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Urban Legends, Internet Hoaxes

July 2002

There are so many nice people in Nigeria wanting to give me millions of dollars. Almost every day I receive their kind offers via e-mail. Usually there's some sort of intrigue attached and if they can just use my bank account to stash their millions of dollars, they will give me 15 percent.

Let the dupes be duped, but not me. I'm no dupe--I know the truth. Nobody in Nigeria is going to give me millions.

Still, I have been duped occasionally. I did, for example, believe the story that went around about the gauge of modern day railroad tracks being determined by the specs for Roman war chariots (the width of two horses' behinds).

It was a great story, and I was almost disappointed when Snopes set me straight. Snopes is the king of the debunkers. Snopes knows the truth.

You can find a large collection of urban legends at Snopes.com, with each judged as true or false. Take the old story about two college students skipping class, missing an exam, claiming they had a flat tire, and begging the professor for a makeup exam. The professor puts them in separate rooms and administers the exam, which has one question: "Which tire?" It's a great story, and didn't really happen. Nor is it true that Nostradamus predicted the 9/11 tragedy.

Sometimes, however, Snopes determines that they're true, such as the legend that sets up the plot in the movie "Good Will Hunting." According to the legend, a student comes late to math class and finds two problems on the blackboard. He assumes they're homework problems and writes them down in his notebook. He works on the equations and turns them in to his professor. Later the professor comes to the student and has written up the solutions for publication. It turns out that two problems weren't a homework assignment--they were problems that had been thought to be unsolvable, and the professor had written them on the board as examples. Really happened, and Snopes gives the details.

I actually know someone who was fooled by a Nigerian scam. Some years ago It was visited upon a local church in the city where I'm originally from. When I was there on vacation, I read the wonderful news in the weekly church bulletin that one of the priests was going to be traveling to Nigeria to collect millions of dollars from an anonymous donor. He went, and there was no money. The good Lord giveth, and the good Lord taketh away.

You'll never be fooled if you visit Scambusters. You can find out the details about the Nigerian scams, as well as hundreds of others. Check out the list of Top 10 scams for the past year. They range from herbal Viagra to WTC scams.

Also be sure to check out the Latest Urban Legends link, an excellent and comprehensive list of urban legends that typically come via e-mail. These range from the legend of the kidney thieves, the Nieman Marcus cookie recipe, phony virus warnings, and more--all of which have arrived in my e-mail. And they're all hoaxes.

A number of my acquaintances have been fooled by virus hoaxes. I get a breathless message sent in haste to every person in his or her address book apologizing for having sent a virus and asking them to delete a file named "jdbgmgr.exe." The message typically reads, "See the information below. It says jdbgmgr.exe is a virus and should be deleted immediately. I found it on my computer, and according to the information, I've passed this virus along to everyone in my address book."

This is typically followed by an embarrassed message that typically reads. "I'm sorry. I found it out was a hoax. That file is part of Microsoft Windows."

You can learn about hoaxes like this at HoaxBusters. A search on "jdbgmgr.exe." brings up information about this hoax as well as telling you how to replace the file once you've deleted it. This is one of the best sites to check for virus hoaxes. It's true that viruses come via e-mail (I get Klez several times a day), but more often the warnings that burst around the Internet are baseless, such as the famous Good Times and Join the Crew hoaxes, both of which unwitting friends have passed on to me many times.

But I don't mind. I like getting e-mail. And these people are, after all, concerned for my welfare. They're also dupes. Don't be one of them--check out these sites today.

© 2001 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen