It’s amazing how quickly the world knew in September 2001 that the United States was under attack, but years after a specific email was discovered to be a hoax, people still don’t know. The main problem with this is that people don’t really take the time and effort to let others know about the scam and like I said most of these emails come from friends and family and it’s not always that easy to tell these people that it is a hoax, some may feel embarrassed and react negatively to your information, others simply won’t believe you. And it is because of these obstacles that these emails appear from time to time.

I will demonstrate how to identify a hoax using a very common example, the zero sector virus. This email appeared years ago (goes back to 2001) and they are still in circulation, but only new variants of the original. Text printed in italics is an excerpt from the email. Below each excerpt is an explanation of the common signs of a hoax that appear in the excerpt.

“PLEASE FORWARD THIS NOTICE AMONG ALL YOUR CONTACTS”

This email is intended to inform the recipient about a virus, but the main focus of this email is the spread of the virus. Normally, the subject line of an important email tells you a bit about the content of the email, but the author of this email was more concerned with the distribution of this email than the information it contains. So this header should already set off some warning lights.

“Stay tuned for the next few days: Do not open any message with an attachment called ‘Invitation’, regardless of who sent it.”

The first sentence says it all. The next few days are a bit vague. There are no specific dates specified, so the next few days may be “next few days”. Hoaxes always have generalization in mind, so that the email seems applicable the moment you read it.

“It’s a virus that opens an Olympic Torch that ‘burns’ your entire computer hard drive.”

There is only one strange thing about this award. Notice the two spaces between the words ‘whole’ and ‘hard’. It’s common for hoaxers to never pay attention to style, grammar, or punctuation when compiling emails like this. So when you receive an email like this with lots of grammar and typos, you can be sure that it is some kind of hoax or scam.

“This virus will come from someone who has your email address, so you should send this email to all your contacts. It is better to receive this message 25 times than to receive the virus”

First prize is total garbage. Of course, an email virus comes from someone who has your email address, but that doesn’t mean you have everyone’s email address. Hoaxes and scams thrive on circulation, if there is no circulation there is no possibility of spread. There is some truth to the fact that it is better to receive the message 25 times than to receive the virus. Cheating is like chain letters, they keep coming back to you and never stop until everyone decides to break the chain. Once again, you will notice that the award does not end with a point.

“DO NOT open it and turn off your computer immediately… This is the worst virus announced by CNN, it has been classified by Microsoft as the most destructive virus in history.”

This paragraph can easily be identified as a hoax just by confirming it on the CNN and Microsoft websites. You may be surprised to find that there is no record of this on either CNN.com or Microsoft.com. McAfee mentions this email, but also classifies it as a hoax. It’s strange that no virus names are mentioned in this email, all viruses have a descriptive name to help people identify them, so what does Microsoft say if you don’t even know what viruses they’re talking about? Turn off your computer. Why? It won’t even help to turn it off even if it is infected with a virus. Shutting down your computer does not make the virus go away. An email and its content are completely harmless as long as you don’t open them, so you don’t need to turn off your computer when you see this email, just delete it. Emails can cause harm if you use a preview pane, but if you never use a preview pane, it’s totally harmless until you open it.

“The virus was discovered by McAfee yesterday, and there is no fix yet for this particular virus. It simply destroys Hard Drive Sector Zero, where vital data is stored.”

No company in this world will ever admit that they cannot fix a problem related to their expertise in the field. What trust will you have in an antivirus company if it only tells you about viruses but never fixes them? Note again the use of time. Yesterday can be any day. Antivirus companies usually give a specific date when they announce new viruses.

“Also: – Emails with images of Osama Bin-Laden hanging are being sent and the moment you open these emails, your computer will crash and you will not be able to repair it. This email is being distributed across countries around the world , but mostly in the US and Israel. Don’t be inconsiderate, send this warning to anyone you know. If you get an email like “Osama Bin Laden Captured” or “Osama Hanged” don’t open the attachment.

SEND THIS EMAIL TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW.”

There is not much to say about this paragraph. It is added just to make the email look legitimate, by giving the reader more information to consume. The original virus destroys sector zero of your hard drive and now they mention that your computer will crash. There are no details about what happens when your computer crashes and there is no consistency about the symptoms of the virus, so you can only assume that they are referring to another virus in this paragraph. Once again, the name of the virus is not mentioned and the tone of this paragraph is almost like “Oh, and by the way…” or “I almost forgot…”, which shows that the author of this email email just distributed email in mind and muttered a bunch of nonsense just to make it look interesting and send it to all your contacts. The first and last sentence of the email is proof of that.

One last thing to mention is the fact that you cannot find the name of the person who created this email. It’s anonymous, but it can trick the reader into thinking it’s from CNN, Microsoft, or McAfee. Microsoft and CNN never announce security threats via email, and antivirus companies only provide virus information to users who have signed up to receive regular email announcements. These emails usually have the letterhead and logo of the specific antivirus company.

People need to watch out for emails like this and let others know about them, but more importantly, they need to break the chain. Keeping quiet about this will only make the problem of spam, hoaxes and scams bigger and bigger. People may feel that some of these signs may not seem so easy to identify, which is true, because sometimes you need background information to be able to identify emails like this, but you should be able to identify other signs like missing specific dates and typos easily. You just need to use a little common sense.

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