Thursday, June 12, 2008


There is an Internet joke about the Gullibility Virus, that is based on the propensity for users to forward e-mails to everyone the know without questioning whether the message is legitimate.

Virus (and other) hoaxes are part of the Internet. They never die out completely, but mutate into new forms. The key identifier is that they tell you to send an e-mail to as many people as possible. This is often supposedly because of a terrible virus, or because of some benefit of payment. The funny thing is that these hoaxes appear every few years with slightly different wording, but when you read a new one it's perfectly obvious where it came from.

Today we got hit with one of these, an e-mail telling you that if you forward messages to everyone you know, Microsoft will track it and pay you $10,000. I would think that this would seem absurd on the face of it -- Microsoft is rich, but not that rich -- but we still had people forwarding it to people in their address book.

It would only take a moment to double check the story.  In this case the message said the offer was made on GoodMorningAmericaToday. Notwithstanding the fact that those are two different shows, you would have thought that it might be mentioned on the Good Morning America or Today Show website.  And, with the amount of money promised, it should have shown up on all news websites:  CNN, Yahoo, Fox News, etc. How much trouble would it be to check this out?

Unfortunately, too many people don't follow this elementary precaution and do as the message says and forward it to as many people as possible (always without stripping out all addresses in the body of the message).

My rule of thumb on this is simple:  never believe a forwarded message.  And the odds the message is true are inversely proportional to the number of total recipients times the number of times "FWD" appears in the subject line.

In any case, never forward these messages. And if you are tempted, double check any of the claims made in the messages (if, say, CNN supposedly announced a new, dangerous virus, then double check the CNN web page).

It's not that hard. And wouldn't it be better not to appear so gullible?