How to Spot a Hoax Email

super www womanI  received another hoax email last week. I’m not viewed tenderly by most people who send these. Why? Because I believe it is my charge in life to single-handedly rid the internet of hoax and fake emails. Ka-Pow!

I do this by not forwarding them, and bringing the email status to the attention of the person who forwarded it.

There are at least three problems with this approach.
1) A million other people still forward these thinking they’re true.
2) Haters don’t care as long as the hoax email damages the reputation of their target.
3) Innocent forwarders can be offended.

Hence, the purpose of this blog.

“Gathered together from the cosmic reaches of the universe – here in this great hall of justice – are the most powerful forces of good ever assembled.”

Yep, the Super Friends narrator is talking about you!  Never saw that coming, did ya’?

You’re being recruited by the renown organization A.T. (the Accuracy Team). We, at @, stand for truth, justice, and the cyber highway.

The A.T. Not-so-super-secret Training Manual

Spotting hoax emails isn’t hard if you know what to look for. About 90% of the emails I choose to verify turn out to be hoaxes. The 10% that aren’t usually surprise me.

Some hoaxes are merely annoying while others can cause financial hardships or worse.

What do I look for in a hoax email or photo?

  • Does the email picture or quote a person or business in the public eye?

    emailAll hoax emails refer to famous people or entities: politicians, tv/movie/radio personalities, famous athletes, or major corporations.

How many hoax emails circulate with quotes from Mildred Smith of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. or from Brad’s Lawn Service? And if they did, who would care?

  • Is the person mentioned smart enough to foresee the consequences of performing said appalling action?

Example One: The below photo is circulating. The claim is the Obamas were caught blatantly disrespecting our wonderful country by using their left hands during [pledge of allegiance, national anthem, add your own].

Since I know neither one of the Obamas is stupid, and both smart enough not to want the massive public outcry this shameless diss would bring — hey, it was his first term in office — I decided to verify the info before forwarding.

My investigation uncovered the truth. The picture is Photoshopped. The creator did a bang-up job by adding wedding rings and switching the buttons on the President’s coat. He just forgot one teensy, glaring item: marines always wear medals on the left chest. It’s protocol. There’s an entire chapter devoted to how to, where to, and when to wear medals in the marine handbook.obamas_lh_flag_salute

I didn’t find who took the original, but it ran in Newsday and was taken during the playing of Taps on September 11, 2009.

In all fairness, I’ll include a hoax photo from our last Republican president. Opponents on both sides of the political machine try so hard to discredit one another it’s embarrassing.

This photo is also a product of Photoshop. The book is America: A Patriotic Primer by Lynne Cheney. Notice the back cover of the book G.W. is holding? The black blob (red arrow) — no clue what it is — is on the wrong side if the book were flipped around. It’s located opposite on the book the girl is reading.bushbook
I tried to find the original of the back cover photo (Lynne Cheney surround by children, some with flags) to identify the black blob, but I had no luck.

The original of this is an Associated Press photo.

Today’s tip to haters? If you digitally alter photos, don’t use pictures from big name media outlets. They’re so easy to debunk.

  • Does the email include the words “This is NOT a hoax.” or “This is REAL!”?

Have you seen that Bill Gates is giving away $5,000 to anyone who shares a certain picture of him on Facebook? “IT IS FOR REAL”. It’s not, and he’s not.

The above types of hoaxes are annoying, fill your Inbox, clog the Internet, and waste the time of millions of people.

But do they cause lasting hardships for people? Probably not. The targets are people who are accustomed to being stalked and slammed by the media so I’m sure email hoaxes don’t mean a great deal to them.

Actually, this week elites are busy worrying about iCloud hackings. This is exactly why my blog post How Secure is Dropbox? cautions people against uploading important or personal information onto a cloud service. If you’re not comfortable with the data or photos falling into the hands of unscrupulous people, don’t share them there.

Now, pay attention.

Up to this point we’ve talked about irritations. Our conversation is now turning very serious.


There are emails hoaxes which fall under a category I like to call “felonies”. They are life-altering and some have major financial consequences.

Email Hoaxes that can seriously cost you.

  • Emails that ask for a credit card numbers.

You’re too smart to fall for that, right? How about the one below? It’s a complete hoax. Looks legit, doesn’t it? It’s easy to copy and paste a logo into a mock-up business mailing. Don’t fall for it.

IMPORTANT WARNING: Notice you can “update your credit card information by clicking here” That “here” takes you to a bogus website setup for the specific purpose of stealing your credit card information.

  • Emails that ask for cash to get something.

If they didn’t cost innocent people their hard-earned savings, I’d find some of these emails hilarious.

An example is the email featuring a letter from the FBI legitimizing the Nigerian Minister of Finance’s offer of $800,000 on an ATM card for wiring $550 USD to an account. Doh!

NOTE: Anything from a country you’ve never visited, like Nigeria or Singapore, is probably a scam unless the person asking is a long-time friend or associate. But please, be equally cautious if you do know the Nigerian Minister of Finance.

  • Emails that ask for personal information.

No legitimate organization will EVER ask for your social security number, bank account number, or PIN number via email.

  • Emails that give you a clickable link.

Remember the Yahoo! scam email above with the “click here” option? Cyber thieves put their blood, sweat, and tears into their endeavors. If only a small percentage of their emails succeed, they’ve made tens of thousands of dollars illegally.

Capital OneCapital One has a great section on internet security. Thanks, Capital One!

Capital One Security Education Center  The Fraud Prevention Topic item two on phishing has great advice on spotting bogus emails.

Now that you know how to spot them, let’s talk about authenticating scam/hoax emails.

How do I verify hoax emails?

You’ve received an email you think is a hoax. How do you know for sure?

One word: Google. Search engines are a beautiful thing.

In Example One above, I searched something like “Obama left-handed pledge?”. You can add “hoax” or “fake” to the search if you’d like. You should quickly find enough research to know if something is a hoax.

WORD OF CAUTION: Remember, everyone has an agenda. Never rely on one site’s opinion unless the fraud is so obvious common sense dictates no further research is required. The marine medal’s or the book cover in the above examples pretty much made further investigation unnecessary. Those alone proved the photos fake.

I suggest using one (or more) ultra-liberal, and one (or more) uber-conservative sites for each verification, if needed.

What to do if you’re being targeted by scammers.

If you think you’re the target of internet thieves, all email providers have “Report Phishing” functions. They take this very seriously.

Gmail Report Phishing


In Gmail. 1) Open the email, 2) left-click the options menu (little arrowhead) on the very top right and 3) select “Report phishing”.





In Outlook, there is a “Junk” tab at the top.

Outlook Phishing

If you use a different email program, search “Report phishing” in their Help or “[Program name] report phishing”on the Internet.  You should find what you need to file a report.


With politicians, Hollywood elites, and athletes doing dumb things daily,  we certainly don’t need to make up stuff or enable others who do.SuperBusinessman

Scams are everywhere. Not only in emails, but on social media sites.

Be cautious and do your part. Use your newly acquired superhero powers to help make the cyber highway a safer place to travel for everyone.

Have a great week, and thanks for visiting Patti’s Pathways. 😀


DISCLAIMER: Any and all ideas presented in this blog are solely my own unless otherwise noted. I experience troubles with technology just like any other person, and if I stumble upon a fix or suggestion I feel could benefit others I pass it along. At no time, have I suggested or implied that I hold any degrees or certificates related to computer repair.

I have during my career assembled parts into working computers; done troubleshooting on hardware and software; utilized a great many computer programs and software; designed and updated websites and blogs; as well as created brochures, banners, and flyers.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s