Scams, Hoaxes, Myths and Their Busters

Category: Reference

Guess what? Mark Zuckerberg is giving millions of dollars to Facebook users who repost an announcement of the giveaway. Bill Gates is giving $5,000 to every Facebook user who shares a link. And Mr. Rogers always wore a long-sleeved sweater to hide the tattoos he got as a Marine Corps sniper. Read on to find out how (and why) nonsense like this spreads like wildfire online...

Who You Gonna Call?

"What… Mr. Rogers wasn't a Marine sniper? Oh, he was a Navy SEAL?" None of these statements is true, of course. They are examples of scams, hoaxes, and urban legends that circulate via email and social media. The Internet is awash with misinformation for a number of reasons.

Some hoaxsters are just having fun, like the originator of Mr. Rogers’ false bio. Others are doing it for likes, or upvotes, or other social media “currency” that boosts their online visibility. But some are dangerous, like the Bill Gates “forward this link” ploy; people who click on that link may be vulnerable to surreptitious downloads of malware.

Still others are politically motivated. One well-known fake news site said last December that the Charlie Brown Christmas special was preceded by a warning that it “contains strong Christian language that may be offensive to some viewers.” At the same time, rumors were spreading on Facebook that President Obama and/or the FCC had fined ABC for airing the cartoon because of its religious themes.

Urban legends and hoaxes online

There is so much misinformation on the Internet that some people have made careers out of debunking it. Barbara and David Mikkelson launched Snopes in 1995; today their site gets over 300,000 visitors per day. (Be sure to check their Top 25 Hoaxes page for some laughs.) David Emery earns his daily bread at About.com’s Urban Legends page. And since 1994, Scambusters has tackled messages that can cost you money, such as “miracle cures,” “insider stock tips,” and even “virtual kidnappings.”

The Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey started her column, “What Was Fake On The Interenet” in May, 2014; she gave it up in December, 2015, when science convinced her that people cling to their cherished untruths like barnacles to a ship’s hull.

Ms. Dewey explains, in her farewell column, that many hoaxes are purposefully perpetrated to drive traffic to hoaxters’ Web sites. The types of hoaxes reveal the mindsets of the people who are most likely to believe and share them. Thus, the viral success of “Alaskan judge orders U.S. Marshals to arrest Congress and Obama” illustrates the wishful thinking and consequent gullibility of older, conservative Americans. Another fake-news site finds profits in stealing strangers’ mug shots - usually minorities - and attaching them to fake stories of bestiality and other abominations.

Unintended Consequences...

One of the most famous cases of a real person's story that morphed into an urban legend involved Craig Shergold. In 1989, Craig was a 10 year old boy hospitalized with a brain tumor. A family friend began a campaign to get him into the Guiness Book of Records for receiving the most post cards, and before long it started spreading by email. Cards began to pour in by the MILLIONS, year after year. Even though Craig was cured in 1991 and his family made public appeals for the cards to stop, their pleas were no match for the power and longevity of the email chain letter. The Craig Shergold chain letter morphed and spawned a wave of bogus "sick child" emails that have caused untold grief to other families who were the targets of pranksters, as well as financial harm to charities such as the Make A Wish Foundation.

The people who forward, repost and retweet these stories without engaging a single brain cell are a marketer’s dream. They’ll believe anything that sounds outrageous, tugs on the heartstrings, or confirms their prejudices. And once they find a source of confirmation, they’ll keep coming back for more. Needless to say, it isn’t hard to sell just about anything to such an audience.

Of course, there’s also money to be made by debunking hoaxes. There are many debunking websites in addition to those mentioned above. Hoaxbusters,org, Hoax-slayers.com, UrbanLegendsOnline.com, and dozens more sites promise to set your cranky uncle straight. But the people who believe these stories don’t go searching for proof they’re wrong, and the rest of us are starting to give up on the believers.

I've long wished that Internet service providers or those who operate webmail services would implement some sort of filter on outgoing or incoming email. Gmail and others warn about potential malware and phishing attempts. Why can't they show a warning when a well-known hoax or urban legend is about to be sent or received?

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Scams, Hoaxes, Myths and Their Busters"

(See all 28 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Doc
28 Jan 2016

Doc - YOU have the skills - this might be your 'Million Dollar Baby' (to write the blocking program). but, with facebook, Alas and woe -- I supported a guy who let me put paragraphs into replies - and HE finally went under - not due to his 'crowd funding' (If you like and use this program send in a donation)kinda like PrivaZier - but because Facebook hassled him so much and changed the code so much, he couldn't keep up.

And yeah, so long ago his logo is now gone from my facebook page - what a handy tool - and WHAT A GREAT IDEA!!! Use a Paragraph to change ideas!

I fear for America when WE take a program for granted and grab it if it's free, even if we don't use it. I ALWAYS sent in a yearly 'use' fee for Spybot when it was simply a plain old small foot print program that worked VERY well. Ditto TinyURL (is that one even around any more? For awhile it quit working) -

AND to finish - Double Ditto In-Line-Scater above, HIDE EMAIL, IF YOU DO FORWARD DELETE ***ALL*** E-MAILS. It' not just polite, it's unseemly not to. And if only rules and laws about plagiarism and changing a post would put people on Darwin's List.


