Follow up question from last week’s column: “Do I recommend seminars and workshops from the Small Business Development Center (SBDC)?” Yes I do; they’re normally well planned and reasonably priced and address issues that business people (and individuals) can learn from. See their Web at www.georgiasbdc.org and look for the one nearest you.
This week, let’s focus on some ways to keep egg off our faces. I’m talking about how to avoid forwarding email messages that sound like the real thing and then turn out to be misleading, taken out of context or just plain false. Eating crow is not something we enjoy doing, so how can we avoid jumping to conclusions?
Very often urban legends and scam emails are forwarded with some sense of urgency so that we’ll be prompted to passing them on without proper scrutiny. Some appeal to our sense of charity ( a sick child for example) or maybe an urge for pecuniary gain. Sometimes they sound a little shady, but not really illegal. They often start with, some reference to credibility and claim to have been checked out by a highly reputable and well known body or means.
The” Microsoft/AOL Giveaway” scam is a great example. This hoax started back in 1997 and makes the rounds every few months with the names of the companies changed and some fresh new rewards available to the scamee (my word). Does this sound familiar? ”For every person that you forward this email to, Microsoft will pay you $245 as part of a beta testing program.” This one is usually further embellished by a personal note from the purported sender who didn’t believe it at first, but reluctantly sent off the emails and then received a check for over $20,000. That’ll get your attention! But does it sound a little too good to be true? Does Bill Gates really want to get rid of half his fortune by just writing a few random checks?
Some of the scams are political in nature and play to our prejudices or sense of fair play. These are the ones that really make us feel silly when we forward them without scrutiny. Can I say “burned”?
What’s the harm you say? Spam already makes up the majority of email traffic, forwarding these worthless scams only makes it worse. So what can we do? There are several Websites that specialize in identifying, classifying and documenting so called urban legends or hoaxes. Snopes is probably the best known, Scambusters is another. You can either go directly to one of these sites and search for information about a particular suspected scam or you can just do a direct Google Search. I have very good luck just copying a part of the suspect email to my clipboard and then pasting it directly into a Google Search Box. Often you’ll be directed to an article on Snopes or some other myth debunking site. By the way, one of the ruses currently in vogue is to assert as part of the email that the writer has already checked this out on Snopes. Discern and Conquer!