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How to Avoid Internet Hoaxes

If you have an email address, chances are you’ve been the recipient of messages that invited you to share Bill Gates’ fortune, or warned you about marauding hoards of spiders, telephone company scams, exploding cell phones, Internet taxation rumors, giant human skeletons, and the always popular DCSMN (Dying-Child-Send-Money-Now) scam.

Email hoaxes and scams can easily be avoided if you use good, reliable, general computer operating tips, such as those provided by -- well, Mr. Modem! These scams and hoaxes are easy to spot because they always contain one or more of the following red flags:

1. A sense of urgency. It doesn’t matter if it’s an alert about a newly discovered virus or a desperate plea for help because Little Scotty’s disabled mother’s crutch tore a hole in his oxygen tent, but there’s always a need to respond immediately or act very quickly. Look for lots of exclamation marks, messages typed IN ALL CAPS, or the inclusion of words that suggest that time is of the essence and you must act immediately.

2. A prediction of dire consequences, if you do nothing. If it’s a virus alert, your hard drive will explode, spiders will take up residence in your modem, or your house pets will turn on you while you’re sleeping. The ‘consequences’ of failing to heed this type of phony email alert are usually so horrific, they would give Stephen King nightmares.

3. Authentication. Virus hoaxes are usually authenticated by some high-falootin’ yet highly fictitious official at Microsoft (or from Bill Gates himself), AOL, IBM or other well-known institution. Other hoaxes are authenticated by phony police department officials, insurance companies, the Government, or somebody’s brother-in-law who allegedly works for a company referenced, as if to suggest the message contains insider information. It’s all nonsense.

4. A request to forward the message to as many people as you can. This one element along should raise a huge red flag. General computer operating tips suggest you delete this type of email at once. This “town crier” approach takes advantage or our good nature and the fact that most of us want to help others. Plus, let’s face it, we all love to share bad news. As soon as you see a request to forward a message of this type to others, you don’t even have to think twice about it: Reach for the DELete key.

The best way to thwart the spread of these random acts of error, applying the tenets of reliable, general computer operating tips, is through awareness. Keeping informed about hoaxes is as easy as visiting one of the many hoax-debunking sites on the Internet. The best general computer operating tips, and Mr. Modem, suggest that sites such as Snopes and HoaxBusters are among those sites providing the most valuable and accurate information.

Nationally syndicated columnist and author Mr. Modem shares his expertise in general computer operating tips and more each week with subscribers worldwide in “Mr. Modem’s Weekly Newsletter.” For additional information or to subscribe, visit

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