What are Hoax messages?

What's a hoax message?
Hoax E-mail messages distribute false, often disturbing, information designed to trick recipients into passing the same note onto other E-mail users. On the surface this does not sound like a terribly threatening or bothersome practice, but hoaxes, and those who choose to distribute them, can do real damage, both physical and mental. Each message sent from a user's E-mail account, practical or superfluous, requires the expenditure of resources on the computer of origination and on every computer network it happens to pass through or into. Multiplied exponentially by constant forwarding and re-forwarding around the world, a single hoax message can result in huge overall energy drains. You, the end-user would experience this drain in the form of a slow Internet connection or low hard drive space on your PC or E-mail profile. Physical damage like this is a nuisance at best; however, hoaxes have a more sinister effect on the computer users who receive them. Not only can hoaxes create personal anxiety and mass panic, but, when received in quantity by a single user, they can cause complacency. A complacent attitude towards the mail arriving in an E-mail account on a regular basis could cause a user to stop watching for the true threats posed by some E-mail messages (e.g. Trojan Horse programs or money-solicitation scams) and that could lead to personal disaster.

How can I identify a hoax message?
There are too many E-mail hoax messages circulating on the Internet to try and describe them all in a small page such as this. Suffice it to note that any message informing you that your computer has been infected with a computer virus simply because it received (or will receive) a particular E-mail message is likely to be bogus. Likewise, many messages reporting or predicting world-wide computer virus epidemics (usually confirmed -falsely- by a major name in the computer industry like IBM or AOL) are hoaxes too. Beyond false virus threats, there are also hoaxes designed to play to a computer user's greed or sympathies. Most of these involve illegitimate monetary transactions promised from or made to major corporations or charities (e.g. Bill Gates Hoax and the Make A Wish Foundation Hoax). These are perhaps the most dangerous forms of the hoax message, as it is often difficult to determine whether or not the information provided is true and accurate.

What do I do when I get a hoax message?
The Institute's Information Technology Group is asking all users who receive E-mail hoaxes to delete them as soon as they arrive in the Inbox. If you have trouble identifying a particular message as a hoax, you may either search the pages linked to our E-mail Hoax Resource Information page for answers or forward the message onto the Information Technology Group- askitg@ias.edu -for confirmation. Please DO NOT send or forward hoax messages, confirmed or unconfirmed, to other E-mail users.

Repeat Offenders
This is a brief list of the E-mail hoaxes the Information Technology Group has found at the Institute in the recent past: