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Legendary E-mail Hoaxes

There are hundreds of hoaxes and scams—as well as hundreds of variations—that circulate by e-mail. A few that have become legendary are listed to the right.

There are also many websites dedicated to debunking all types of hoaxes and folklore, including those found on the Internet. Here are a few of the best:

Urban Legends Reference Pages:

The AFU & Urban Legends Archive:

The Truth About Virus, Myths & Hoaxes:

Truth Or Fiction:

For a list of currently circulating hoaxes and folklore, check out's urban legend list.

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A Nigerian Nightmare.
The “Nigerian Scam” is arguably the most well-known scam on the Internet. There are hundreds of variations, but typically you will receive an e-mailed “letter” from a Nigerian official describing a complicated political situation and asking your help in receiving millions on his behalf.

In turn, you are promised a huge cut of the money. But since the officials? ?assets are frozen,? you must provide them your checking account number for spending money on bribes, wire transfers, and the like. Guess what? Your money disappears and the millions never arrive.

The scam may sound ridiculous but the CIA says these scammers have bilked people out of hundreds of millions of dollars over the years.

 2.   No free lunch.
It sounds simple enough. “If you send this e-mail to at least 15 people right away, a $25 gift certificate to Outback Steakhouse will pop up on your screen. Print this out ... it is a gift certificate!!!” Not true. Variations on this hoax promise gift certificates to, among others, Applebee’s, Old Navy, and Abercrombie & Fitch.
 3.   Kooky cookie story.
The story goes that a woman so loved the cookie she ate at a Neiman Marcus café that she asked the waitress for the recipe. The waitress answered that she could have it for “two-fifty” and that the price would be added to the woman’s credit card bill. When her statement arrived and the bill was $250.00, not $2.50, she sought revenge by circulating the recipe via e-mail with instructions to forward it on. Funny story, good recipe, but not true.

Bill?s bucks.
?Dear friends, Please do not take this for a junk letter. Bill Gates is sharing his fortune.? The message goes on to explain how you can make thousands of dollars by forwarding the message to others with Microsoft paying you by ?tracking your e-mail.?

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is known for his charitable giving. Forwarding e-mails won?t get you on the list.

 5.   The king of fears.
The most notorious virus hoax is also the oldest. In 1994, an e-mail began circulating warning of an e-mail virus—with the words “Good Times” in the subject line—that would erase your hard drive even if you just opened the message. “Forward this to all your friends,” the message concluded, and thousands did just that. But, there never was a “Good Times” virus, and it’s virtually impossible to have your hard drive erased just by opening an e-mail message.