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‘Tech Tip’ Think Before You Forward That e-Mail

Have you ever marveled at the power of a forwarded message? Amazingly, you can aid a sick child, ward off bad luck, take a political stance or even receive a free case of your favorite beverage. All you have to do is forward an e-mail to everyone you know.

Welcome to today’s version of chain letters.

Although many of us doubt the validity of these e-mails, we forward them anyway. After all, who wants to turn down a chance for free products?

Does this sound familiar? “It’s probably a hoax, but what’s the harm? It doesn’t cost anything to forward a message.”

However, propagating hoax messages and chain mail does have a cost.

When you forward one of those “harmless” chain letters or hoax messages, you inadvertently send along all of the e-mail addresses listed in the original message. Your friends then send it on to others, this time with your address included.

As the cycle continues, the address list becomes very large and eventually falls into the hands of a spammer. The result or cost is more hoax messages and spam for everyone.

Spam, hoaxes and chain letters slow our mail servers and fill our inboxes, costing us valuable time and productivity.

What’s more, forwarding some hoaxes can have serious repercussions. One such variation tells of a new and dangerous computer virus. The message gives you a series of steps that will protect your computer from infection.

In reality, these virus warnings rarely are based in fact. The true risk is the “protective measures,” which can result in irreversible damage or loss of data.

How can you tell if an e-mail is a legitimate call to action, product offer or virus warning? If the message comes from a friend, who received it from a co-worker, who received it from a cousin . . . etc., you would be wise to question its validity.

Several Web sites maintain databases of known hoaxes, including urban legends, chain letters and virus scares. One of the most comprehensive is a government-supported site called HoaxBusters . The site categorizes all known hoaxes for easy searching and provides useful tips for recognizing new hoaxes.

The next time you receive an e-mail warning you of the dangers of drinking a carbonated drink while eating certain food products, visit HoaxBusters and put your mind at ease.

An archive of ITS “Tech Tips” can be found here .

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