Email and IM Safety

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How to Avoid Receiving Hoax Emails


If you are a normal email user, you probably get at least one hoax message per week, forwarded to you by a naïve or gullible friend or relative. Some hoax messages are easy to spot, others are not. Perhaps the most difficult ones to ignore and delete are the chain letters concerning missing children. This form of spam is a problem because it appears to be legitimate and, naturally, one wants to assist in the efforts to help find an abducted child.

However, experts believe that using email to inform the public of an abduction is not effective as there is no way to update or recall a message after it starts being randomly blasted across the Internet to hundreds, then thousands and, maybe, millions of online mailboxes.

In some cases, thechild is quickly located but the email takes on a life of its own, spreading around the world via the Internet, and still popping up years later. In other cases, immature individuals create a hoax just for the thrill of getting people excited and anxious, seeing how big a splash they can make as the hoax spreads around the world in days or weeks.

At, web site founder JohnR. Ratliff says, “Many spammers and scam artists now employ or seek outchain letters…to build their mailing lists. When you forward a …hoax on to others, you're putting your email address and likely those of your friends and family out in the wild to be collected. If you've been wondering why you get so much unwanted email, the answer may be no further than your ‘Forward’ button. The more junk you send, the more you will receive. Don't want the junk? Break this chain.”

Below is the text from a missing child hoax email that has been bouncing around the Internet for years. It always comes with a photo of a young smiling teenager (that we are not allowed to reprint here due to liability concerns).

Maybe if everyone passes this on, someone will see this child. That is how the girl from Stevens Point was found by circulation of her picture on tv. The internet circulates even overseas, South America, and Canada etc. Thanks

Please pass this to everyone in your address book.

We have a Deli manager (Acme Markets) from Philadelphia, Pa who has a 13 year old daughter who has been missing for 2 weeks.

Keep the picture moving on. With luck on her side she will be found.

I am asking you all, begging you to please forward this email on to anyone and everyone you know, PLEASE. My 13 year old girl, Ashley Flores, is missing. She has been missing for now two weeks.

It is still not too late. Please help us. If anyone any where knows anything, please contact me at:

I am including a picture of her. All prayers are appreciated!!

It only takes 2 seconds to forward this.

If it was your child, you would want all the help you could get. says the following about the Ashley Flores hoax: “The Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the authority on runaway and child abduction cases in the U.S., has no record for Ashley Flores and a search of major news sources turns up no stories on her supposed disappearance. Consistent with most email hoaxes about missing children, this one contains very few details you'd expect to see in a plea for help, like the girl's height, weight, eye color, last known location,etc. [Also,] the email address given in the message does not work.”

How to Avoid Being Taken In

One of the simplest ways to avoid being taken in by a hoax or participating in a chain email’s distribution is to have comprehensive computer security software like McAfee® products, which feature a spam filter that screens and segregates spam and phishing email messages. Be sure that whatever software you employ has automatic program and anti-spam rule updates so that your protection is always prepared for current threats.

Another way to handle a potential hoax email that may have slipped past your computer’s spam defense is simply to do some online research. It will only take a few moments. Before you forward an email, do everyone a favor and enter the “missing”child’s name or the subject line into your favorite search engine.

Below are the results when “Ashley Flores” is Searched on the Web:

Web Search Results

It should be obvious that when you see phrases like “urban legend,” “fiction,” and “hoax” in the search-result descriptions, you will know not to forward such email. By not adding to the billions of spam messages flying around the Internet into already-bloated email boxes, you are doing everyone a favor and protecting yourself from future hoaxes and scam email.

In summary, take the following precautions to avoid spamming and hoax problems:

  1. Employ comprehensive computer security software that has a spam filter feature, like a product from McAfee.
  2. Before you forward a message, do a little online research to ensure the email is not a hoax.
  3. Avoid forwarding messages because it exposes your email address and your friends’ email addresses to the possibility of ending up on spammers’ mailing lists.

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