Hoaxes and email chain letters


Chain letters are all too familiar to most email users. Emails instructing recipients to 'forward to 10 other people', or even 'forward to everyone you know', have been circulating since the early days of the internet. Many of them are little changed since that time, while some introduce new themes and fresh topics.

Some carry serious messages and tragic stories, often accompanied by improbable claims that money will somehow be raised for the subject of the story, courtesy of some kind philanthropist or corporation. Some promise incredible rewards for those who pass on the message. Some feature full-blown scams, instructing recipients to pass on personal data or even cash as part of the process. Others spread unlikely urban myths and hoaxes, many of which have featured computer viruses.

The common attribute of all these emails is the appeal to forward the message to many people. However, such an action - no matter how well-meaning - is not helpful. Aside from the increased network load, adding to the flooding of inboxes with unwanted spam email, another unwanted consequence is the forwarding of large numbers of email addresses, thanks to the common use of simple forwarding and cc features. Some chain letters may have been set up for the very purpose of gathering email data in this way, for use in spamming. Another result is that the hoax becomes 'well known' and listed on pages such as these. This fame (of sorts) no doubt leads to some degree of satisfaction for the hoax perpetrator, encouraging them to continue spreading such dubious chain mails.

Virus Hoaxes

Virus hoaxes have long been a popular topic of chain mails spread around the email system. One of the main reasons for this is that they play on people's ignorance - users are understandably concerned about viruses, and so consider it 'helpful' if, as suggested by the majority of hoaxes, they forward the message to all contacts in their address book.

Virus hoaxes are characterised by warnings of highly virulent malware with exaggerated destructive power. 'New' virus hoaxes are, more often than not, merely old ones that have been recycled, with a few minor changes or additions. As such, it is possible to spot the tell-tale signs of a hoax. Typical phrases in the body of a virus hoax are:

  • Do not open! Doing so will result in the deletion of all of the files on your hard drive!
  • Forward this message to all your friends!

If you receive a virus warning message, do not forward the warning message to all your friends/colleagues, as it may suggest in the text. Using the resources below, you will be able to quickly ascertain whether the warning is genuine, and what action you should take. If you have verified that the message is a hoax, simply delete it. If you are unsure, forward the message to your IT administrator. Failing that, forward it to hoax@virusbtn.com.

External hoax, chain letter and scam resources

The following sites contain lots of useful information about virus hoaxes, chain letters and other electronic scams, and are worth consulting:

Hoax listings

Additionally, the following is a list of the most common virus hoaxes. Many of these continue to circulate, often in modified form with dates, virus names and vulnerabilities updated to fit in with the times.