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How to spot an Email Hoax – Guide to Recognizing Hoaxes

by Brett M. Christensen

Spotting an email hoax may be easier than you think!

There are thousands of email hoaxes moving around the Internet at any given time. These email hoaxes cover a range of subject matter, including:

  • Supposedly free giveaways in exchange for forwarding emails.
  • Bogus virus alerts.
  • False appeals to help sick children.
  • Pointless petitions that lead nowhere and accomplish nothing.
  • Dire, and completely fictional, warnings about products, companies, government policies or coming events

The good news is that, with a little bit of foreknowledge, email hoaxes are easy to detect. Hidden within the colourful prose of your average email hoax often lurk telling indicators of the email’s veracity.

Probably the most obvious of these indicators is a line such as “Send this email to everyone in your address book”. Hoax writers want their material to spread as far and as fast as possible, so almost every hoax email will in some way exhort you to send it to other people. Some email hoaxes take a more targeted approach and suggest that you send the email to a specified number of people in order to collect a prize or realize a benefit.  
Another giveaway is that hoaxes tend not to provide checkable references to back up their spurious claims. Genuine competitions, promotions, giveaways or charity drives will usually provide a link to a company website or publication. Real virus warnings are likely to include a link to a reputable virus information website. Emails containing Government or company policy information are likely to include references to checkable sources such as news articles, websites or other publications.

A third indicator is often the actual language used. Email hoax writers have a tendency to use an emotive, “over-the-top” style of writing peppered with words and phrases such as “Urgent”, “Danger”, “worst ever virus!!”, “sign now before it’s too late” and so on, often rendered in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS for added emphasis. Paragraphs dripping with pathos speak of dying children; others “shout” with almost rabid excitement about free air travel or mobile phones. As well, some email hoaxes try to add credibility by using highly technical language.

Before forwarding an email, asks yourself these questions:

  1. Does the email ask you to send it to a lot of other people?
  2. Does the email fail to provide confirmation sources?
  3. Is the language used overly emotive or highly technical?

A “yes” answer to one or more of the above questions should start some alarm bells ringing. These indicators do not offer conclusive evidence that the email is a hoax but they are certainly enough to warrant further investigation before you hit the “Forward” Button.

Importance Notice

After considerable thought and with an ache in my heart, I have decided that the time has come to close down the Hoax-Slayer website.

These days, the site does not generate enough revenue to cover expenses, and I do not have the financial resources to sustain it going forward.

Moreover, I now work long hours in a full-time and physically taxing job, so maintaining and managing the website and publishing new material has become difficult for me.

And finally, after 18 years of writing about scams and hoaxes, I feel that it is time for me to take my fingers off the keyboard and focus on other projects and pastimes.

When I first started Hoax-Slayer, I never dreamed that I would still be working on the project all these years later or that it would become such an important part of my life. It's been a fantastic and engaging experience and one that I will always treasure.

I hope that my work over the years has helped to make the Internet a little safer and thwarted the activities of at least a few scammers and malicious pranksters.

A Big Thank You

I would also like to thank all of those wonderful people who have supported the project by sharing information from the site, contributing examples of scams and hoaxes, offering suggestions, donating funds, or helping behind the scenes.

I would especially like to thank David White for his tireless contribution to the Hoax-Slayer Facebook Page over many years. David's support has been invaluable, and I can not thank him enough.

Closing Date

Hoax-Slayer will still be around for a few weeks while I wind things down. The site will go offline on May 31, 2021. While I will not be publishing any new posts, you can still access existing material on the site until the date of closure.

Thank you, one and all!

Brett Christensen,
Hoax-Slayer