When a warning is a hoax
Posted by Laurel L. Russwurm on February 9, 2012
I received this “URGENT” warning from someone I know to be both intelligent and trustworthy:
This warning scares me, not for what it says, but because it is a hoax.
The problem is that even though almost all of us use the Internet, it is still kind of like magic for most of us. Even for intelligent and trustworthy people. Which is why I have chosen to share the cautionary reply I wrote to my friend with you here.
Do you know this [name redacted]? Why does she have a different email address for sending email and receiving replies? It could be that her real email address is being “spoofed” here. Someone may have already stolen her email account or she herself could be a fake.
Anyone can say they are anyone online or in email.
This warning message is a hoax:
* Computer virus hoaxes became widespread as viruses themselves began to spread. A typical hoax is an email message warning recipients of a non-existent threat, usually quoting spurious authorities such as Microsoft and IBM. In most cases the payload is an exhortation to distribute the message to everyone in the recipient’s address book. Sometimes the hoax is more harmful, e.g., telling the recipient to seek a particular file (usually in a Microsoft Windows operating system); if the file is found, the computer is deemed to be infected unless it is deleted. In reality the file is one required by the operating system for correct functioning of the computer.
People are often warned not to click on an email link, because it might send us somewhere completely different than we are lead to believe we are being sent. In this case, the link is perfectly safe, because it really does go to Snopes: http://www.snopes.com/computer/virus/youtube.asp
If you want to check a link in an email, you can copy the link and paste it into your browser search bar. Or you can simply fire up DuckDuckGo and search for the place the link says it is sending you — in this cases Snopes. Snopes is a good place to check to discover if it is a scam or a hoax.
In this case, if you actually go to the Snopes link provided it actually tells you that this warning is a hoax. Originally the hoax linked to a real Snopes page for a real virus. But the virus is outdated, and no longer an issue. The hoax relies on the fact that people will be frightened into spreading fear and misinformation without checking.
Most hoaxes are “harmless” — if you discount wasted time and energy of vast numbers of people, wasted internet bandwidth (which can be quite expensive in Canada) and spreading misinformation. But some of them tie into more nefarious schemes like identity theft or harvesting email addresses for spam. When the “harmless” hoaxes have trained ordinary users to automatically pass on warnings we believe will help our friends, we are more likely to automatically forward the malicious scams that can wreak real havoc.
The hoaxers count on people not taking the time to check. But if a warning is warranted, it is worth checking to make sure it is real.