We've all done it. In comes the e-mail message from a good friend. Its alarming subject line: Virus with No Cure. A few clicks later, and we've passed it on to another dozen friends. We're being helpful, right?
Not so fast. According to Tom Copeland, chair of the Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP), the button we really need for our e-mail program isn't 'forward'. It's 'pause'.
"Nobody takes the time to research whether these things are true," laments Copeland. "And there are so many resources out there that take almost no more time to verify than it does to send that message to somebody else."
Sure enough, googling "Virus with No Cure" instantly proves it's a hoax. But still, what's the harm, apart from a moment of embarrassment? There's a bigger, darker picture, says Copeland.
When we participate in passing on forwarded messages, we train ourselves to think they're all okay. We trust them, because they come from friends. But most computer viruses these days also arrive in e-mails sent from our friends' infected computers.
"ISPs spend an awful lot of time dealing with customers who have opened e-mail that they should never have opened," says Copeland. "Those trusting ways really create a bigger problem. If you're careful about all of the e-mail you get, then you'll not only stop the nuisance stuff that carries no payload (virus) but you'll stop the damaging stuff that does have a payload."
In a nutshell: Think twice! Here are some practical suggestions:Virus alert
Example: "A friend opened a card from Blue Mountain Cards and her system crashed. Do not open Blue Mountain Cards. Virus has infiltrated their system."
Ask yourself: Is it true? Many so-called warnings are just malicious hoaxes -- and some even carry viruses themselves.
Quick check: It only takes a few seconds to visit a reputable antivirus site like Symantec and scroll through the hoax list. And the best way to protect your own machine is to install an antivirus program and update it regularly. Get full instructions at stopspamhere.ca.
Page 1 of 2 -- Learn more about how to protect yourself from email scams on page 2Could it happen to you?
Example: "People in parking lots pretending to sell perfume are actually carrying bottles of ether. If you sniff you will pass out and be robbed. Pass this along!"
Ask yourself: Is it true?
Quick check: Snopes.com is one of many Internet resources that investigates such rumours. In this case, surfing the crime section reveals not only has no such case ever been reported, but it's very unlikely a single sniff of ether would cause unconsciousness.
Example: "Little Jessica Mydek is suffering from a very rare cerebral carcinoma...the American Cancer Society will donate three cents toward continuing cancer research for every new person that gets forwarded this message."
Ask yourself: Is it true? And is this the best way I can help?
Quick check: Googling for Jessica Mydek and the American Cancer Society reveals the society's statement about this hoax. You can do more good by writing a cheque yourself.
Laughter and tears
Examples: "State of Michigan to Mr. Stephen L. Tvedten: Recent construction of two wood debris dams on your property is in violation of the Environmental Protection Act. Cease and desist. Failure to comply may result in elevated enforcement action. Stephen L. Tvedten to State of Michigan: If you want the dam stream 'restored' to a dam free-flow condition -- contact the dam beavers!" Or, "at a Special Olympics, one runner fell during the 100-yard dash, and began to cry. The other contestants stopped racing and went back to him. They all linked arms and walked together to the finish line."
Ask yourself: According to Snopes, these are both true stories, although many such tales aren't. However, even fictional tales can be amusing or inspiring. Your real question: Will this be meaningful to my friends?
Quick check: If you're going to send out a mass email, why not start by sending one asking each of your contacts if they like receiving such items? Many people get so many they don't have time to read them all.
Example: A stunning picture of an iceberg underwater arrives in your inbox.
Ask yourself: Is it real? Thanks to PhotoShop, scanners and digital cameras, doctored images are a staple of the web. And do my friends with dial-up connections really want to cope with downloading a large attachment?
Quick check: Snopes can help determine if the image is genuine. (In this case, it's a composite.) And you can save yourself and your friends time -- and score courtesy points -- by asking in advance who appreciates receiving such items.
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