The Email Facts Of Life

1. Big companies don't do business via chain letter. Bill Gates is not giving 
you $1,000.00, IBM is not giving away free computers, and Disney is not giving 
you a free vacation. There is no baby food company issuing class-action checks. 
You can relax; there is no need to pass it on "just in case it's true". Furthermore, 
just because someone said in the message, four generations back, that "we checked 
it out and it's legit", does not actually make it true.  Nor do the words "IBM 
just received this". That's an almost certain indicator of a hoax. IBM does not 
disseminate virus warnings to select individuals; they post them here:

Trend Micro has a nice fast site.
They post virus hoax warnings here:

2. Your bank does NOT need to re-verify your personal
information; they would NOT ask you for it via e-mail or a
pop-up message on your screen if they did, so please do NOT
follow the link and fill out the (often very realistic-looking) form.

The SAME goes for e-bay.  Your account will NOT really 
be suspended if you don't follow the link, fill out the form, and
allow some charlatan in Vietnam to drain your bank account.

These, and similar schemes, are known as phishing schemes.  Don't
get hooked.  Read this
instead. The Federal Trade Commission says this  
You can report phishers to

Here's a great starting place:  The full primer is also free.

  1. "A new virus has just been discovered, and Microsoft has classified it as the most destructive ever!" If this is really true, it will be thoroughly covered by the media, both nationally and internationally. Reporters have e-mail, too.
  2. "There is no known cure for this!" or "This virus was just discovered, and [insert name of anti-virus software maker here] has no cure for it!" In that case, this information will be posted on their web sites, with recommended procedures for avoiding or circumventing it. Really. This information will not be "hidden" in an attempt at some kind of massive cover-up. It would eventually be discovered, and the offending companies would be put out of business starting the very next day.
  3. "This was discovered by an employee at (usually) Microsoft..." I'm sorry to disillusion you, but you are probably not the lucky recipient of secret information that the rest of the world does not know about yet or is being hushed up. I reiterate: reporters have e-mail accounts too.
  4. Here's an easy one. "CNN reported that this virus caused widespread panic in New York yesterday!" City or state? Either way, that is bad. Luckily, the sender of this e-mail helpfully included a link to CNN on line. Hmmm, no mention of this at all. Perhaps the story about widespread panic in New York from an unstoppable computer virus has been overshadowed by some bigger event? Michael Jackson? Paris Hilton? Let's search the site. Nope. No mention of the virus there, either.
Are you seeing a pattern yet, dear reader? The exclaimation points? The feaverish warnings? The secret information that only a lucky few (including you, but excluding anyone in the mainstream or trade media) posess? The urgent instruction to pass this on to everyone you know? Come on, folks. Is this really likely? If you think it is, why don't you pass the e-mail on to a member of your favorite legitimte news source? They'll get a scoop, you'll have done a good deed and, unless you're a spammer, their coverage is wider than your e-mail list is long; you'll save more people from destruction, mayham, and lost data. Everyone wins. Plus, in the moments that it takes to contact the press, you'll have a few minutes to think about this. Or, better yet, take just a moment to surf on over to Go ahead, type in a phrase from that e-mail warning you just got; it's fun, and I'll wait! ... There! Found it, didn't you? It's been around for 5 years or more, hasn't it? I thought so. How long did that take? Probably about 30 seconds if you have broadband (you're not sending this from your employer's system, are you? :) and probably under a minute if you have dial-up. Have you ever had such a quick return on an investment before? How many entries does your addressbook contain? You've just saved up to that many people from panic, and yourself from looking gullible. You've avoided the replies you would have gotten for wasting other peoples' time, and... You have done your good deed for the day! Iloveyou! I hope you have Goodtimes! Pass this on to everyone you know! 4. BEFORE YOU HIT THAT [SEND] KEY, PLEASE CONSIDER: If It Sounds Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is! Also (before you hit that [SEND] key) you might want to take a look at this E-Mail Introduction, Guide, Reference and Etiquitte Manual: If the instructions in an e-mail direct you to forward it to other people it's almost always a chain letter. Chain letters have been around since antiquity: They're still bogus. Scambusters says: "As soon as you start using email, you begin getting messages talking about the scary thing that happened to someone, or some sick child, or telling you about a virus, or of the horrible things happening to people in another country. All of these emails will tell you to forward this to everyone you know. You will probably get an email someday telling you that if you forward to everyone you know, it will be tracked by some company testing a new email tracking sytem and you could win money or some other exciting thing. You may get an email talking about how a large company is giving away free merchandice. Odds are good that email is a hoax. No one will give you money for forwarding an email because there is no such thing as an email tracking system. And if a company wanted to develop one, they wouldn't need to test it on the general public." 5. There is no kidney theft ring in New Orleans. No one is waking up in a bathtub full of ice, even if a friend of a friend swears it happened to their cousin. If you are hellbent on believing the kidney-theft ring stories, please see: And I quote: "The National Kidney Foundation has repeatedly issued requests for actual victims of organ thieves to come forward and tell their stories. None have." That's "none" as in "zero". Not even your friend's cousin. 