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Myth Buster: Internet Hoaxes

MYTH: Entering your PIN in reverse order at an ATM machine will summon the police. … Starbucks has refused to donate coffee to U.S. troops because the company is opposed to the Iraq war. ... A billionaire has promised to donate 5 cents to help save the life of a dying child every time an e-mail about the child's plight is forwarded. ... Microsoft will pay you $1,000 to forward an e-mail testing its new tracking system. ... And so on …

FACTS: You've probably received e-mail containing these stories, or similar ones. Maybe you've even forwarded them—you're not entirely sure the information is true, but it can't hurt to pass it on, right?

Perhaps not, but you might be perpetuating an Internet hoax.

If you know where to look, you can easily determine the veracity of e-mail chain letters and other Internet urban legends. Snopes.com provides detailed information on the origins and life cycles of various scams, shams, hoaxes and hokum—online and offline—and includes a section exclusively addressing e-mail hoaxes. You can search by keyword or category and stay up to date by checking out the "What’s New" page.

The online fraud clearinghouse ScamBusters.org and About.com's Urban Legends section also contain information about pervasive Web hoaxes, misinformation and tall tales. All three sites offer free e-newsletters that deliver the latest in Net lore.  

What are dead giveaways that a message is a hoax? "If an e-mail says 'Forward this to everyone you know,' it's a scam," says Audri Lanford, co-director of ScamBusters.org. "And anything that says you'll be getting money for forwarding e-mails is an urban legend. In most cases, that's not even trackable."

For the record, the ATM, Starbucks, billionaire and Microsoft stories are all, decidedly, false.

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