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How to determine if an e-mail is a hoax or an urban legend

Updated December 23, 2009

The information below was provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

It is important to be aware of possible e-mail hoaxes and urban legends. Some e-mail messages are more suspicious than others, but be especially cautious if the message has any of the following characteristics. These characteristics are just guidelines; keep in mind that not every hoax or urban legend has these attributes, and some legitimate messages may have some of these characteristics.

  • The message suggests tragic consequences for not performing some action;
  • It promises money or gift certificates for performing some action;
  • It offers instructions or attachments claiming to protect you from a virus that is undetected by anti-virus software;
  • It claims it is not a hoax;
  • There are multiple spelling or grammatical errors, or the logic is contradictory;
  • There is a statement urging you to forward the message; or
  • It has already been forwarded multiple times (evident from the trail of e-mail headers in the body of the message).

If you want to check the validity of an e-mail, the following websites provide information about hoaxes and urban legends:


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