6. Neiman Marcus doesn't really sell a $200 cookie recipe. And even if they do, we all have it. And even if you don't, you can get a copy at: 7. We all know all 500 ways to drive your roommates crazy, irritate co-workers, gross out bathroom stall neighbors and creep out people on an elevator. We also know exactly how many engineers, college students, Usenet posters and people from each and every world ethnicity it takes to change a light bulb. Please, give it a rest? :-) 8. Even if the latest NASA rocket disaster(s) DID contain plutonium that went to particulate over the eastern seaboard, do you REALLY think this information would reach the public via an AOL chain-letter? 9. There is no "Good Times" virus. "Join the Crew" is not a virus. In fact, you should never, ever, ever forward any email containing any virus warning unless you first confirm it at an actual site of an actual company that actually deals with virii. Try: 10. If your CC: list is regularly longer than the actual content of your message, you're probably going to Hell. 11. Learn to use Blind Carbon Copy (bcc). I. Some of us do not like seeing 2 screens full of names before the message appears. We delete the message without ever scrolling down, so save the bandwidth and learn to bcc. Your mailer does have this option. Really. It does. II. Many of us also do not like having all names and e-mail addresses (especially our own) exposed to every member of your list. III. It also wouldn't hurt to get rid of all the ">" that begin each line. Besides, if it has gone around that many times, we've probably already seen it. 12. If you're using Outlook, IE, or Netscape to write email, turn off the "HTML encoding". Those of us on Unix shells can't read it, and don't care enough to save the attachment and then view it with a web browser, since you're probably forwarding us a copy of the Neiman Marcus Cookie Recipe anyway. 13. Craig Shergold in England is not dying of cancer or anything else at this time and would like everyone to stop sending him their business cards. He apparently is also no longer a "little boy" either. These are hoaxes. They are all very old hoaxes. You might want to consider checking out: or you can search that site at or or or or when you receive such messages, for your own piece of mind. 14. Nobody is going to deposit millions of dollars in your checking account, and let you keep a percentage, if you help them transfer their stash of ill-gotten gains out of their country. This scam feeds on your greed, and the perpetrators will drain your checking account. An example may be found here: Variations of this are also known as 419 scams: If you're brave, adventurous, and have always yearned to be a double agent, you can try the honorable sport of 419-baiting at WARNING: Read the instructions on the site, and follow them--carefully!--and NEVER give out ANY personal information! For helpful information about common scams, such as that one, try this site: You can report fraud to the appropriate authorities here: Perhaps the best anti-fraud resource on the internet, including a toll-free hotline for reporting it, is: You can find a list of tips and common scams here: Healthcare scams are addressed here: Tips about spotting healthcare scams may be found at: A very good site: "Fifteen Ways to Spot an Internet Bandit" is here: 15. Do NOT reply to spam that gives you an adress to use that promises to remove you from a mailing list. It will do NOTHING but mark your e-mail address as active. Your e-mail address will be sold to lots of other lists, and it will attain increased priority, since you have given the spammers positive confirmation that your address is active. (And you have proved that you will respond to unsolicited e-mail from some anonymous person if it sounds legitimate or well-meaning. :-) But *please* don't be too hard on yourself if you have done so; we ALL do foolish things sometimes! :-) Often legitimate-sounding legal terms are included, assuring you that the e-mail is legal, and making it seem as if the sender is earnestly trying to comply with government regulations. Legitimate businesses do not hide their real e-mail addresses. Legitimate businesses do not solicit customers via anonymous, unverifiable, or bulk e-mails. Another trick is to assure you that your name has been put on the list because you sent an inquiry, responded to a request, or joined an opt-in mailing list. Do you remember doing so? If specific details are not provided, you did NOT opt-in. Your e-mail address was purchased in bulk by a list-monger. These people may also say that you were recommended by a friend. Does the e-mail tell you exactly who "recommended" you? Did you contact that person and ask them if this is true? If not, it's not legitimate. Here's a good site that gives clear coverage of the topic: For great information about spam, updated regularly, see: A very good anti-spam resource is here: 16. I do not forward Internet petitions or chain letters. I suggest that you don't either. Here are some reasons why: In fact, some sites send out petitions just to collect names and e-mail addresses so they can sell them to spam list providers: 17. Just because someone you know sent you a chain letter telling you that a manufacturer, distributor, public figure or other entity has done something dastardly does not mean that this is true. Really. Even if you know and trust your source. Even if that source is me, please take a moment and click here: or use your favorite debunking site (See #13 above) to quickly refute or verify the rumor before passing it on. Sure, it takes a few extra seconds, but some day a rumor could be spread about you, or someone you care about. Wouldn't you want a recipeint of "news" about you to take those few seconds if your reputation was at stake? It is my experience that the vast majority of chain letters about someone's shocking behavior are false, exaggerated, misstated or misquoted, or taken out of context. If you feel that emotional rush when you read the story: beware. You are probably not getting an accurate story. 