Email Hoaxes

Email hoaxes are a modern version of urban legend, or folklore, stories. When I was growing up as a child, we were told to be careful of any apples we received while trick-or-treating during Halloween. Apparently, as the story goes, some people were putting razor blades in apples, making them hazardous to eat.

The New York Times (10/28/70, page 56) and even the “Dear Abby” column mentioned this potential threat to concerned parents. Years later, researchers Joel Best and Gerald Horiuchi studied national crime data from 1958 to 1985.

They did not find a single reported incident of a razor appearing in an apple, or any other fruit or candy for that matter. The children who were harmed by tainted candy, as reported during those years, were harmed by members of their own family.

I mention this story because the Internet has created a new and fast way for the distribution of information. Some of this information is really nothing more than misinformation written by pranksters who get a kick from seeing how gullible people can be.

Although hoaxes aren’t as directly harmful as viruses or Trojans, they can be time-consuming and costly. Email hoaxes not only consume Internet bandwidth, but they are also responsible for the combined lost productivity of those who take the time to read the message and then perpetuate the hoax by forwarding it to others, who in turn, repeat this cycle.

A very popular Internet email hoax that still circulates encourages people to delete a file called JDBGMGR.EXE from their computers. The email warns that no antivirus software can detect this nasty virus, and you must manually delete this file if it exists on your hard disk.

The email is even so kind as to walk you through the necessary steps to locate and remove this file. It encourages you to forward the message to others, so that they can remove this “virus” as well.

The problem is that the file JDBGMGR.EXE is a legitimate Windows file (although one you will probably never miss). For some reason, Microsoft associated a little cartoon bear icon with the file.

If you followed the hoax email message instructions (which reference that cute bear icon) and delete this file, it is not necessary to recover it unless you develop Java programs using Microsoft’s Visual J++ 1.1.

If you receive this email message, delete it, and do not forward it to others. Although the file mentioned may have the possibility of being infected with a virus, its presence is not an indication of a virus infection.

How Can I Tell a Hoax from a Legitimate Message?

Hoax email messages generally contain a subject that grabs your attention such as “Free Money” or “IMPORTANT: PLEASE READ!!!” or “Virus Alert.” Within the message is usually a threat of some sort of repercussion if you do not take appropriate action.

It may say files are going to be deleted, you will lose money, or you will have bad luck. Some even go so far as to mention a reward of cash or a cute animation on your screen as payment for your participation.

Finally, the hoax will contain a request. There can be any number of possible requests, but the one that gives it away as a hoax is the insistence that you pass the message along, or forward, it to others.

Certainly, someone could send you a legitimate message asking you to forward it to others, but most of time, these requests are just perpetuating hoaxes. In general, a hoax tends to leave out specific information, and that’s what makes it effective.

If you say the world may end sometime soon, you’re more likely to be believed than if you state the world will end at midnight, January 1, 2004. Some people think it’s better to be safe than sorry and use that justification to forward a hoax email message to others.

Using that same logic, would you yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater, simply because you felt a little warm? If you aren’t sure if a message is a hoax, there are web sites you can check that are dedicated to eradicating such hoaxes and increasing public awareness:

These are just some of the hundreds of web sites dedicated to dispelling email hoaxes. Use any of these web sites to help determine if an email message you received is a hoax before irresponsibly passing it along to others.

What Else Should I Know About Email Hoaxes?

In general, you should know that there is no such thing as an email-tracking program and no company will pay you for forwarding messages. No virus can cause hardware damage.

Although viruses can potentially cause the loss or corruption of data on your computer, they can never cause any permanent hardware failure. No animations will appear on your screen, and you will never receive anything in return for forwarding an email.

Since there is no way for an outside source to track your email, no one can know that you sent it except for the people who received it from you.

Be aware that there is no bill in Congress to place a tax on email, there was never a Neiman-Marcus cookie recipe, and there have never been tainted needles found on gas station pumps or in children’s play areas.

There is no virus you need to manually delete from your computer because antivirus software cannot detect it (as long as you keep your antivirus software up to date!).

Hotmail, Yahoo, ICQ, and other services will never demand that you send messages to verify that your account is active. Simply logging on to those services allows them to determine whether or not your account is active.

Credit card companies will never ask you for any personal information via email. Microsoft will never send you an email with an attachment. If you receive an email from Microsoft that supposedly contains an update or screensaver, delete it immediately.

Finally, there is no poison perfume, your email address is NOT expiring, nor is there such a thing as a virus-infected message with the subject “WTC Survivor.”