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Seeing is Not Always Believing, If It's In An E-Mail

Kelly Jakubowski is a senior journalism major from Conroe. The opinions in this column are hers.

If you use e-mail and have friends, they are likely to send you amazing messages, with all sorts of incredible claims. Just recently I got one that said that I would no longer have to pay for 411 calls to get telephone numbers that I did not know.

There are reliable sources on the Internet to check out such suspicious e-mails or stories. Besides snopes.com, which is my favorite, symantec.com has a listing of real and fake computer viruses, and about.com and google.com are easy-to-use search engines that allow the user to type in a question and look at a variety of sites that might be helpful.

A great explanation of the cost of hoax e-mails is at hoaxbusters.ciac.org/.

According to Snopes, and my personal trial, 1.800.FREE.411 will actually connect you to a directory without charging you, as my recent e-mail claimed. But this is only a rare instance of truth in such messages.

SHSU's SamMail can be a pretty attractive target to Internet abusers, and SHSU computer services technicians try to eliminate SPAM, hoaxes, and viruses before they ever get to your computer.

Robert Thompson, a computer systems coordinator for SHSU, said that several methods are used to catch SPAM.

"Every e-mail that comes in is scanned for file names and content. There are several tests that can look for common things that spammers do. It looks at how many e-mails are the same and it creates statistics."

A score is given to each e-mail, and if it's over 5.5 it will be marked as SPAM, with curly brackets around it. If the score is over 13, it won't even be sent.

"They have to be really bad to get that high score," said Thompson.

Thompson said that SHSU gets millions of e-mails, and of each million, 100,000 are SPAM.

"In many respects, SPAM is just a waste of disk space," said Thompson. "It's basically harmless, but there is a lot of equipment and horse power used up in dealing with SPAM."

Once a virus gets in, Computer Services can't remove them for you, Thompson said, because the school's funding from tax money and fees cannot be used in that manner, but there are several stores in the Huntsville area that can do the job.

Other concerns, like hoaxes, are usually harmless, unless someone falls for it.         

Even if Sam Mail isn't the target, just about everyone has heard some rumor, or gotten a strange e-mail on a different server.

Dan Landson, a senior RTV major, has gotten the famous Nigerian scam e-mail, but fortunately didn't fall for it, as thousands of people have. It claims that a crooked Nigerian official, or that of some other country, is trying to smuggle some money out of the country, and he'll share a percentage of it with you, if you'll just help out right now with some cash for bribes and fees.

Landson feels most people who send useless mail over the Internet are basically harmless, especially in the case of those "heartwarming" stories that are forwarded all over cyberspace.

"Everybody has a good heart and they may think that they are touching somebody else's heart. They think they are doing a good deed, but it's not."

Political Science professor William Carroll explained his favorite e-mail hoax, which was far from heart-warming. Blood-curdling might be a better way to describe it.

"It said that Bill Clinton was responsible for the deaths of about 50 people, I don't know, it might have been more than that. I knew it was crazy. I didn't have to double-check it. I think something like the one that I got comes from people who want to believe it, because it reinforces the negative attitude that they already have about Clinton. There might be people who actually believe these things."

Rebecca Gonzalez, a freshman music education major, gets a lot of chain letters, but the most memorable one warned her to forward the e-mail to 15 people or die at midnight---at the hands of a killer clown. She followed the letter's instructions, just in case.

She said she feels most people make up hoaxes because they have too much free time, but she would forward a horror hoax to someone she doesn't like.

"I don't really read them," said junior Novalyn Godkin. "If it's a forward, I just ignore it."   

"I'm sure the people that start them are just trying to be funny, but the ones that forward them actually believe it."

She's gotten e-mails warning about police impersonators (which do exist) and gang members who hide under cars and slash women's bodies as part of their initiation. There is not one documented police report, news story, or other reliable source to confirm this urban tale.

An e-mail that came to my inbox warned of a killer luring women from their homes with a recording of a crying baby. When they went to investigate, they died a horrible death.

This was actually sent by my mother. And true to form, she believed every word, and thought she was doing me a favor.

As every good journalist knows, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out."

Or, in the case of an idiotic Re: in your inbox, "If you don't know what it is, just delete it," said Thompson. "Do you deal with PayPal, is there any reason for them to be sending you an e-mail? 'Click here to see Anna Kournikova naked,' and thousands of people will be clicking it. It's probably not worth it."

—END—

SHSU Media Contact: Kelly Jakubowski
Feb. 23, 2006
Please send comments, corrections, news tips to Today@Sam.edu.

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