Here are some common email scams and 'urban legends' with relevant factual links which I feel should be read, that is if you're not an internet expert and know these already, before you get duped by someone...

(1) Mass-mailed 'virus' warnings are nearly always pseudo-viruses themselves, designed to sabotage mail servers by overloading them through the mass-mailing done by those gullible enough to "forward to everyone."

On receipt of one of these hoaxes, my suggestion is to hit the 'reply all' button and tell everyone to ignore the message and also point them to one of the links below.

(2) Mass-mailed 'email petitions' that are valid are impossible. The idea of a petition is one list of verified names eventually forwarded once to whoever it's meant for.

Some people start mass-mailed email petitions for one of two reasons - either to cause sabotage in the same way as above, or they are started by someone well-meaning, but grossly stupid as they can't understand how a real petition works.

The only valid electronic petitions are on websites that you visit to sign, giving your email address as proof (usually kept confidential).

The address to send a mass-emailed 'petition' to after reaching [x] number of names is always rendered defunct in a short space of time due to the volume of junk mail (i.e. copies of the 'petition') it's constantly being sent.

(3) Mass-mailed pleas to find lost children (or alternatively save dying ones) are usually either malicious to clog servers (the details of the child concerned always being fictional), or irrelevant as the missing little brat would have been long-found - but who's going to stop the message spreading once it's out there?

(4) "419" fraud schemes: Want a 10% cut of a 5 million pound stash that someone wants to secretly get out of a third world country? Or you've won some unheard-of lottery that you never entered (quite possibly because it doesn't exist)? Nice idea, but not ever going to happen. '419' comes from the section of the Nigerian penal code (where this allegedly started) that outlaws this fraud. Oh, and they always forget to mention the supposed "processing fees" you have to pay them first...

(5) Pyramid schemes: Imagine yourself at the status of 'junior earthworm' when you join, so how long will it take for you to make anything, even if few or no people pull out?

(6) Be a human computer virus by deleting files on your own hard drive(!): Some emails are going around which instruct you to delete a 'virus' if you find a file of a specific name on the hard drive. The so-called 'virus' is always part of the operating system of Windows, which won't work properly if you delete the suggested file. You therefore BECOME the virus by damaging your system manually yourself. DUHHH!!!

And never let the person who sent it to you in the first place anywhere near your computer! :)

(7) "Forward this to at least [x] people or you'll get bad luck..." Total rubbish - always. Never forward anything that says that, and consider whoever sent it to you to be a totally gullible moron.

REAL virus information from Symantec linked here

Please check any or all of these links if you receive a circular message such as a virus warning or 'good luck/free money' chain email BEFORE forwarding such a message to others. Mass forwarding of junk mail (normally urging you to "...forward to everyone in your address book...") causes the web to slow to a frustrating crawl and can easily crash overloaded mail servers - they are created to do just that by people too thick to create a proper virus. Mass-mailing makes them propagate as a fantastic rate, just do some simple multiplication and you'll see. So please ALWAYS CHECK FIRST!


© Alex Hall 2 February 1999.
Redesigned & updated 26 July 2004.