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E-mail hoaxes abound, beware

Thursday, April 30, 2009 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:33 p.m. CDT, Sunday, May 3, 2009

As a journalist and teacher, I read e-mail pleas with a wary eye, asking questions and doing some research. Sometimes that means an e-mail to a government agency or visiting Web sites like www.hoax-slayer.com. Sometimes I go to the “source.”

Sometimes they are real. A pleading e-mail came from my church, “Missing - Ashley Friel - Please Help Us Find Her.” These types of e-mails always catch my eyes for one reason alone – I am never sure if they are true or another hoax wandering the Internet. This one happened to be true; I know the originator of the e-mail. The story does have a happy ending and Ashley is safely home.

I receive one or two of these each week, usually from well-meaning people who believe that the world would end if the word did not get out. Most e-mails concern a new way to make money, a lost child or a total lack of patriotism by our own government.

One of my favorite starts with a guaranty and warning. “OK guys, my lawyer's paralegal sent this one to me and if it doesn't work, they are aware that we all will be coming to visit them for a lawsuit for false advertisement! J.”

It continues, “Dear Friends: Please do not take this for a junk letter. Bill Gates’ is sharing his fortune. If you ignore this, you will repent later.”

But wait, I am still repenting for eating rye bread during Passover. Can I repent twice at the same time? Is Bill really offering me $10,000 just for calling someone and forwarding this e-mail? Will the Cubs win the World Series in 2009? I don’t think so.

After some quick research, I wrote back, “OK folks – Another hoax! Read all about it on www.hoax-slayer.com/ms-money-giveway-hoax.html.”  

Sadder still, this was forwarded to me by a former financial examiner for the state of Colorado. She apologized but did not learn.

She sent another two months later. “DON'T EVER DIAL AREA CODE 809.” If you do you will be charged “$2425 per-minute.” According to Hoax-Slayer, another hoax. By the way, the $2425 is up from 25 cents in the original 1996 e-mail.

A prominent tax and bankruptcy attorney forwarded an e-mail that claims the “federal government provides a single (illegal alien over 65) with a (total) monthly allowance… of $2,470 a month.” Is this a great country or what?

America is not that great. Social Security Administration spokesperson Mark Lassiter wrote stating that there are so many inconsistencies in the original e-mail that, “In short, I cannot point to anything in the e-mail as fact.” In a word: Hoax.

I decided to see how gullible 30 people I know truly are. A friend, knowing my craving for a 1997 Corvette convertible, sent me two pictures and a note. The note talked about conversion kits for the Smart Four-Two car. The first picture shows the two-passenger, 1-liter, 70-horsepower gas-miser. The second was the “kit” version, a foreshortened Corvette. The picture is a real Corvette Photoshopped. I laughed.

My version of the hoax had the “Corvette” picture and a short note saying I was “given” the new Chevrolet for one month of testing. That a GM spokesperson said it was Chevy’s way of meeting the Fed’s bailout requirements. That it sounds “like a lawn tractor on steroids.” That the picture was of me driving through the hills of Missouri. All false. A hoax.

Nine of 10 believed the e-mail to be true. Sounds like a toothpaste commercial.

So next time you receive an e-mail plea, take the advice of Theodor Geisel, Dr. Seuss, from his speech “Uncle Terwilliger.”

“My uncle ordered popovers/ from the restaurant's bill of fare./ And, when they were served he regarded them/ with a penetrating stare .../ Then he spoke great Words of Wisdom as he sat there on that chair:/ ‘To eat these things,’ said my uncle,/ ‘you must exercise great care./ You may swallow down what's solid .../BUT ... be sure to spit out the air!’”

David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Besides the Missourian, David is also a featured columnist for MissouriTribune.com and TRCB.com.  He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.

 


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