Start the new year right: Avoid e-mail hoaxes (and worse)!

January 2, 2012 at 1:24 pm

When you receive an e-mail message that appears even slightly suspicious — whether from someone you know or from a complete stranger — trust your instincts. It’s probably a hoax, at best, or possibly even a trigger for a virus, a worm, or other malware. Rather than risk infecting your computer, take a few minutes to check whether the message is for real or a hoax.

And as a rule, never click a link in an e-mail message (or open an attachment directly from the message) unless you’re absolutely certain that it’s legitimate. In particular, if you weren’t expecting a specific link or attachment, verify that it’s authentic and harmless before opening or downloading it — regardless of whether you trust the purported sender. It’s easy for hackers to “spoof” an e-mail address to make it appear that mail comes from someone you know, when in fact it originates elsewhere.

As for the authenticity of links, sometimes you can see the true path when you position the mouse pointer over a link. But even if it looks like the real thing, why chance a virus or a worm? Keep in mind that things are not always what they seem, especially when it comes to e-mail and the Internet! A quick check can save you a lot of heartache.

Also, as a rule it’s best not to forward gossipy messages — you know, the ones that promise easy money or warn of impending doom — without checking the veracity of the alleged information. If something sounds too good (or too bad) to be true, it almost certainly is.

I’m providing a link herein to a 2010 article from Tech Republic (a site published by ZDNet) listing web sites that track hoaxes, viruses, worms, and the like. (Ignore the somewhat snippy tone of the author, an IT person who obviously has reached the end of his tether with respect to chain letters; the article contains lots of worthwhile info.)  I don’t have personal experience with every site mentioned in the article (I’ve used Snopes, Urban Legends, and Hoax-Slayer), but they’re all well-respected. Some are easier to navigate than others. Most allow you to search by key word or phrase.

They’re not necessarily exhaustive or up to date; in fact, I have checked on Snopes and Hoax-Slayers and have not found the latest incarnation of the LinkedIn scam (fake message notifications using the form of “So and so sent you a message”). Even so, they can help you determine whether any given e-mail message is or isn’t trustworthy.

In short, these fact-checking sites will help you stay safe in cyberspace. Keep the list handy at home and at work.

Here is the article:  Top 10 Sites to Debunk Internet Hoaxes (Tech Republic)

Happy surfing and e-mailing in 2012!


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