Sep 12, 2008

Eliminating spam through education

How often do you receive messages from friends or colleagues warning you of a latest health scare, a child that was recently abducted, or an offer from Microsoft to send you $128,443 if you forward your email to 15932 of your closest friends? Most of these messages (not all of them) are fakes that are easily verifiable with a quick Internet search.

I used to get a few of them per week from people I know, but it has dwindled a lot over time. I figure it's either because people don't like me anymore, or because my approach to dealing with such messages has helped them send fewer of them. Of course, I like to think that it's the latter!

If you get a lot of these messages, I invite you to try and educate the people who send them. Reply to the sender and let him/her know that you have found it to be a hoax. It's a simple three step process:
  1. Search for the most meaningful terms in the message. For example "microwave causes cancer". If there is specific information in the message, use that as it will give you a more precise result, for example "John Hopkins Hospital microwave cancer." You can also search on known hoax-debunking sites such as or
  2. Follow the first few links from the search page to find which ones are interesting.
  3. Send the links to the original sender, with an invitation to send them to the people who received the original  message.
Maybe if we can stem the tide of these useless messages, it can help take care of the email clutter we face every day.

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