Dear Well Meaning Forwarders of Virus Alert E-mails,

First of all, let me thank you for your consideration. You got an e-mail about the existence of a virus. It could be a virus that comes in the form of a greeting card or the form of a silly photo of our president. The kind of damage might range from the destruction of your hard drive to just forwarding itself to everyone in your address book. When you saw that virus alert, you thought of me and hit that forward button — you don’t want me to get the virus.

Here’s the thing, though — and again, I do appreciate the thought that went into hitting the forward button and then putting my address with a few dozen others in the to: box — most of the warnings that you are sending me are completely hoaxes.

You may be thinking to yourself, “How was I supposed to know it was a hoax? It’s not like there’s some web site that distinguishes hoax virus e-mails from the real ones!” Well, the good news comes in two parts. The first part is that nearly one hundred percent of virus e-mails you see are hoaxes. The second part is that there is a web site like that — there are a few, really. I prefer the one called Snopes. The reason I like Snopes comes from their Frequently Asked Questions :

Q: How do I know the information you’ve presented is accurate?

A: We don’t expect anyone to accept us as the ultimate authority on any topic. Unlike the plethora of anonymous individuals who create and send the unsigned, unsourced e-mail messages that are forwarded all over the Internet, we show our work. The research materials we’ve used in the preparation of any particular page are listed in the bibliography displayed at the bottom of that page so that readers who wish to verify the validity of our information may check those sources for themselves.

Some of the e-mails you have forwarded contain exclamations that the virus has been verified on Snopes and is definitely real. Let me tell you that this should serve as a warning flag. If an e-mail says that a virus has been checked on Snopes, that just means the e-mail is trying to prevent you from checking Snopes yourself. Moreover, it means that it was definitely NOT checked on Snopes.

As a mostly related side note, if you get an e-mail promising you untold riches from a prince in Nigeria, it’s definitely also a hoax. This holds true even if they only want minor pieces of information, or a few thousand dollars from you as a security.

Best,

Gordon Davidescu
Recipient of Too Many Virus Alerts

4 Comments

  1. Gordon wrote: “If an e-mail says that a virus has been checked on Snopes, that just means the e-mail is trying to prevent you from checking Snopes yourself. Moreover, it means that it was definitely NOT checked on Snopes.”

    I used to get this stuff incessantly. That was usually a red flag in my mind to go to Snopes, Urban Legends, and ANY other debunking website I could fiind. The ‘well-meaning’ forwards in my mind were more the ‘threat’
    “like” “like” “like”