It said “Please Forward This Important Message To Everyone You Know”

by Leo Notenboom

Approach the internet with skepticism. It’s full of bogus information, hoaxes and scams, and you’ll find a lot of it in your email inbox.

You’ve probably seen them: emails that have been forwarded countless times warning of some supposed threat, computer virus, money making scheme, or amazingly inappropriate or blunt comment by some notable entertainer or politician.

And, of course, the always present request to “forward this to everyone you know!” or something similar, which you may have done.

They’re almost always bogus.

At best they are simply fictitious stories that have been circulating the internet for years, known as urban legends. At their worst they’re hoaxes or scams designed solely to lighten your wallet, or get you to unwittingly help someone else lighten theirs.

Put another way: No one is tracking whether or not you forward an email. No one will give you a coupon or pay you or anyone else for doing so. Boycotting gasoline for day will have no effect on the price of oil. A particular brand of cleaning cloth won’t kill your pet, plug-in air fresheners won’t kill you, and aspartame isn’t going to give you half a dozen diseases.

The list goes on.

One common aspect that they all share is the request, the plea even, that you forward the email to everyone you can. Some even go so far as to claim you would be heartless not to!

PLEASE don’t do it.

Or, at least be positive that it’s legitimate before you do.

And to be clear, if it asks you to “forward this all your friends” it’s probably not legitimate.

How do you tell what’s real?

There are many great websites that you can use to find out, but is perhaps the most popular, timely and comprehensive. A quick search there will frequently tell you not only what a suspect email is all about, but most importantly whether or not it’s true. All of the examples above can be found there.

Why should you care?

Forwarding hoaxes is a little like filling the inboxes of your friends and family with garbage; you’re at least wasting their time, possibly causing unnecessary anxiety and in the worst case you could even cause them to fall victim to a hoax or scam.

We all get more than enough spam and email that you don’t want to be sending email that’s likely bogus anyway to all your friends. Do them a favor and resist the temptation.

Isn’t it safer to forward in case it’s actually true?

No. As we’ve seen here it’s much more likely that you’d simply be participating in spreading the hoax. And the alternative is so simple: check it out first. If it’s not worth your time to check it out, then it’s not worth forwarding, simple as that.

And if you’re still worried realize that legitimate issues will show up in the legitimate press. Email is not how the government, news organizations, and corporations spread important information.

Leo Notenboom has been in the tech industry for nearly 30 years. After retiring from an 18 year career as a Microsoft Software Engineer Leo went on to create Ask Leo!, a free web site where he answers real questions from ordinary computer users. In addition to answering tech questions Leo also maintains a number of web sites for a very limited clientèle, including customer number one: his wife’s collectible doll shop.

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