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Hoax definition

A hoax is a message that deceives people into thinking that something is true when it isn’t. Hoaxes can be rumors, urban legends, pseudoscience, or April Fool’s stories that are accepted as truth. A hoax can be linked with and is similar in nature to the term “fake news,” although the term “hoax” is broader in meaning. A hoax could be a fake message telling you that your device is infected with malware and the only way to remove it is to send it to your friends, click a link, or download some sort of software. Sometimes it leads to you annoying your friends, but most often it ends up with you getting an actual virus.

How to recognize a hoax

Hoaxes are designed to be spread — they are constructed with sharing in mind. So they often play on human emotions to evoke greed, anger, or sadness. They usually use vague information and half-truths to create a genuine-sounding emotional story that makes people believe it and interact with it.

To recognize a hoax, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is this real? Can I verify the information with another source?
  • How did this message reach me?
  • Is it trying to persuade me to do something, and if so — why?

How to protect yourself

  • Always fact-check the information you receive, especially if it evokes strong emotions.
  • Keep your primary email address away from spam lists by not giving it away to every website that wants you to create an account.
  • Immediately delete an email if it’s a “send this to 10 of your friends” type of message.
  • Use security software like NordVPN. It will block pop-ups and ads, prevent you from downloading a virus, and stop you before you can land on a malicious website.

Further reading

Ultimate digital security