Virus hoaxes are false warnings about computer viruses that don't exist. Someone writes a fake virus warning and spreads it anonymously via email. The warning gets forwarded, in some cases to thousands or even tens of thousands of people generating inbox clutter, anxiety and unnecessary internet traffic. In the worst cases, virus hoaxes can choke mail systems because of the volume of email they generate. Fortunately, virus hoaxes tend to be easy to recognize and stop. Here are some common signs from the typical content of a hoax:

  • "Not many people know about this virus"

    This line or some variant of it is pretty much a dead giveaway. You won't see this in a legitimate virus warning.
  • "This virus was just announced by [a major, well-known information technology company]"

    Microsoft and IBM are the favourites here because the author of the hoax can be pretty sure you've heard of them and they're trying to sound legitimate. But does the message tell you where to find this "announcement"? Did Microsoft or IBM announce this virus? If you can't confirm what the message says, it's probably a hoax.
  • "Please warn everyone you know!"

    Almost all virus hoaxes will have a similar instruction because that's what the hoax author wants you to do; send out a lot of useless email messages! No legitimate virus warning will tell you to do this, so if you see this advice in a virus warning, don't do it!
  • The warning is unsigned

    Read the warning carefully to see if you can tell who originally wrote it. In most cases, you'll get a hoax from someone who got it from somebody else, who got it from somebody else, and so on. Virus hoaxes are often forwarded many times (this in itself is a strong indicator that it's a fake). The warning should be signed by a legitimate organization that originated the warning, and you should find and visit that organization's website to verify the existence of the virus. If you can't tell who the author is, chances are very good that it's a hoax.

If you get a virus warning in an email message and you're debating whether or not to pass it on, assess it against the signs above. If it has these characteristics, break the chain, don't send it on. If you're not sure there are two things you can do:

  1. Any real viruses will be listed on the CCS Recent Scams and Phishing Attempts page.
  2. McAfee may have it listed as a virus hoax.

If you discover a hoax reply to the person who sent you the warning and tell them they've been hoaxed, and should stop sending this message.

If you can't establish whether or not the virus is real, forward the warning to the CCS Help Centre. We'll investigate it and put out a virus alert if needed.