....)

Posted by: Chantillian | June 27, 2005 4:59 PM | Report abuse

There is a fairly simple rule to follow: If you're getting information via e-mail, assume it's a hoax. If it sounds valid and you trust the source, take the 30 seconds to google it or go to or
I find copying and pasting the subject line of the e-mail into google will often give me an answer in about 1 second with links to snopes or similar sites. Chainletters are no different than mail worms in the sense that they are designed solely to replicate themselves and generate e-mail traffic. So ask yourself, do you knowingly e-mail out e-mail worms or viruses to friends or family? If you don't like the idea of e-mailing viruses or worms then you shouldn't be forwarding e-mails that are most likely a hoax.

Posted by: Pablo Gersten | June 27, 2005 9:26 PM | Report abuse also has an enormous amount of information debunking financial hoaxes and scams.

Posted by: Demosthenes | June 27, 2005 9:38 PM | Report abuse

While I finally got my father and my wife to check Snopes, everyone else I tried to get to check things out first either say: 1) They don't want to waste their time (Or they don't have the appropriate skill) to research things. 2) Snopes is wrong, and just a bunch of spoilsports (and so am I). 3) But even though it's on Snopes/Hoaxbusters/etc. it *MIGHT* be true. My aunt is still waiting for money from Bill Gates. Every time I mention it to her, she says she's waiting a few more weeks to see. Ugh!!!!

Posted by: Louis | June 28, 2005 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Another terrific site is (I've added the capital letters to make it easier to read.)
I never pass anything on unless I verify it's validity first.

Posted by: Suzanne | June 29, 2005 11:20 AM | Report abuse

i would like to know if you [bill gates]could make a donation to the matt @brandon fund on are saving money for kids in africa for there water

Posted by: jonathan newlin | July 15, 2005 10:24 PM | Report abuse

Another indication of BS: line after line after line... (...) of E-mail addresses before you get to any actual content. The level of "rube-dom" needed to fall for this junk usually also includes the inability to understand "CC:" or "BCC:".

In my less curmudgeonly years, I used to dredge up all the addresses in a message. When I sent my (always kind, always polite, always factual) corrections back to whomever sent it to me, I put all the addresses on the "BCC:" list, so that all might learn. Then I learned that lesson about "pearls before swine" and stopped responding to them altogether.

Now I just suggest they sign up with AOL.

Posted by: Ringtone-Free-Suzerain | August 15, 2005 9:58 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company