18. AT&T Says: "I Did Not Send This!" Are you getting Non-Delivery Reports (NDRs) for messages you did not send? A recent ploy by virus writers is to spoof senders. Here's how it works: A person has your email address in an address book somewhere or includes the address of a distribution list to which you belong. They get infected with a virus. The virus looks around for various places where email addresses may be stored. It grabs one to use as the sending address. Unfortunately, it may grab yours! Then the virus goes to work, sending itself out to people. You could be one, too. But sometimes it tries to guess names and sends out to random names at various domains. Then it tries to send to an invalid address. Guess what, the address is invalid, and so the message is returned as a "System Administrator: Undeliverable" message of some sort. But YOU are the supposed sender, so you get the undeliverable message! You've been spoofed! What can you do about it? Unfortunately, next to nothing once the damage is done. Viruses are clever and it is very hard to track the originator. Delete the NDRs. They do not contain a virus, in most cases, and are only an annoyance. The virus writer and sender are long gone and virtually untraceable. Remember, you are not being spoofed because of something you've done, but because someone else has not been careful and has gotten infected with a virus. You need to be careful so you do not become the next spreader of a virus. 19. You cannot, repeat not, be infected by a virus by reading text-based e-mail. (If you open attachments, such as a Microsoft Word document, or if you use WinZip and allow it to automatically uncompress Zip files that you download, and store them in your computer, or if you click on pictures (which may really be executable files) you can download a virus. But, in all these cases and any similar situations, what you are really doing is the same- you are downloading a file and storing it on your computer without scanning it for viruses first. You should never do that, and you should never, of course, put a disk that you've just received in your computer without checking it for viruses.) I suggest that you use this shareware virus checker. /////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// NOTE TO OUTLOOK USERS: You will be much safer if you set up Outlook correctly: ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// But you *-cannot-* be infected with a computer virus simply by reading a piece of e-mail. You can, however, be infected if you can be tricked into executing a program. One common way is to send a (arguably) legitimate-sounding e-mail, and then include a file such as a Word document or a compressed (Zip) file that you are asked to open or uncompress. The text of the e-mail might say something like "read the encolsed document" or "see the enclosed list" or "your password is enclosed" etc. NEVER OPEN ATTACHMENTS--EVEN FROM ME--UNLESS YOU KNOW THAT THEY ARE LEGITIMATE! When in doubt, contact the sender via other means before opening attachments. I would much rather get an e-mail, phone call or IM saying "Did you send this Word file?" than see your computer get infected. 20. Click here for some tips on using public computers, such as those found at Internet Cafes. There. I will get off of my soapbox now that you have the facts. But they seem so... serious... to me. If you think the above was humorless, you might want to check out the following reply to a bogus "warning" about the "Goodtimes virus" that drove so many of us nuts some time ago. It's by Warren Moore, and I consider it a classic! Warren is smarter than I am, and he's funnier also- when he cares to be. I really wish I could say that I wrote the following! From: Warren Moore "Good Times Virus...Release 2.0" There's a new virus that will re-write your hard drive. Not only that, it will scramble any disks that are even close to your computer. It will recalibrate your refrigerator's coolness setting so all your ice cream goes melty. It will demagnetize the strips on all your credit cards, screw up the tracking on your television and use subspace field harmonics to scratch any CD's you try to play. It will give your ex-girl or boyfriend your new phone number. It will mix Kool-aid into your fishtank. It will drink all your wine and leave its socks out on the coffee table when there's company coming over. It will put a dead squirrel in the back pocket of your good pants and hide your car keys when you are late for work. Goodtimes 2.0 will make you fall in love with a penguin. It will give you nightmares about circus midgets. It will pour sugar in your gas tank and shave off both your eyebrows while dating your girl or boyfriend behind your back and billing the dinner and hotel room to your Discover card. It will seduce your grandmother. It does not matter if she is dead; such is the power of Goodtimes 2.0. It reaches out beyond the grave to sully those things we hold most dear. It moves your car randomly around parking lots so you can't find it. It will kick your dog. It will leave libidinous messages on your boss's voice mail in your voice! It is insidious and subtle. It is dangerous and terrifying to behold. It is also a rather interesting shade of mauve. Goodtimes 2.0 will give you Dutch Elm disease. It will leave the toilet seat up. It will make a batch of Methamphetamine in your bathtub and then leave bacon cooking on the stove while it goes out to chase gradeschoolers with your new snowblower. Goodtimes 2.0 will prompt your mother to call on Friday and Saturday nights for two months after you make a new girlfriend/boyfriend. It will place your wallet and keys on an obscure shelf in the basement. It will emulate your face and stare into the neighbor's bathroom window. Goodtimes 2.0 has been linked to cancer in laboratory mice. 9 out of 10 dentists recommend Goodtimes. Goodtimes 2.0 will make your bloomers shrink two sizes, and it will make you gain 15 pounds. If this results in a wedgie, then Goodtimes will leave a nasty skid mark. * PLEASE listen to me! The "GoodTimes" virus DOES NOT does not exist!! Neither does any virus which claims to be spread via e-mail. E-mail messages are TEXT FILES ! ! ! * But just to be safe, better run that virus scanner now that you've read this!