1. Entertainment
Send to a Friend via Email

Video:How to Spot an Email Hoax

with Jonathon E. Stewart

It's happened to the best of us, but before you pass along the next big scam email, take a few pointers on ferreting them out.See Transcript

  • All Videos
  • All Entertainment Videos
  • Urban Legends Videos

Transcript:How to Spot an Email Hoax

They're funny, they tug on your heartstrings, they get you all riled up, but ultimately, the joke's on you. So before you hit that forward button, make sure you're not spreading an e-mail hoax.

The History of Email Hoaxes

Email hoaxes have been around almost as long as e-mail itself, and the reason for their existence isn't entirely clear. Rumor suggests these long-running e-mail chains are circulated to collect e-mail addresses, but it turns out this explanation is likely as much a hoax as the hoaxes themselves.

Many e-mail hoaxes are created to spread a political or religious piece of propaganda, but probably the best explanation is that hoaxsters, like pranksters, and other jokesters, just do it for the twisted fun of it. Fortunately, with a little practice, spotting an e-mail hoax is a breeze.

Spotting Email Hoaxes

Tip 1: When you get an e-mail that urgently begs you to forward it on, be suspicious. Especially if the e-mail specifies that something will happen if you do or don't forward it.

Trust me, when you get an e-mail that promises you will receive money, fall in love, have good luck, or have bad luck within 7 days if you do nothing, you're dealing with a hoax.

Tip 2: If the e-mail sounds too good to be true, or so horrible as to be beyond belief, be suspicious.

Getting a big check from a company just for forwarding an e-mail, or spreading the word about people selling kittens in jars, just doesn't really make sense, does it? Use you good judgment here, and if you're not sure, take it one step further.

Tip 3: A simple internet search on the e-mail's keywords, or a quick look at a site like Urbanlegends.About.com, should give you an answer in about 30 seconds. Any e-mail that's been widely circulated will be either verified as a hoax, or authenticated with legitimate citations or other credentials.

Never Give Out Personal Information

And remember, never give out personal information in response to any e-mail, always go straight to trusted sources that employ legitimate security measures. So next time you get an e-mail about a free laptop or a shark attacking a helicopter or Mr. Rogers being a marine sniper, you'll be all the wiser.

I'm Jonathon Stewart with About.com. Did you know the word gullible is not even in the dictionary?
About videos are made available on an "as is" basis, subject to the User Agreement.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.