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E-mail hoaxes recycle real-world urban legends


With cooler weather and shorter days, it seems that the family activity is beginning to shift back indoors in preparation for winter.

And if like my family, yours is getting more Internet-active all the time, being indoors more also means more time spent online.

Within my own family circles, e-mail is becoming increasing popular. And with e-mail comes the inevitable arrival of e-mail hoaxes and scams.

SATANIC CONNECTION. An old hoax that predates the popularity of e-mail has resurfaced as a message connecting Proctor & Gamble with the devil.

I first heard this allegation in 1980, along with the "proof" -- their logo on their product labels wouldn't burn when exposed to fire.

Both, of course, were falsehoods.

Nearly 20 years later, via the Internet the legend has evolved and grown.

In the latest version, the company president allegedly admits his ties to Satan on an episode of Sally Jesse Raphael. When asked if the admission would hurt P&G revenues, the official allegedly states "There are not enough Christians in the United States to make a difference."

Again, the rumor is false, and Proctor & Gamble has been actively working to stamp it out, including lawsuits against some individuals known to have spread the misinformation.

MICROSOFT HOAXES. Another popular hoax resurfaced recently regarding software giant Microsoft Corp.

This hoax states that Microsoft is conducting an e-mail beta test. Simply forward the e-mail message you receive, and you'll receive $5 for every person you send it to. You'll also receive $3 for each of those who forward it, and a $1 for each of the third group who forward the message and so on.

Do the math with this little equation, and you'll see that if they had a fairly good test result, testers could quickly suck the company's coffers dry in payouts!

If you've had e-mail for six months or more, you've probably seen a couple of similar versions of this Microsfot e-mail.

In another version, Disney and Microsoft have allegedly teamed up and will enter folks in a drawing for a free vacation. Other variations include free merchandise and a $1,000 bill.

The one thing they share in common is they're all false.

TRUTH DETECTOR. To keep yourself from falling for these sometimes-easy-to-believe e-mails, the best thing to do is to arm yourself with factual information.

The Web sites listed below are great sources for information on the latest hoaxes and scams. They might even save you time and a bit of embarassment from forwarding them on to co-workers or family members.

The AFU & Urban Legends Archive, at www.urbanlegends.com, covers both online and offline hoaxes and urban legends.

The site's content is divided into categories. I recommend scrolling down the page to the "What's New!" link. Chances are you'll find the hoax you're looking for.

Urban Legends Reference Pages, at http://snopes.simplenet.com/, is another source for checking that e-mail that sounds too good to be true.

I used this site recently to confirm that the e-mail warning regarding poisonous South American spiders hiding under toilet seats (and appropriately named "arachnius gluteus") was false.

Occasionally, a rumor you read has some basis in truth, and you'll find this information as well in the Reference Pages.

The final Web site in my hoax arsenal is the Computer Virus Myths home page, found online at http://kumite.com/myths/.

This site focuses on computer virus hoaxes that circulate, as well as misconceptions about threats from real viruses.

Next to my news links in my bookmarks or favorite sites list, this list of hoax buster sites are three of the ones I use most, and come highly recommend by yours truly.

In fact, I use these sites so often I've added links to them from my own Web site for my own personal reference. Just visit my site (www.myoldkentuckyhome) to find a link there.

HOAX-SPOTTING TIPS. Hoax e-mails share a couple of common traits that are worth mentioning.

1. Any e-mail message that suggests the recipient "send this to as many people as you can" is most likely a hoax.

2. Anything that sounds unbelieveable, or too good to be true, probably is. Check with national media Web sites like CNN (www.cnn.com) if the item sounds like it's possibly true. You can conduct a search for a news item that might confirm the message.

GREAT PLATES. The state of Virginai unveiled the nation's first Internet-themed custom car license tags last week.

The new tags allow up to six letters, and a special graphic makes them appear to end with the ".com" suffix. Together, the stamping makes the plate resemble a Web address.

The tag will proclaim the state as "the Internet Capital", since it the home to the once-dominant domain name registration company, Network Solutions.

PNC CD AUCTION. PNC Bank kicked off its first auction of Certificate of Deposits (CDs) last week.

Fifty CDs, each 12-month term and valued at $5,000, will be available at the auction. The auction period runs through Sept. 27.

The maximum opening bid accepted will be 10 percent APY (annual percentage yield), which compares nicely to the national average of 5.28 percent for CDs nationally.

For more details, bidders should visit the PNC Web site at www.pncbank.com and take time to register.

A second auction period will run from Sept. 28 through Oct. 4.

NET LOSSES. If you're making plans to open a business on the Web, you better do your homework first, according to a new study.

Nearly 75 percent of all new online ventures are doomed to failure, according to a recent study released by the Gartner Group.

The reasons for failure in cyberspace mirror the reasons why business fail in the "real world" -- poor planning, along with unrealistic expectations.

Most companies planning e-commerce ventures don't understand the new technology, and can easily wander away from proven business strategies.

The Gartner Group offered five pitfalls to avoid for anyone considering an online venture:

Remember that e-commerce is just a tool for business, and is a means to an end -- not the end itself.

Don't neglect good project management skills when planning your electronic business. Plan the project and track its progress.

Be sure any new technology implemented is part of a sound business goal, Gartner's analysts suggest.

Build a business model that includes using new technologies to attract new customers and reach new markets.

Track your competitors, and watch out for new entries in your field. Expect, prepare for and embrace change.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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