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How to Identify an Email Hoax

Debopriya Bose
Have you ever got an email that claims you have won a lottery or free air tickets, although you can't recall entering any such contest? If the answer is yes, then you have been a victim of an email hoax. Read on to know how to identify such emails.
Email is a quick and efficient mode of communication, that allows us to reach a large number of people at the same time. It also facilitates communication, by allowing us to transfer files and documents. Not only has it become popular with common people, but has also become an indispensable tool for business marketing and improving customer service.
However, just like every other innovation of man has been exploited, emails too have been misused to spread rumors, computer viruses, and hoaxes. Educating ourselves about such malpractices will help us to better utilize the Internet.


Knowing the types of email hoaxes is the first step towards dealing with them. Most of these fall in these categories.
  • Mails that appeal to help someone in trouble, like missing child or charity hoaxes.
  • False virus alerts or bogus warnings.
  • Email chain letters.
  • Emails that promise free gifts or cash rewards on forwarding.
  • Emails that make petitions and protests.

Identifying Such Emails

These emails have a few peculiarities which expose them and give them away, most commonly one or all of the following.
  • A hoaxer wants his message to spread across as many recipients as possible. Phrases like forward this to everyone you know or forward this email to all the people in your address book are very commonly used lines in email hoaxes.
Some emails might also specify a certain number of people that it should be forwarded to, so you can win a prize or gain a benefit.
  • Note the language of the mail. Hoax emails typically use an 'over the top' style of writing. Words like urgent, danger, and hurry are typical; for greater effect, these words are written in all caps.
There are certain hoax emails that appeal to help dying children or people hit by some calamity. Such mails use language dripping with emotion; be skeptical and use your own judgment before forwarding such mails.
  • Hoax emails try to sound authentic by claiming to be backed by some government organization or big corporate entity. If that is the case, then look for some sign of genuine involvement of such an entity. Try to search for a way you could contact those organizations; if such a way is not readily available, it is probably a hoax email that you are reading.
  • These mails do not provide verifiable evidence or links to other sites related to the content of the mail. For example, if the mail seems to be an alert for some virus, look for a link to some other site that corroborates the information.
Also look for the signature of the sender in the email. If there is no reference of the person or organization who sent the mail, it's time to reconsider the veracity of the mail.
Email hoaxes are generally harmless as they are not meant to spread viruses or collect personal information of unsuspecting users. However, it can be assumed that the hoaxer just wants to see how far his nonsensical mail can travel through the Internet.
Sometimes these can also be used to discredit some product or a company. Although they are different from phishing, a spammer can deliberately create email hoaxes to collect email addresses for use on spam lists.
Educating ourselves about the various forms of malpractices prevalent in the online world will help us contribute towards tightening Internet security. Detecting email hoaxes is no rocket science. Besides these tips, a little bit of alertness and relying on one's judgment can be of great help to keep a check on such nuisance.