Posted by:

David
28 Jan 2016

Don, I don't see anything like that on this page. Maybe you were at another site linked from this page.


Posted by:

RichF
28 Jan 2016

Imagine that all the way back to 1853 Lincoln knew everything on the internet might not be true.


Posted by:

MmeMoxie
28 Jan 2016

I also tried to no avail to "teach" my family and friends, about Hoaxes, SPAM, Urban Legends and how to be safe on the Internet. Most of my family listened and a few friends. The vast majority thought I was crazy for trying to warn them. I simply didn't see the "truth", as they knew it.

Today, I only get emails from the newsletters or articles I subscribe to. Most people use Facebook for their spreading of Hoaxes, SPAM, Urban Legends and the like. Social Media??? No, social spreading of some really, really bad stuff, that is mostly ignored by FB.

Oh, there are some awesome FB pages that are entertaining, truthful and interesting, I completely concur. It's that there are just as many bad FB pages, which has spoiled my wanting to participate in FB.

Today, I only check on FB about 2 or 3 times a month. I still find, that most of it is blah, blah, blah and some more. I do like hearing about family and a few friends, this is why I do check FB 2 or 3 times a month.


Posted by:

Denis
28 Jan 2016

David. More to the point, how are you blocking the 'Trending Topics on the Web' at the bottom of Bobs page. I would love to not have this appear. I realise it is probably only there so Bob can get some revenue to help support him in producing his articles, but I don't actually want to look at it.


Posted by:

Paul
28 Jan 2016

The way to tell that something is not a hoax is if it says "This is not a hoax" at the beginning ;-)


Posted by:

SamiamHis
28 Jan 2016

Excellent article Bob. Thanks for your diligence in writing interesting and informative articles and archiving them so they can easily be found. I consider the forwarding of salacious articles or information to be no better than gossiping and a great robber of precious time. I too gently share from Truth or Fiction or Snopes the voracity of the article and encourage the use of these sites before sending any other information. It never seems to make a difference but I do try to encourage people to speak and share things that are true, encouraging and of good report. It cannot hurt to try!


Posted by:

Melanie
28 Jan 2016

I used to get these things forwarded to me all the time. I tried asking politely that folks check the veracity of things before they hit "send", but to no avail. So, I went all Crazy School Teacher on them and started using "reply all" back with excerpts from Snopes and a pointed response about how little time I had for such silliness and how sure I was that all the other people the sender had included would want to know that the item was patently false. That, along with a final line stating that I did not expect to get any future emails that had not be "Snopes-checked" pretty much got me off all the lists.


Posted by:

Stuart Berg
28 Jan 2016

Anytime anyone sends me hoaxes that they believe, I send them this link to a wonderful anti-hoax video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hD_zluGmQw


Posted by:

Shady Character
29 Jan 2016

Hi Bob, I'm a great admirer of your most interesting and valuable blog and always enjoy reading it. BUT I must take exception to your campaign urging the authorities to intercept online "Nigerian" scams which are actually among the leading sources of amusement on the Internet, It really is inconceivable that anyone can do other than laugh at inane messages similar to the typical one I received yesterday and which I have copied below for your and your readers' entertainment. Not only is Mrs. McGuire's attempted scam ridiculous and far-fetched but as is typical of the genre, the structure of the email itself is a dead giveaway. It isn't even addressed to an individual by name and it originated not from Nigeria as it claims but from ther middle of the Pacific Ocean, domain .cx - Christmas Island! Bob, don't destroy what is one of the best ongoing comedies. Incidentally, I have a great collection of scam-mail. Maybe someday I'll publish.
___________________________________________

From: Mrs Ethel mcguire

ANTI-TERRORIST MONETARY,CYBER RESPONSE AND CRIMES DIVISION FBI HEADQUARTERS WASHINGTON DC FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATIONS J.EDGAR HOOVER BUILDING 935 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE, NW WASHINGTON, D.C. 20535-0001


Our Ref: CBN /0N8/CONTRACT NO.856.
To. Beneficiary:


This is Agent Ethel McGuire and we are here in Nigeria as an FBI/UNITED NATION delegate that have been delegated to investigate these fraudsters who are in the business of swindling Foreigners that came for transaction in Nigeria .

Please be informed that during our investigation,we found out that there is a total sum amount of money $12.5 million that has been assigned in your name as the beneficiary and these fraudsters are busy swindling you without any hope of receiving your fund.

These are the works of the fraud stars who needed to extort money from you in the name of this transfer.We have to inform you that we have made some arrested in respect of this delayed over due fund. I have a very limited time to stay in Nigeria here so I advise you urgently respond to this message .

These criminals will be caught unaware and we don't want them to know this new development to avoid jeopardizing our investigation,you need to conceal anything that has to do with this exercise to enable us get all the necessary information we required.

I shall be expecting your swift response as soon as you receive this email.

