Avoid Internet hoaxes and scams

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

If you have an email address, chances are you’ve been the recipient of messages that have invited you to share Bill Gates’ fortune, or warned about telephone company scams, exploding cell phones, Internet taxation rumors, and the always popular DCSMN (Dying-Child-Send-Money-Now) scam.

In my weekly newsletter, I frequently profile current scams and hoaxes making the rounds that week in an effort to keep my subscribers safe, but even without focusing on specific scams, you can avoid online pitfalls by being aware of the following “red flags” that all hoaxes or scams display, in whole or in part:

1. A sense of urgency. It doesn’t matter if it’s a phony alert about a newly discovered virus or a desperate plea for help because Little Scotty’s disabled mother’s crutch poked a hole in his oxygen tent, these types of breathlessly desperate messages always implore recipients to respond immediately. Also, look for the liberal use of exclamation points!!!!, messages typed IN ALL CAPS, or the inclusion of words that suggest that time is of the essence.

2. A prediction of dire consequences, if you do nothing. If it’s a virus alert, your hard drive will explode, spiders will take up residence in your modem, or your house pets will turn on you while you’re sleeping. The ‘consequences’ of failing to heed this type of phony email alert are usually so horrific, they would give Stephen King nightmares.

3. Authentication/Corroboration. Hoaxes usually contain bogus authentication by some high-falootin’ yet highly fictitious official at Microsoft, AOL, IBM or other well-known institution. Other hoaxes are authenticated by phony police officials, insurance companies, the Government, or somebody’s brother-in-law who purportedly works for a company referenced, as if to suggest the message contains insider information. It’s all nonsense.

4. A request to forward the message to as many people as possible. This “town crier” approach takes advantage or our good nature and the fact that most of us want to help others. Plus, let’s face it, we all love to share bad news. As soon as you see a request to forward a message to everybody you know, you don’t even have to think twice about it: Reach for the DELete key and stop the madness.

The best way to thwart the spread of these random acts of error is through awareness. Keep an eye out for any of the above tell-tale signs and make frequent use of your DELete key. If you have any doubts about a given message, before you consider forwarding it, spend a few minutes researching it at Snopes  or Hoaxbusters.

Mr. Modem's Sites of the Week:

Airline Carry-On Rules
Knowing what you can carry on an airplane and what will be confiscated at the gate can be confusing, not to mention that it seemingly changes by the hour. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s Web site provides an updated list of permitted items, as well as travel tips to make your pre-flight screening experience as hassle- and humiliation-free as possible.

Gilbert and Sullivan Archive The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive celebrates the operas, operettas, and other works of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, better known as Bill and Art. Scroll through the archive and you'll find a section devoted to each major work, including plot summaries, photographs of the original G & S performers, song scores, audio files, and much more.

For the scant few who may be unfamiliar with the Scopitone, it is essentially a "film jukebox" that was invented in France in the early 1960's, originally made from surplus airplane parts. On the site you can watch original Scopitone films and participate in an auction for a fully-functioning Scopitone. (Mrs. Modem has that “Don’t-even-think-about-it” look in her eyes, so I don’t envision owning a Scopitone any time soon.)

For plain-English answers to your questions by email, plus helpful PC tips, subscribe to Mr. Modem’s Weekly Newsletter. For information, visit www.MrModem.com.