How to Spot Scams, Hoaxes, Urban Legends
Did you know? Mister Rogers always wore a long-sleeved sweater to hide the tattoos he got as a Marine Corps sniper. AI-powered robots killed 29 Japanese scientists. And yikes... 40 Mexican hackers have infiltrated your Amazon account! 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. Have a look back at the best April Fools Pranks of 2022. Some are funny, some are weird, and some are just dumb, like the dating site that puts prospective couples on matching bidets.
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 the site gets over 300,000 visitors per day. (Be sure to check the Hot 50 to see some of most intriguing items currently making the online rounds.)
Every time I mention Snopes, some readers comment about a perceived liberal bias there. I don't know if that's true, but it's good to have options. Scambusters is another site that 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.
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.
The Love of Money...
Have you received a text or email claming that a large purchase was just made on your Amazon account? These messages come with a link to "verify the purchase" or "secure your account" but they are of course scams. Login directly to your Amazon account (if you have one), click to view your recent orders, and you'll see no sign of south-of-the-border hackery.
The "overpayment scam" comes into play when you put an item up for sale online, and the buyer "accidentally" sends you a check for 1000 dollars instead of 10. "Just a simple typo," they claim, and ask you to kindly send them a check for $990 to refund the overpayment. But by the time you learn that the $1000 check was bogus, the scammers have already cashed yours. The numbers will vary, but the gist of the scam is the same. Watch out for this type of scam on Craigslist or other online marketplaces where buyers and sellers deal directly.
I regularly get phone calls originating from Jamaica, informing me that I won a multi-million dollar lottery, and a new Mercedes Benz. Of course, there's a
fee for shipping, taxes, insurance, and customs processing, so would I kindly provide my banking details? "No thanks," I tell the caller. "I won last month, and I don't have room for another Mercedes in my garage." Click. The tipoff for these calls is the 876 area code, but the bottom line is that you should never send money to claim a prize of any sort.
Scammers are also targeting older folks with phone calls, claiming that their online bank account was hacked. They'll provide instructions to download a program or mobile app to secure the account. Just hang up and call your bank if you have any doubts about the security of your financial accounts.
Of course, there’s also money to be made by debunking hoaxes. There are many debunking websites in addition to those mentioned above. UrbanLegendsOnline.com, Factcheck.org 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.
Google has announced a crackdown on fake news websites, cutting them off from the advertising programs that make it profitable for them to continue. Facebook has rolled out tools that make it easier to report hoaxes and fake news. 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, fake news story, or urban legend is about to be sent or received?
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 17 Oct 2022
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- How to Spot Scams, Hoaxes, Urban Legends (Posted: 17 Oct 2022)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved