May 7, 2009

How to Check Out a Hoax

magglass Surprisingly, learning how to check out a hoax is quickly becoming a popular pastime for online Internet travelers. For the folks here at RU, uncovering hoaxes is more than just a hobby, it’s a passion. For that reason, we’ve decided to offer the Internet community a general guide for both amateur and expert investigators.

A Guide: How to Check Out a Hoax

If you’ve never investigated a hoax before, I’d like to share a little bit of what you’re in for. There’s an entire underground community of con artists and fraudsters who use the Internet, and a number of other resources, to launch, distribute and promote various hoaxes. However, the Internet isn’t the only tool con artists use these days. These people are the equivalent of the conmen (and women) that you’ll find in the city, who wait around bus stops and tourist attractions for the unsuspecting tourist – and then launch into a long story about their need for assistance. In the end, the tourist is left without a wallet – or worse, with an empty bank account.

The following four-step process can protect any potential victim, whether it’s a corporate millionaire looking to invest in cutting-edge technological proposals, or a regular Internet user just digging into the background behind some online claims. The approach in every case is the same.

Step #1: Identify the Source

Whenever you’re approached by someone, whether it’s online or in real life, who presents themselves as officially representing an agency or arrested organization, always ask for evidence. Once you’re presented with the evidence, don’t take it at face value. Anyone can fake an I.D.  Every legitimate identification badge or card will have either/or a phone number, email, or address of the agency or organization the person is with. Record the person’s badge or ID number, and also note the agency contact information. Finally, until you’ve verified that the source is who they say they are – assume they are not.

Yes, this means if an FBI agent knocks on your door and wants to chat, you better get his ID and immediately jump on the phone to your local FBI headquarters to confirm that they sent out an agent. Someone email you, claiming to be with the FBI, CIA or Air Force? Ask for their identification and call the PR office of that organization to verify. Never deal with anonymous sources. Most frauds and conmen use anonymous sources, because there’s no way for you to verify they are who they say they are. Often, at this stage, you may even have an opportunity to report the con artist and have them arrested.

Step #2: Verify the Story

Second, if you are not the one in direct contact with the “source,” and the person who is in direct contact isn’t very diligent about verifying either identifying features or the story – then you can do so.

– Scan the story for any inkling of a name, organization, business or other verifiable tidbit of information. Most scammers “slip up” at some point and mention a real name, location and/or organization. Keep good notes – these are your leads.

–  Try to get the “anonymous” source to email you directly. Trace the email by analyzing the header information, if you know how. If you don’t, contact one of the RU investigators and we can help. We’ll be publishing a “how-to” guide on how to trace email headers soon.

– Fully investigate the background of the anonymous source’s public “contact.” Most often, the person claiming that they are receiving information from an anonymous source are part of the con game themselves. You can usually identify the scammer’s motives by looking closely at the background of the people nearest to, and those promoting, the story.

duck You will discover, as you take verifiable data from the story and trace those leads, that there’s a real danger of chasing ghosts. Only follow leads that are easily verifiable at first. If someone’s name is mentioned in the story as “telling someone” something – go to that person directly and ask them yourself whether they really said that. Typically you’ll learn that they don’t know what you’re talking about – because the original story isn’t true.  However, by confirming that part of the original story is false, you are successfully disassembling the hoax. Remember, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck – odds are, it’s a duck. This process lies at the very heart of how to check out a hoax.

Step #3: Use Caution, Logic and Reason to Guide You

The more outrageous the claim, the more caution you should use. If a con artist stops you on the street and claims they were mugged at knife point, beat up, and had all of their money stolen –  logically you should ask, why is there not a single bruise or scratch on them? This is a very simple example of critical thinking skills, and it’s “critical” that you use them! Use your head – if it doesn’t make sense, it probably is fabricated.

And if the story is completely outrageous, concerning some elaborate story and involving elements that may be impossible to verify, back away very slowly from the perp and then run.

Step #4: Think With Your Mind, Not Your Heart

A larger version of such a scam would be a person approaching you with an alleged technological achievement, and claiming that the science that backs the technology is supported by physics. Even if they can produce a physicist who is willing to say that the technology is possible – you need to go back to step #1 and step #2. Identify the source (the physicist) and verify their legitimacy. Don’t throw away millions for a pipe dream – filling the bank accounts of scientific fraudsters. Use common sense.

Ultimately, what checking out a hoax involves is the ability to step back from the drama and emotion of a situation or discussion, and to take a look at the cold, hard facts. Don’t become emotionally invested in the answer, because if you do, you won’t be able to remain honest with yourself when you don’t find the answer that you wanted to find.

However, even if that happens – you can be proud that you stayed true to yourself, and you followed the process of careful verification to the letter.  Doing so will save you a fortune, in more ways than one.

Filed under: Disinfo,UFOlogy — Tags: , , , — RyanDube @ 11:48 pm

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