Top 10 sites to debunk Internet hoaxes

When your users turn into Chicken Little over the latest hoax, scam, rumor, or urban legend, point them to the sites on this list to ease their minds (and preempt a rash of chain mail).

Has this ever happened to you? You're busy working on an intense project when someone in the company excitedly forwards you one of those stupid urban legend chain mail spams asking if it is true. Or worse, they simply forward it to everyone in the company without checking with you first.

It doesn't matter that you have a written IT policy on the company intranet explaining what a useless activity this is. Nor does it matter that you have tried to explain to this individual several times that junk like this is really annoying to everybody who receives it. They just don't seem to get it.

It's bad enough that we get spam from outside the company. Do we have to endure it from our own employees also? As the IT manager, I have to take a few minutes to debunk the latest urban legend that got the naive employee so excited. What's worse, I have to be extra nice because it is an executive who forwarded the e-mail.

Of course, the basic skill in responding to these interruptions is Google and keywords. I am still amazed after all these years how many people don't know how to Google properly. Maybe it's just the people in the company I work for are that are sadly Google-challenged.

I've often wished for a list of sites to which I could refer the offending co-workers, so I decided to compile one. Actually, you really need only the top three sites on the list, but I've found the others to be useful on occasion. Sometimes these sites can be entertaining reading, but who has time for that?

Note: This information has been updated from the original article, published in 2008. It's also available as a PDF download.

1: Snopes

Who hasn't heard of Snopes? This is the granddaddy of all fact-checking sites. Some of the worst chain spams even quote Snopes with an embedded link to give their email an added level of authenticity. Of course, Snopes has been known to be wrong and has changed its listings on several occasions. It has also become commercialized over the years, but it's still a very complete site.

2: About Urban Legends

This subsite has been hosted for 10 years by David Emery, and he has done a great job. He is passionate about finding and debunking all those rumors, myths, pranks, and odd stories. I have found lately that I am referring more people to his site than Snopes because I like the format better. The site also shows up in more Google searches than the others, indicating that the content is well linked and used.

3: Break The Chain

In 1999, John Ratliff was annoyed that he kept receiving the same chain spams forwarded to him over and over. I have been just as annoyed for just as long, but he did something about it. Like most of these sites, John has plenty of healthy advertisements but no pop-ups. His site is getting more professional looking all the time. He is also frequently cited by the media when looking for an authoritative source on these stupid chain mails.


This excellent site, founded by Rich Buhler in 1999, offers information on "eRumors," hoaxes, requests for help, and other items circulated via email. You can search for a story, browse through categories such as Food-Drink, Warnings, and eRumors in the News, view the top 20 stories of the hour, and subscribe to its email alerts (for a very modest price).

5: Sophos

This antivirus company keeps a small list of hoaxes and urban legends, but it is not nearly as complete as the sites at the top of this list. Their focus is more on virus hoaxes — you know, the ones that scream that you will wipe your hard drive and melt the motherboard if you open the suspect email.

6: Hoax-Slayer

Brett Christensen's Hoax-Slayer morphed from a Yahoo group to a Web site in 2003. You can search the site, browse by category, subscribe to a newsletter for the latest info, or get a quick roundup of the latest hoaxes and scams by visiting the Hoax-Slayer Nutshell page. The site is thorough and up to date. One particularly interesting feature is its True Emails page, which lists circulating emails that actually are legit (albeit misleading in some cases) despite their hoax-y appearance.

7: VMyths

Well referenced by specialists in the computer security field, VMyths takes Internet hoaxes and chain letters to a new level. If you want to read what the real experts have to say about Internet hoaxes, virus scares, myths, and legends, get it from Rob Rosenberger at VMyths. Unfortunately, its lists are not comprehensive.

8. Symantec

I have a love-hate affair with Symantec. I use its products, but I've been burned by them several times lately. That's a story for another post. Its hoax list is pretty good but seems a little dated. Maybe that's because most hoaxes today are really recycled from earlier hoaxes.

9:Hoax Busters

Not to be confused with the U.S. Department of Energy's now-defunct, Hoax Busters offers The BIG LIST of Internet Hoaxes — an alphabetized list of urban legends, scams, chain letters, and hoaxes. This is handy if you just want to quickly look up an item to see if it's on the list (although you have to figure out the most likely keyword for an item to find its listing). Items that require a little explanation are presented as clickable links, which open a window with additional info.

10: Virus Busters

This is a short list from the University of Michigan of hoaxes and legends that keep coming back. Like the UofM, I have not seen many new hoaxes lately — they are almost all repackaged oldies. The list is not intended to be comprehensive but is a good reference point for what you will see on a regular basis.

Your turn

I know I've missed some of your favorite sites and would like to hear about them. Add yours to the comments so we can all increase our knowledge of what's out there.

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