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by Phil Ball

Q. Friends often send me dire warnings about various things and after forwarding them to other friends, someone informs me that they are not true. I've taken to checking such things with Snopes because they seem to know what's true and what isn't. Is there another way to check the truthfulness of info received in articles and emails?

A. You are right not to want to spread this misinformation; there's already way too much of it out there. Snopes is a very good source of information regarding urban myths and hoaxes and they do a very good job of it but that is about all they do. They can tell you that Microsoft is not really giving money to some users or that a Nigerian will not actually share lots of money with you if only you will send him your banking information. But only things that actually had some sort of fraud associated with it would be found on Snopes and there is lots of other misinformation out there.

For other sources, try searching for information using your favorite search engine like Google or Bing while using key words or phrases pertinent to the question. See if there are legitimate sources reporting this information as factual. If the same material is reported from trustworthy sources such as Reuters, BBC, Wall Street Journal or PCmag, it is probably true. If it is a technical matter such as Windows problems, try sources which deal with tech stuff such as Microsoft, CNET, or the Tech News section of major news sources like CNN or Fox. If you don't find many complaints about this information then it is likely correct. One good indication of something being a hoax is that there's usually something just a bit outlandish about them.

Even legitimate news sources aren't immune from falling for hoaxes. For years, there have been scary stories about tainted or dangerous Halloween candy even though there aren't any actual cases to back any of this up. The number of incidents of injured or poisoned children at Halloween is still hanging around zero.

Thanks for trying to not be part of the problem!

Published: Courier 12/12/15 - Page 6B