Top E-Mail Hoaxes Uncovered
What is an Internet Hoax?
An internet or email hoax is an email that is sent from person to person by email or social networking and is either completely false or only partly true. These emails are usually intended to warn others about intended harm or to give negative information about a known group or person. Because the information appears to be something everyone should know, people feel the urgency to forward the email on to others in their email address books or on their social network lists. The messages can go around for years, sometimes being revised slightly to reflect current events, but always having similar information. Many such emails contain internet viruses within them, or can be used to get personal information. It is very important to keep up to date on what is real and what is fictitious.
Hoaxes and Urban Legends Likely Seen in Emails
According to Snopes, a website that stays up to date on internet scams, hoaxes, and urban legends, the following is a list of some current emails circulating today.
1. An email and facebook post originated in 2007 showing a picture a young student did of a her mommy supposedly holding a snow shovel and many people surrounding her attempting to buy this last remaining snow shovel. The mother, supposedly embarrassed by the picture, sends a note to the child's teacher stating that the picture does not depict her as a pole dancer but a worker at Home Depot.
This picture was actually drawn by a 17 year old girl in 2007 and WAS intended to depict a pole dancer. The girl posted the picture on her My Space page, but it was stolen and the teacher/parent comments added.
2. A notice circulated to all Facebook users that it was imperative that since Facebook became a publically traded company, they must place a PRIVACY NOTICE on their Facebook page indicating that the violation of their personal privacy was punishable by law.
This was a false statement. Privacy agreements between Facebook and users remain in effect and were not altered because Facebook became a publically traded company. Further, simply writing such a statement on a Facebook account would not ensure that the account was protected or that the law could in fact become involved. It is important to understand security settings when one has a Facebook account make sure the account is set on the most secure settings.
3. Email warns not to buy kiwi fruit from China as it has "soaked" in a growth chemical hormone to enlarge the fruit and make it juicier. The chemical is supposedly extremely harmful to humans and can retard the learning process of children.
Again, a false statement. It is indicated that China "doesn't even rank in the list of kiwi producing countries", so the liklihood of finding kiwi from China in our grocery stores is unlikely. Further, there is no evidence to support that a growth hormone with the stated effects was used on the kiwi fruit. There was, however, an instance in May of 2011 where about 115 acres of watermelons were given too much of a growth accelerator too late in the growing season and the rinds burst. It was stated that the kiwi and watermelon could have been confused.
4. Utility bill payment scam. This has been used in the form of emails and phone calls. Thieves are circulating information that a government entity or the Obama administration has issued a stimulus grant and is paying electric bills (one even says phone bills) for one month out of this year. Personal information is required and a bank routing number is given for those who use electronic transfer for bill payment. The scam gaines momentum because for a short time, the bill is credited until the company learns it is a false payment. While the bill is assumed paid, those who have attempted to use this "service" tell friends and family about it, thus spreading the scam.
Obviously this is a hoax. There is no such stimulus grant and no one is paying utility bills at this time. There are grants or agencies that will cover bills for low cost residents who apply in person for the assistance, but nothing all encompassing.
5. An email has been going around since 2004 indicating that Starbucks refused to give free products to military personnel serving overseas because it did not support the war. The author of the letter was contacted by researchers and indicated that he heard the information from a friend who heard it from another source. He later learned that the information he had was wrong and 5 months after he wrote the original letter, he wrote a retraction letter, but the first letter and rumors had already been spread. As it stands, Starbucks was contacted by a soldier serving overseas who requested free products. Starbucks turned down the request according to organization policy, as it gives to local organizations, which includes the USO that sends Starbucks items overseas to military personnel. Starbucks also indicated that they have given to groups creating care packages, as well as employees who chose to send products to soldiers overseas.
6. INVITATION FACEBOOK virus--Most people have probably seen this one by now. This is an email which says that if you receive an email from a friend that says "invitation facebook" don't open it or it will open into an olympic flame that burn your hard drive. This same basic hoax has been circulating since at least 2000, and has come in the form of a Merry Christmas message and Gordon Brown (UK's then Prime Minister) "actually smiling".
Bottom line-this is a hoax and nothing will happen to your computer.
7. Email claims that if you enter your ATM PIN number backwards during a robbery at the ATM machine, the machine will recognize the signal and alert the police to the alarm.
This is false. This email has been circulating since 2006. Though this concept was first imagined in 1994 by Joseph Zingher and patented by the same in 1998, banks have not wanted to implement the system stating that it would not be cost effective, nor would it be effective as the victim and criminal would be long gone before police arrived, and it might pose a hazard to the victim as the thief would realize that something was going on when the victim was fumbling with the ATM trying to figure out the PIN number in reverse.
8. There is not a film being made about a gay Jesus as one email suggests. This email has led to the creation of petitions, but this has been going on since 1974 when a very obscure film was made portraying Jesus as a gay man. In 1998, a play was produced called Corpus Christi which led to controversy, but portrayed a Jesus-like figure from Texas from birth to his murder. A documentary about one theater troupe's performance of this play was made, but at this time, there is no known making of a gay Jesus film.
9. Many, many emails have circulated about Facebook paying a given amount of money every time a picture is shared regarding a child with cancer, lost limbs, etc. The most recent appears to be an infant with a large red "tumor" on one side of his face. According to Snopes, this picture has been circulating since 2007. This is a child adopted by an American family from an overseas orphanage, and the "tumor" is actually a hemangioma (collection of raised blood vessels), which has since been removed. Facebook is not going to give money per share on these items.
10. The email that tells us all not to join the group on Facebook called "becoming a mother or father was the greatest gift of my life" because it was created by pedophiles is a hoax. When this was created, there was no such group.
What Should We Do?
Internet hoaxes are spread because they are sent to us by well meaning friends and family, and we in turn feel the urge to pass them on. The best way to stop these emails from continuing to circulate is to check the validity of the email before sending them to others. There are so many websites that focus on bringing truth to internet lore, and it is helpful to have one bookmarked for quick reference. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to warn or protect those we love, especially if new information is found about the next internet virus going around or the latest vegetable recall, but before causing widespread panic for nothing, we need to take just a minute to verify. Pranksters and thieves like nothing more than to prey on our weaknesses, and fear is most certainly one.
- snopes.com: 25 Hottest Urban Legends
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