How to Recognize Online Hoaxes So You Don’t Accidentally Fall Victim

Hoaxes have been around for decades, and most of them aren’t really getting any more sophisticated. The medium may change (e.g. Facebook messages instead of email), but the substance is often similar. A good rule of thumb is to simply avoid messages that request you forward them on to all your friends. We’ll delve a little deeper into what you should look out for though.

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1. You won’t receive free stuff for forwarding a message.

No company is going to give you anything in exchange for sending private messages to any number of your friends. While legitimate referral systems do exist, they don’t work by simply forwarding emails or private social media messages. Unless they give you a personal referral link, there’s no way for them to know who you’ve told. The companies mentioned in these types of hoaxes couldn’t track your emails or Facebook messages even if they wanted to.

2. “Don’t Add <Insert Name Here>” warnings, simply put, are a hoax.

Those messages warning you not to add someone as a friend or contact are part of an ongoing hoax. This type of message, sadly, preys on our instincts to look out for one another. A good rule of thumb is not to add or “friend” anyone you don’t know just for your own security. However, you won’t suddenly get a virus if you do add someone on Facebook/messenger/etc. Just don’t click links or accept files from sources you don’t trust.

3. Watch out for generic messages.

Forwarded messages that were not written by the person sending it to you can be a major red flag. That’s especially true of messages that are also addressed to a large, often generic, group of people.

4. Overly emphatic language is also a red flag.

Is the message loaded with CAPITALIZED WORDS and exclamation marks?!!!! It’s probably safe to assume it’s not real.

5. No official warning will urge you to warn your friends.

If there’s an actual threat, you’ll be able to find information through official channels. When something says, “send this to everyone you know,” there’s a very good chance it’s a hoax.

6. Consider the source.

Credible warnings from legitimate sources will not come in the form of forwarded messages from your friends. And while a warning may mention a credible source like Microsoft or Intel, that doesn’t mean it’s genuine. Always check the company’s official website to see if there is actual cause for alarm.

7. Don’t believe everything that you read.

Absolute statements such as “this is NOT a hoax,” tend to imply it is, in fact, a hoax. Some hoaxes go so far as to preface their message with a claim that they’ve “confirmed it’s true.” Sometimes, they’ll even mention trustworthy fact-checking sources assuming you won’t double check the legitimacy of their claim.

8. When in doubt, consult with a fact-checking website.

There are several popular websites dedicated to keeping you apprised as to what’s a hoax and what’s not. Check sites like Snopes, Hoax-Slayer, or TruthOrFiction if you’re unsure about something you see online.