Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Devious Internet Hoaxes forwarded by Tony Cucurullo:

Don't get snared by the latest wave of phony alerts and shams.

Internet pranksters are out in full force these days. Mixed in with the reams of junk e-mail that fill your in-box are warnings about catastrophic new viruses, massive sharks in the ocean, and unbelievable offers of free money from Mr. Bill Gates himself or perhaps a stranger in a foreign land. Although some people have fallen hook, line, and sinker for various ruses, these messages usually turn out to be pure scams or chain letters.

Check out our list of the latest Internet hoaxes that are jamming our in-boxes. Some of the hoaxes might sound familiar, or perhaps you've run into slight variations on their themes:

10. Bill Gates Has Cash for You

The ostensible Bill Gates may have reached out to you before in other bogus e-mail messages, but this time he is telling you that you have won something. And you're in luck. A check is in the mail. This e-mail, which contains a lot of inane tax information, lets you know that the "Bill Gates E-Mail Beta Test" has been completed. And as a participant, you will receive a check for roughly $28,000. (You remember signing up for that particular beta test, right?)

You are asked to contact the person listed in the message. Sadly, the phone number rings through to a telemarketing company that sells herbal supplements. The e-mail address turns out to be lycos.com--not microsoft.com. The physical address in Washington, D.C., doesn't exist. Remember the old adage, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

To see more about the variations on the Bill Gates hoaxes, visit HoaxBusters. For details about similar hoaxes doing the rounds, check out About's Hoax Encyclopedia or HoaxBusters' category list.

9. Do Damage to Your PC

It's amazing how many people mess up their own PCs by following the advice of a hysterical non-expert--often someone they don't even know. One e-mail, which is still on the loose and has several variations, urges you to delete an executable "virus" called jdbgmgr.exe. The e-mail tells you that the virus avoids detection by antivirus programs like McAfee VirusScan or Norton AntiVirus. It also says that jdbgmgr.exe will stay quiet for 14 days before damaging your machine and deleting files. However, jdbgmgr.exe is not a virus and can do no harm to your computer. Jdbgmgr.exe is the Java Debugger Manager--a part of Windows. If you delete the file, then some Web sites that rely on Java won't function properly when you visit them.

If you believed this hoax and deleted the program, don't despair. Microsoft tells you how to replace jdbgmgr.exe if you zapped it. For additional details about the Java Debugger Manager hoax, visit Vmyths.com. You can also browse through Vymths.com's A to Z listing of hoaxes. For tips on how to identify the red flags, check out "How to Spot Virus Hoaxes a Mile Off."

8. MSN Gobbledygook

If you encounter an e-mail subject line with unpronounceable mumbo jumbo, chances are it's a sham. One such e-mail chain letter tells MSN users that their screen name has been added to the MSN ß®øöô¥£.¼ Hacker List and threatens to harm them if they don't pass the e-mail on. Naturally, as with most chain letters, recipients will be spared the harm if they simply forward the e-mail.

In this case, recipients got specific instructions: They needed to forward the e-mail to 10 people within 45 minutes of opening the message. The group making the threat claims to be able to track recipients' e-mail activity to determine whether the orders were followed. Not to worry, such e-mail tracking is generally not possible. If you get this one, delete it and move on with your day.

For the full text of the chain letter, see HoaxBusters and click the link for the MSN ß®øöô¥£.¼ Hacker List Threat.

7. IRS False Alarm

Here's a scam about a scam that didn't happen. It begins with an e-mail claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service. This e-mail warns people that a non-IRS source is conducting a scam "e-audit," asking taxpayers to submit social security numbers, bank account numbers, and other confidential information within 48 hours to avoid being penalized. Although a warning about this non-IRS audit did appear on the Michigan Department of Treasury Web site for about a week, the whole thing turned out to be false. You can read more about the IRS non-scam at About's Urban Legends.

Of course, while this particular scam did not occur, there are plenty of others that are real. The IRS has posted some information on current scam operations.

6. Life Is Beautiful...or Is It?

Another virus hoax delivered by e-mail--citing Microsoft and Norton as authorities--warns you that you might receive an e-mail with a deadly attachment called "Life is beautiful.pps." The PowerPoint file is supposed to wreak all kinds of havoc with your PC. According to the hoax message, if you open the attachment, you will lose everything on your PC, and the person who sent it to you will gain access to your name, e-mail, and password.

While it is possible that a PowerPoint presentation could contain a virus, there are a few clues to tell you that this is a hoax. First of all, the writer insists on two occasions that you send the e-mail along to everyone you know--something reputable software companies would never ask you to do. (Also note that the publisher of Norton AntiVirus products is Symantec, not Norton.) It tries to add more credibility by citing an imaginary company, UOL, as another authority. And it says that the creator of the PowerPoint file "aims to destroying domestic PCs and...fights Microsoft in court." That's a bit far-fetched (not to mention bad grammar).

Read more about the hoax at HoaxBusters or Symantec's Security Response page.