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Issue 38 - Hoax-Slayer Newsletter

Issue 38: 16th September, 2004

This week in Hoax-Slayer:
Death By Candle Email Warning

Yet another "warning" email is making its way around the Internet. This one claims that a person named Charlene died of carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of burning candles in an air-conditioned room. Like most emails of this nature, it does not provide any checkable details. At this point, I have not been able to establish if the unfortunate "Charlene" died in the manner described or even verify if she is a real person. The place mentioned in the email, MSMKL, is a college in Kuala Lumpur.

It should be noted that candles do produce carbon monoxide and that significant exposure to carbon monoxide can cause serious illness or death. Any device that burns fuel can produce carbon monoxide. Indeed, many people die every year as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. However, as yet, I have not come across any reports of people dying from CM poisoning purely as a result of burning candles. Perhaps, if a room was very tightly sealed then it might be possible for a person to be overcome by carbon monoxide produced by candles, especially if there were a number of candles burning together. Certainly, such a room could be potentially unsafe, not only from the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning but also from the risk of fire and soot produced by the candles.

The underlying message in the email is valid. It is unwise to use candles or any other device that burns combustible fuel in a poorly ventilated room. It would be especially foolish to leave candles burning while you slept.

Having said that, the vagueness of the email makes its value questionable. A message that increases awareness of the dangers of carbon monoxide could be worthwhile. However, exaggerating the danger, and inventing a death to drive home the point is likely to be counterproductive.

I am still researching this issue. If you have any further information about the email, or you have received a version different to the one below, I would appreciate it if you would let me know about it.


Never light candles in air-cond. room

For those who sleep in air-conditioned rooms... A friend of mine has passed away recently, please read the mail below and be careful.

Heard of a bad news regarding Charlene, who studied in MSMKL with some of us. She passed away last weekend due to carbon monoxide poisoning. It happened when she lit an aromatheraputic candle for the night in a room with air-conditioning on and all windows closed. Due to lack of oxygen in the room, the burning of the candle cannot fully oxidize & thus forming dangerous carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide will prevent oxygen exchange in the lungs, resulting the person dozing off to state of unconsciousness & eventual lay death in less than 1 hour, depending on the room size. I am sending this e-mail out to all of you so that you will be aware of such danger when lighting aromatheraputic candles in any unventilated rooms.

Please forward this email to all your love ones.

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Overpayment Cheque Scam Still Netting Victims

Recent news reports indicate that Internet sellers around the world are still falling victim to overpayement cheque scams to the tune of thousnds of dollars.

People selling high-ticket items such as cars, motorcycles or computer gear via the Internet should make themselves aware of this type of scam.

Typically, an overpayment cheque scam works like this:
The supposed buyers usually originate out of West African nations such as Nigeria. In fact, it is probable that the same gang of con-artists that run Nigerian loan scams and international lottery scams are responsible for the overpayment cheque scam as well. Like the Nigerian scam, the intent is to draw the potential victim deeper into the scam via a series of emails.

To protect yourself against this sort of scam, never agree to a deal in which the payer wishes to issue an amount for more than the agreed price and expects you to reimburse the balance. The scammers use a variety of excuses to explain the overpayment, but any such excuse should be treated with the utmost suspicion.


Hoax-Slayer FAQ's (Part One)

Every week I receive a great many enquires about scams and hoaxes. Since many enquiries, and their answers, cover the same material, I have condensed them into a set of Frequently Asked Questions. This week I will cover the most common types of scam enquires.

Q. I received an email/letter/fax that claims that I've won a great deal of money in an international lottery even though I never bought a ticket. Is this for real?

A. No, this is most probably a scam. There is no lottery and no prize. Those who initiate a dialogue with the scammers by replying to the messages will eventually be asked for advanced fees to cover expenses associated with delivery of the supposed "winnings". They may also become the victims of identity theft. DO NOT respond to the message.

Find out more about lottery scams

Q. I received an email from my bank/online service provider/ financial institution that asks me to visit a website and enter personal information. Is this safe?

A. This is more than likely the type of Internet scam known as "phishing". A phisher scam is one in which victims are tricked into providing personal information to what they believe to be a legitimate company or organization. In order to carry out this trick, the scammers often create a "look-a-like" website that is designed to resemble the target company's official website. Typically, emails are used as "bait" in order to get the potential victim to visit the bogus website. Be wary of any email that asks you to provide sensitive personal information such as banking details. Most legitimate companies would not request such information from customers via email. If you have any doubts at all about the veracity of the email, contact the company directly.

Find out more about phisher scams

Q. I received an email/letter/fax that asks for my help to access a large sum of money in a foreign bank account. The message says that I will get a percentage of the funds in exchange for my help. Is this legitimate?

