A hoax is a falsehood deliberately fabricated to masquerade as the truth. It is distinguishable from errors in observation or judgment, rumors, urban legends, pseudo sciences, and April Fools' Day events that are passed along in good faith by believers or as jokes.
There are thousands of email /message hoaxes moving around the Internet and social media at any given time. These hoaxes cover a range of subject matter, including:
• Supposedly free giveaways in exchange for forwarding emails.
• Bogus virus alerts.
• False appeals to help sick children.
• Pointless petitions that lead nowhere and accomplish nothing.
• Dire, and completely fictional, warnings about products, companies, government policies or coming events
The good news is that, with a little bit of foreknowledge, email hoaxes are easy to detect. Hidden within the colorful prose of your average hoax often lurk telling indicators of the email's veracity.
Probably the most obvious of these indicators is a line such as "Send this email to everyone in your address book". Hoax writers want their material to spread as far and as fast as possible, so almost every hoax email will in some way exhort you to send it to other people. Some email hoaxes take a more targeted approach and suggest that you send the email to a specified number of people in order to collect a prize or realize a benefit.
Another giveaway is that hoaxes tend not to provide checkable references to back up their spurious claims. Genuine competitions, promotions, giveaways or charity drives will usually provide a link to a company website or publication. Real virus warnings are likely to include a link to a reputable virus information website. Emails containing Government or company policy information are likely to include references to checkable sources such as news articles, websites or other publications.
A third indicator is often the actual language used. Email hoax writers have a tendency to use an emotive, "over-the-top" style of writing peppered with words and phrases such as "Urgent", "Danger", "worst ever virus!!", "sign now before it's too late" and so on, often rendered in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS for added emphasis. Paragraphs dripping with pathos speak of dying children; others "shout" with almost rabid excitement about free air travel or mobile phones. As well, some email hoaxes try to add credibility by using highly technical language.
Be especially cautious if the message has any of the characteristics listed below. These characteristics are just guidelines—not every hoax or urban legend has these attributes, and some legitimate messages may have some of these characteristics:
• it suggests tragic consequences for not performing some action
• it promises money or gift certificates for performing some action
• it offers instructions or attachments claiming to protect you from a virus that is undetected by anti-virus software
• it claims it's not a hoax
• there are multiple spelling or grammatical errors, or the logic is contradictory
• there is a statement urging you to forward the message
• it has already been forwarded multiple times (evident from the trail of email headers in the body of the message)
Before forwarding an email, asks yourself these questions:
1. Does the email ask you to send it to a lot of other people?
2. Does the email fail to provide confirmation sources?
3. Is the language used overly emotive or highly technical?
A "yes" answer to one or more of the above questions should start some alarm bells ringing. These indicators do not offer conclusive evidence that the email is a hoax but they are certainly enough to warrant further investigation before you hit the "Forward" Button.
To report a potential public health concern please contact the Inspectorate of Health at email@example.com.