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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 21, 2010

Read e-mails with healthy dose of doubt

By Robbie Dingeman

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Politifact.com boasts the "Obameter" and "Truth-O-Meter." The site is a project of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.


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That e-mail warning cell phone owners to get on a "do not call" list before it's too late is going around again, and it's a good reminder to be skeptical of such broad claims.

While the Internet makes countless bits of information easily available, it also offers an easy way to communicate instantly, even statements that are false, misleading or simply confused.

It turns out the "cell phone numbers sold to telemarketers" e-mail and others like it often go around in January and June although the Federal Trade Commission has been trying to debunk this rumor since at least 2007.

In that year, the commission noted that the number of phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry surpassed 139 million.

The commission said that consumers should not be concerned that their cell phone numbers will be released to telemarketers at any time in the near future.

In addition, according to the agency, it is not necessary to register cell phone numbers on the DNC Registry to be protected from most telemarketing calls to cell phones.

The alarming e-mail usually says something like this: "REMINDER ... All cell phone numbers are being released to telemarketing companies and you will start to receive sales calls. ... YOU WILL BE CHARGED FOR THESE CALLS."

Another e-mail to watch out for is anything that claims to be from the Internal Revenue Service. The government tax office has our street addresses, identification numbers and lots of financial information easily available.

If officials from that agency need to get in touch with us on an official matter, they won't shoot off an e-mail. Really.

Most of these e-mails can be described as phishing scams that are attempting to get your personal information.

This is so common I've received at least two within the last few months at work alone that the IRS has a whole list of advice on it including:

• The IRS does not initiate taxpayer communications through e-mail.

• The IRS does not request detailed personal information through e-mail.

• The IRS does not send e-mail requesting your PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.

• Do not open any attachments. Attachments may contain malicious code that will infect your computer.

• Do not click on any links. If you clicked on links in a suspicious e-mail or phishing Web site and entered confidential information, visit the IRS Identity Theft page.

• If you receive an e-mail or find a Web site you think is pretending to be the IRS, forward the e-mail or Web site URL to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.

• After you forward the e-mail or header information to the IRS, delete the message. The IRS computers will send you a confirmation message.

But most of us still hear from our auntie's friend's brother's cousin about a wide variety of these rumors.

So, in the interest of less misinformation, here are some easy ways to check out information:

www.snopes.com For a broad spectrum of rumors, e-mails, things that make you wonder, this site remains the best go-to solid source of good information.

The "urban legends" site is run by Barbara and David Mikkelson, who started the site in 1995.

A Reader's Digest story about the couple said 6.2 million people visit Snopes each month. Reader's Digest was using figures from Quantcast, which tracks Internet traffic.

While other sites focus on politics, the California-based couple research myriad issues and even keep a top 25 these days.

This week, the top five include the bogus cell-phone marketing list as well as a warning about consumers' experiencing a loss of smell after using Zicam cold remedy (undetermined); a claim (false) that an Israeli man correctly predicted terrorist attacks on the U.S.; Postcard / Greeting Card Virus (part real virus warning/part hoax) about a computer virus masquerading as a postcard from a friend or family member; and a (false) claim that a federal judge has ordered President Obama to prove his eligibility for the U.S. presidency in court.

www.factcheck.org is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

The site monitors the factual accuracy of what is said "by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases."

www.politifact.com this shows up a lot on CNN, but PolitiFact is a project of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.

Reporters and editors from the Times fact-check statements by members of Congress, the White House, lobbyists and interest groups and rate them on a Truth-O-Meter.

The site was in the news this week for tracking more than 500 of Obama's campaign promises and rating their progress on their new Obameter.

Curious about consumer issues or have a tip to share? Contact Robbie Dingeman at 535-2429.