A. In all probability, the message is an example of the type of scam known as a Nigerian or "419" scam. The "large sum of money" does not exist. The messages are an opening gambit designed to draw potential victims deeper into the scam. Those who initiate a dialogue with the scammers by replying to the scam messages will eventually be asked for advance fees supposedly required to allow the deal to proceed. They may also become the victims of identity theft.

Find out more about Nigerian scams

Q. I replied to a message and have supplied personal information as requested. Later I found out that the message was a lottery/Nigerian scam. What should I do now?

A. First of all, stop all dialogue with the scammers immediately. It is possible that the scammers have collected enough information about you to commit identity theft. You can find out more about identity theft and what to do about it via the link below:
FraudWatch International: ID Theft

I would also strongly advise you to contact your local law enforcement agency and inform them of your situation.

Q.I was tricked into giving money to lottery/Nigerian scammers. Please tell me how I can get my money back?

A. Unfortunately, there is probably not much you can do to recover your money. You should contact your local law enforcement agency for advice as soon as possible. Discontinue any further dialogue with the scammers. DO NOT give them any more information about yourself. It is possible that the scammers have collected enough information about you to commit identity theft. You can find out more about identity theft and what to do about it via the link below:

FraudWatch International: ID Theft

In next week's issue I will include some FAQ about common email hoaxes.

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Virus Report: Weekly Virus Wrap-Up

Several new variants of the MyDoom worm have been reported. MyDoom variants use spoofing to disguise the real origin of infected emails and use their own SMTP engine to spread. For more information about these MyDoom variants visit the Symantec Security Response website.

Beware of fake Microsoft Security patches that arrive by email. These fake emails usually contain a virus or direct recipients to download a malicious file from a website. Microsoft does not ever send security updates via email.

Internet Worm SMTP Engines Explained

Email Worm Spoofing - Spoofing Explained

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Reusing Plastic Bottles Causes Cancer Hoax

Submissions indicate that the following "warning" continues to circulate. The information in the email is false. There is no scientific evidence that reusing plastic bottles can lead to cancer.

The PET plastics used in such bottles have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and similar organizations in other nations. Furthermore, the DEHA chemical referred to in the email is not classified as a human carcinogen and is not considered to pose a health risk in any case.

The hoax email originated from a University of Idaho student's masters thesis. However, although the student's findings were taken up by the mainstream media, the FDA did not review the thesis nor was it published in a scientific or technical journal. Furthermore, the thesis incorrectly identifies DEHA as a carcinogenic element when this is not the case. According to the American Plastics Council website the thesis "did not reflect a level of scientific rigor that would provide accurate and reliable information".

Reusing plastic bottles can be a health risk in that improper cleaning could lead to the ingestion of harmful bacteria. While the bacterial related health risk of reusing plastic bottles does need to be considered, the information in this hoax email is pure nonsense and should not be taken seriously.

Many are unaware of poisoning caused by re-using plastic bottles. Some of you may be in the habit of using and re-using your disposable mineral water bottles (eg. Evian, Aqua, Ice Mountain, Vita, etc), keeping them in your car or at work. Not a good idea. In a nutshell, the plastic (called polyethylene terephthalate or PET) used in these bottles contains a potentially carcinogenic element (something called diethylhydroxylamine or DEHA).

The bottles are safe for one-time use only; if you must keep them longer, it should be or no more than a few days, a week max, and keep them away from heat as well. Repeated washing and rinsing can cause the plastic to break down and the carcinogens (cancer- causing chemical agents)can leach into the water that YOU are drinking. Better to invest in water bottles that are really meant for multiple uses. This is not something we should be scrimping on. Those of you with family - please advise them, especially for their children's sake."

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Freeware Review: WordWeb

WordWeb is a freeware application that functions as a stand-alone dictionary and thesaurus. The program sits in the System Tray and can be used from within just about any program you may be using including your browser.

To check a word, you simply highlight it and click the tray icon or use a keyboard shortcut. The WordWeb dialog appears and presents you with a definition of the word as well as a list of synonyms. If the word is spelled incorrectly, it will present an alternative where possible as well as a list of like words for you to choose from. You can substitute the word with one from the list by using the "replace" button.

You can also enter a word directly into the search field and have the search function present you with a definition, synonyms, antonyms and more.

This software is excellent if you are working in text editors, email clients, html editors or other programs that might not have access to the powerful grammar and spelling functionality of software like MS Word. It is also very handy for checking the meanings of words you may encounter while browsing the Internet.

The program is compatible with Win 95, 98, NT, 2000 and XP.

You can find out more about the program from the following link:

Developer's Website

NOTE: This version of the program is freeware and fully functional. However, there is a Pro version of the software that offers extra options for a fee.

For more freeware reviews, visit my Freeware Reviews blog

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The Hoax_Slayer Newsletter is published by:
Brett M.Christensen
Queensland, Australia
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©Brett M. Christensen, 2008
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