herb-weisbaum

Every day is April Fool's Day on the Internet

April 1, 2013 at 9:23 AM ET

Snopes.com /
True or false? Sorry to disappoint, but Bill Gates isn't giving away his money so easily.

Could it be?  Will Bill Gates really give you $5,000 for sharing a link on Facebook?

Of course not. The email is bogus and so is the picture of Gates holding a sign that purportedly shows him making that promise.

This is just one of an ever-growing collection of email hoaxes that fill in-bins across the world. They’re not scams – no one is trying to steal your money or personal information – they’re just fiction.  

Why do so many people accept the bogus messages as fact and forward to others?

“It’s entertaining and it’s socially bonding; something fun that we can share together,” explained Nicholas DiFonzo, professor of psychology at Rochester Institute of Technology and author of The Water Cooler Effect. “The idea of double-checking to make sure that these things are true takes work. And even if it’s not true, it doesn’t seem to hurt anybody.”

Snopes.com has been exposing urban legends, rumors and email hoaxes since the mid-1990s.

“The quality of the faked videos has gotten better, but a lot of it’s the same stuff with just slightly different details,” said David Mikkelson, who runs the site with his wife Barbara. “Some of them have been around literally since we started doing this site.”

Here are three current messages (spread by email or Facebook) that the fact-checkers at Snopes have found to be false:

Coffee Clash

The email says an angry shareholder confronted Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz at the annual meeting about the coffee company’s support for same-sex marriage.

“Breaking News: Starbucks moves even farther left and tells traditional marriage supporters we don’t want your business. He told a shareholder to sell his shares if he supported traditional marriage and didn’t like Starbucks stance against it.”

The email calls for a boycott of Starbucks.

Snopes Fact Check: While Schultz did affirm the company’s support of same-sex marriage at the shareholders meeting, he did not say supporters of traditional marriage were not wanted as customers or investors.

Talking Angela

This message warns parents about a website or app called Talking Angela that supposedly asks kids to provide personal information, such as their name and where they go to school, and takes their picture without any notice.

Snopes Fact Check:  While parents always need to be careful about what their kids do online, the Talking Angela app is not a security risk. Angela is a cat at a Parisian café who responds to the user’s gestures and mimics what they say back to them.

On its Naked Security site, the security experts at Sophos tell parents that Talking Angela “appears to be entirely benign, and there are no obvious privacy concerns that differentiate it from thousands of other iPhone apps.”

Free Mail for Frank

Did you know you can mail a letter for free if you write the word “Frank” or “Frankie” in the space where the stamp should go? According to another hoax email, this results from the settlement of a wrongful death lawsuit.

“The story was that Frankie (a young boy) was hit and killed by a mail truck, his parents sued the post office. Being wealthy they wanted no money, only wanted the post office to take for free any mail that had Frankie written on it instead of a stamp.”

Snopes Fact Check:  You can’t send a letter for free by writing Frank or Frankie on it. You may see “Frank” on some letters. This indicates the person who sent the letter, such as a member of Congress, has the legal right to mail it for free, what’s called the “franking privilege.”  

A lot of the email hoaxes making the rounds these days say something like: “I checked with Snopes and this is legit” to encourage you to share it with others. Don’t believe it. Check yourself beforeyou pass it along. You can do that at sites such as Snopes, Urban Legends, Urban Myths, FactCheck.org and Hoax-Slayer.

Herb Weisbaum is The ConsumerMan. Follow him on Facebook and Twitteror visit The ConsumerMan website.

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