Internet Scams: Don't Believe Everything You Read

Updated June 26, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

When you receive an alarmist chain letter in the mail or see an outrageous article on the cover of a supermarket tabloid, you may easily recognize these as false. Some readers do not automatically question similar information on the Web or in an email forwarded by a friend. The Internet is still relatively new as a widespread method of communication, and many people are not yet savvy about identifying electronic hoaxes.

The Internet contains a wealth of valuable information, but it is often difficult to tell the good from the bad. With easy accessibility, low cost, and wide distribution, the Internet is a great medium for disseminating falsehoods and inaccuracies. Keep in mind that your 13-year-old neighbor can publish on the Web as easily as the New York Times can!

While most false information is not malicious, beware of scams intended to frighten or cheat you. Some common email scams are familiar from other media: get rich quick schemes; fad diets; and threatening email chain letters. But new technology begets new scams, from the scare over the nonexistent “Good Times” virus to an email circulated in 1998 that supposedly generated contributions for the American Cancer Society each time it was forwarded—in fact, it collected senders' email addresses so they could be sold for mailing lists.

What can you do to protect yourself from these types of scams? Here are a few simple tips:

  • Be a critical reader. Question what you see, and remember that Internet information is no more likely to be true than what you read in print media.
  • Check the source. Try to determine the origin of any information you read, and make sure the source is reliable. Email without an author or a source is probably worthless.
  • Don't download any software or .exe files from web sites or email unless you are sure of the source. You could be inviting a virus onto your computer.
  • Beware of supposedly true stories that happened to “a friend of a friend.” This is a common technique in urban myths to add credibility to a story. Similarly, don't assume that references legitimize a mailing—they may be part of the scam.
  • Don't reply to emails that contain a link to an unfamiliar email address or URL. There may be a hidden fee.
  • Don't perpetuate scams or contribute to Internet traffic congestion by forwarding email of dubious origin.
  • If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Using your common sense is the best protection against scams.

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