The list could go on forever. Free Victoria's Secrets gift certificates. Free t-shirts. Maybe you can even save a life...if you forward the message to 10 people.
Those who have fallen into the scam are most likely still waiting for their "free gift." All of a sudden, Senior President of J. Crew, Robert Crensman, doesn't seem reliable.
According to security officer for University Computing Services, Loren Malm, these scam artists are motivated by one thing: attention. Seeing their work circulated the Internet is rewarding.
"People want to see if they can get people to forward it," Malm said. "They like to be the center of attention."
According to the Computer Incident Advisory Capability, E-mail hoaxes have been circulating the Internet since 1988. Virus paranoia grew rapidly in the 1990s. Before E-mail, Malm said these rumors actually circulated through U.S. mail.
According to Malm, the hoaxes relocated to the Internet when the people creating the hoaxes realized it was cheaper and easier. Clicking on E-mail addresses and sending them was more efficient than posting them.
Although Malm said the volume of hoaxes circulating on the Internet has not increased since Sept. 11, the number of rumors regarding the attacks has. Malm disregarded the Halloween shopping mall rumor saying it had been verified as a hoax by the FBI.
Malm described the frantic circulation as the "Cry Wolf Syndrome," in which Internet users feel they should not disregard certain E-mails that seem relevant. According to Malm, numerous hoaxes can stimulate a negative effect, in which it can desensitize people to the E-mails that are relevant.
Freshman Mischa McHenry never believed the Halloween shopping mall rumor to begin with.
"It is sad that people are trying to promote fear in people that are already scared," she said.
This fear, according to the Web site www.hoaxbusters.ciac.org, can be sparked in many ways. The rumors of contaminated needles in movie theaters and poison envelopes slowly create closet hysteria.
According to Hoaxbusters, there is a broad category of hoaxes, ranging from urban myths and giveaways to virus warnings and chain letters.
The Web site said that petitions, such as a recent one circulating the Internet about religion on television, are completely invalid. Hoaxbusters said that adding your name to a list, presents just another way for the scam artists to receive a huge list of valid E-mail addresses. The result? More junk mail in your E-mail account.
Freshman Amanda Robbins said there were certain keys to E-mails that alerted her. According to Robbins, the words "if you send this to ten people" are an automatic sign to delete the message.
For others, it is a spark of curiosity that provokes readers to continue the process of participating in the hoax. According to Hoaxbusters, an E-mail that convinced readers the Internet could take a picture of them through their monitor, humorously displayed a picture of a monkey when the "monitor film" was developed.
For those that are less humorous and actually spark fear in the reader, the Ball State computing services offers advice on how to avoid these matters in any form.
"You wouldn't want to be in a situation where you disregard something important," Malm said.
According to Malm, the best thing to do is check the Web site which contains updated and valuable information. Twenty to 30 different hoaxes circulate Ball State students' accounts each day, Malm said. However, most don't make it around to create much of a problem. UCS chooses the ones they think are important and post them on their Web site to inform and alert students. Malm said most of these are for personal safety.
UCS offers advice to prevent consumers out of wasting time and money. Don't share your account and password.
Hoaxbusters suggests the reader to evaluate the E-mail. Check the validity of the message. Research to see if the person in the message really exists. If the message is a hoax, the organization will likely have a message posted on its original Web site that says so.
Forwarding messages to others just contributes to the hysteria. Hoaxbusters also offers the most relevant key to stopping Internet hoaxes: when in doubt, don't send it out.