What is a hoax?
A hoax is an act, document or artifact intended to deceive the public. Examples range from relatively benign instances of trickery, such as April Fools pranks, to scientific fraud on a grand scale, such as the "Piltdown Man" hoax of the early 20th century.
The word hoax dates from the 1700s and it is believed to be a contraction of "hocus" - as in "hocus pocus"-, an old phrase used by stage magicians to invoke "magic spells." It is said that one of the first virus hoax is the "2004 baud modem virus". Computer virus hoaxes have been spreading on the Internet since 1988. From that time on they propagate with tremendous speed and maybe only people's awareness will stop them from spreading.
Hoaxes are not viruses, but usually deliberate or unintentional e-messages, warning people about a virus or other malicious software programs. Some hoaxes give as much trouble, the same as viruses, by causing massive amounts of unnecessary emails.
The greatest risk hoax messages imply is their ability to multiply. In fact, they are send with one purpose: to be forwarded by addressees to every person they know.
Why? Spammers are deliberately sending hoaxes in order to find active email addresses. The websites' hoaxes consist of bogus websites designed to mislead users by making them believe that they are visiting legitimate home pages, which in fact provide false or misleading information.
What is the catch?
It is difficult to see the reason or motivation individuals have when creating email hoaxes or chain letters. Among them it might be: to see how far a letter goes, to deceit people making them feel vulnerable to a destructive virus, to frighten, to harass or compromise a person's or organization's reputation in order to reduce their credibility, or simply, just to annoy. One of the most threatening results of forwarding hoaxes is to make people ignore all warnings, even the real ones, and finally expose them to real dangers.
Don't forward hoax messages! Ignore them!
Sometimes it is pretty difficult to recognize a hoax, especially in those particular situations when hoaxes begin as viruses or viruses start as hoaxes.
To protect yourself from hoaxes, you need to have at least the basic information on hoax characteristics to help you distinguish a hoax from a non hoax or a hoax from a virus.