There are more virus hoaxes than there are actual viruses. That's probably because it's a lot easier to write a clever little email and send it out to a few hundred people than it is to learn a computer programming language and write some ingenious piece of code that exploits existing hardware and software computer vulnerabilities and copies itself off to millions of systems worldwide under the radar of dozens of antivirus programs. Well, that, and you can't get prosecuted for violations of international commerce laws for writing a chain letter.
Here are some red flags that usually spell a hoax email message:
Any of these should trigger your BS detector. In fact, real viruses spread precisely because they aren't well known. Once a virus becomes well known, antivirus software can be updated, and programs can be patched to combat the virus's spread. Remember: viruses spread most commonly when people open attachments. If you receive an email with attachments, be aware of these potentially unsafe file extensions:
Any of the preceding file extensions signify code that can be run on your computer, which is essentially what a virus iscode that tells you computer to do something you don't want it to do.
Most antivirus vendors keep an updated list of virus hoaxes on their Websites. Here are few places to go before forwarding that dire-sounding email to all the people in your address book.
And the best site of its kind not only for ferreting out email hoaxes but also for debunking all sorts of urban myths is: www.snopes.com
Commit that one to memory, especially the "Inboxer Rebellion" section. The site is well researched and thoroughly referenced.
As you'll learn at this site, Bill Gates isn't sending you a dime for trying an email tracking program, and he didn't give a snotty little commencement speech where he said that you'll one day end up working for a nerd.
And no, Al Gore never said he invented the Internet.