Those costly Internet hoaxes
SUZANNE SHEPPARD Sunday, June 10 2007
HAVE YOU ever been a victim of an Internet hoax. If you have an e-mail account, the answer is a definite yes. Chances are that hardly a week goes by without chain letters or other types of Internet hoaxes dropping into your inbox. They contain messages you are supposed to forward to everyone in your address book and the information in them is untrue.
The messages usually read like this:
If anyone receives mail entitled: PENPAL GREETINGS! please delete it WITHOUT reading it. Below is a little explanation of the message, and what it would do to your PC if you were to read the message. If you have any questions or concerns please contact SAF-IA Info Office on 697- 5059."
The message goes on to warn of a dangerous virus which will destroy your computer’s hard drive, as well as the hard drives of anyone whose mail is in your inbox. There is a dire warning of damage to computer networks worldwide.
Many well meaning people take these messages very seriously and e-mail them to everyone they know. After All, who wouldn’t want to warn their friends about some terrible virus that is destroying people’s systems.
Other hoax messages play on people’s sympathy. Some of them might actually be based on real situations but the trick is that the situation described was resolved years ago, so the message is not valid. It is hard to say no when you get a message about a badly burned baby, or a little girl dying of cancer who desperately needs your help.Then there are those chain letters. Like their snail-mail ancestors, these offer luck or money if you send them on. They play on your fear of bad luck.
Not only are all these messages untrue, they are very costly and risky. What may appear to you to be just a nuisance is in fact part of a major scam used by criminals in cyberspace.
It is estimated that if everyone on the Internet were to receive one hoax message and spent one minute reading and discarding it, the cost would be about US$41.7M.
Hoax messages multiply at an alarming rate. Millions of these messages clog mail servers. Causing them to slow down to a crawl or crash, unless users pay to have the capacity of their computer systems expanded to handle this unnecessary bulk.
Then there are the spammers — bulk mailers or unsolicited mail — who harvest e-mail addresses from hoaxes and chain letters. After a few generations, many of these letters contain hundreds of good addresses, which is just what the spammers want.
The result is that people who respond to hoax mail don’t get lucky, don’t actually contribute to any worthwhile cause and are not protecting their computers and those of friends and love ones from a devastating virus. They just end up as recipients of tons of spam mail.
The aim of chain letters and other hoax messages is to harass another person, damage a person’s or an organisation’s reputation, or to bilk money out of people using a pyramid scheme.
These hoaxes can usually be recognised because they contain a request to “send this to everyone you know”, or some variation of that statement. No real warning message from a credible source will tell you to send it to everyone you know.
Do not circulate warnings without first checking with an authoritative source, such as your computer system security administrator. Check the web pages of anti-virus companies for authentic information on viruses and hoaxes.
Also, the next time one of these hoax messages surfaces in your inbox, hit“delete”.
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