Regards.
Agent Ethel McGuire
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION VISIT IN NIGERIA


Posted by:

Gene
29 Jan 2016

I am always amazed that some senders, when shown that some reputable hoax buster site has debunked their lame facebook forward, immediately point out that the hoax buster site has been proven wrong. Their proof? The sender of the hoax has told them.

I have yet had "ANY" hoax debunked by any of major hoax busters proven true. To my knowledge, the only time that SNOPES was found in error, was a minor technical issue with a tiny part of their article. Every other challenge, when researched, proved to be someone protecting their beliefs against proven facts.


Posted by:

Richard
29 Jan 2016

Howard says, "I have found Snopes not to be very accurate for many things. They tend to be VERY political in orientation and tend to agree with the main stream media on many things."

Can you give us an example, Howard, where Snopes is not very accurate?


Posted by:

GuitarRebel
29 Jan 2016

I've read a couple comments here that are critical of Snopes.
I've found no website in existence more meticulous about exposing lies, deceit and misinformation than Snopes.
The one constant comment I hear from people who are uninterested in the real truth is 'Who's snoping Snopes?'
Also, they're not political at all. If you see politics in it, you're deceiving nobody but yourself.


Posted by:

Jim
29 Jan 2016

Speaking to Don's post, I also found it ironic to see the "Trending Topics on the Web..." stories near the bottom of this web page. One choice topic, "7 Amazing Tricks to get ANY Woman Into Bed."

What I cannot speak to, but have wondered about is the relationship between the web page author and the ads like this which one so often sees. However, I assume the author has no control over what ads are shown by the internet ad gods. In any event the presence of the ads is ironic.


Posted by:

Tazio
29 Jan 2016

I too receive a steady stream of these types of forwards. I used to invest my time trying to educate the senders by sending them
comments from the Snopes website. Soon thereafter I began to receive replies such as Howard's about Snopes being inaccurate and having a political axe to grind, which I interpreted as "don't try to confuse me with facts, my mind is made up." It was then I decided to use my time more productively.


Posted by:

Old Man
29 Jan 2016

After reading the comments about "Trending Topics on the Web...", I looked for them. They are way past any information on the page.

If you find them offensive, do what I do - stop scrolling down when you get to the comment box. You'll never see them.

NOTE: Bob subscribes to an ad service. He has very little control over the ads they place on his site. At least Bob puts them at the bottom of the page where someone actually has to look for them.


Posted by:

bill
29 Jan 2016

Bob seems to have chosen a monetizing service that is heavily into the scam area.

If you preach against it, you might want to follow the preaching use an ad service that wasn't the sleaziest of any that I have seen on a site I go to for good information.

Hopefully, they pay you really good because if someone hasn't read much of your work, you might be judged by the "friends" you support.


Posted by:

Gloria Merle Huffman
29 Jan 2016

1/29/16 Richard: The "Snopes" couple is diligent but not above bending over backwards to the point of toppling over in order to appear to be giving a balanced view. Sometimes they are just wrong. But they have to protect themselves from people with the power to tear down their credibility and render them useless to society. If you read between the lines, you can usually sort fact and fiction in their own debunking style. The first time I was shocked to see them caught in supporting a lie was with regard to Obama's 3/4/2007 claim during his speech in Selma, Alabama, that his Nov. 1960 conception was the direct result of inspiration coming from the 3/7/1965 March in Selma which hadn’t even happened yet, plus his mistakes concerning the timing of the 1960 role of the Kennedys in a 1959 Kenya-U.S. scholarship program that sent Obama, Sr., to the U.S. in 1959. I made the following public post on my Gloria Merle Huffman Facebook page (where you can see all the gory details): "Thu., 3/12/2015 2:08 am EDT – HUFFMAN GIVES FAILING GRADE TO SNOPES!" In defense of the Snopes couple, I would say it's a good idea to tread softly when researching the veracity of people in control of deadly killer drones that can target and destroy individuals like Osama bin Laden, LOL! I addressed another example of Snopes carefully crafting their debunking language in a way that misleads the casual reader in my 1/19/2016 6:02 am EST Facebook reply to a friend of mine. I had posted (Public) on my Gloria Merle Huffman page on Facebook an old article about the testimony of Darrell Scott, father of a young victim in the Columbine shooting: my post began "Mon., 1/18/2016 8:10 pm EST - Prayer reinstated April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School." Again, I went into exquisite detail in my reply to my friend Mike. Both of these examples involved President Obama (his speech and his gun control campaign), so they could be considered to be political, as "Howard" said, and the snopes.com slant did indeed agree with the mainstream media's policy of rubber-stamping the President and protecting the credibility of our Commander-in-Chief ([Power #2] whose credibility is essential for the integrity of our military [Power #3] and can only be officially undermined by citizens [Power #1] voting at the ballot box at election time).


Posted by:

Glenda Oakley
30 Jan 2016

Who cares what's at the bottom of this web page? They are ads...Not Bob's ads. No one has to look at anything they don't want to. I wonder how long they have been there...well I have not even noticed them. Great as always to read your newsletter Bob!


Posted by:

Dan Sullivan
02 Feb 2016

Lincoln couldn't have said that about the Internet. Everyone knows Al Gore invented the Internet in the 1990s.


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