Hoax Scenario #1: The Fantastic Freebie
Say you come to a website that promises you a free computer if you just answer a few quick questions and give up your email address, phone number, and home address. Here's the catch: not only do you have to opt into a ton of shady advertising, you also have given up your most precious asset on the Web - your privacy. Get ready for a ton of junk mail, intrusive ads, and cold calls; after all, you did just give them your permission. And that computer? It was never going to happen.
How to Check Out This Hoax: Let's face it, nobody is going to give you a free computer or other high-ticket item without getting something in return. Next time, use BugMeNot to register anonymously, or try an anonymous email account.
Hoax Scenario #2: The Hidden Virus
You get an email about a popular event, news item, holiday, etc. that asks you to click on a video or attachment to see something truly spectacular. Do you click that link? Sure - after all, that video of the new President's election speech is something you'd like to see again, right?
How to Check Out This Hoax: There are many, MANY email scams that give you the links to all sorts of great stuff on the Web...well, supposedly great stuff. However, these clicks can cost you. Not only can you infect your computer with some pretty intrusive adware, you also run the risk of downloading nasty viruses that can literally destroy your machine. The next time you receive something that has a link to something on the Web that you might be interested in, check out the excellent About Urban Legends site and search for bogus email hoaxes.
Hoax Scenario #3: Crazy Web Images
How to Check Out This Hoax: There are a lot of images on the Web that aren't real, and there's two easy ways to check 'em out: of course, the Urban Legends site I've already sent you to, as well as Snopes, one of the oldest urban legends sites on the Web.
Hoax Scenario #4: Fake Websites
Believe it or not, you won't always find accurate information on the Web. In fact, every once in a while, you might come across something that (gasp!) is not true: like a website that offers to search for social security numbers, or a site that promises free money for (insert topic here).
How to Check Out This Hoax: If you come across a website that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Use How to Evaluate a Web Source to keep you on the straight and narrow.
Hoax Scenario #5: (Un)Credible Coupons
A coupon for a free Applebee's meal? How about a voucher for a free copy of Windows Vista, a mountain bike, or maybe even a car? Yes, you've probably seen all these and more in your email or on the Web, but are they for real?
How to Check Out This Hoax: There are a few easy ways you can check to see if that coupon is actually for real. First, use your common sense: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Second, you can check the sites already mentioned in this article (Snopes and About Urban Legends) to see if a coupon is legit. Lastly, you can use the sites mentioned in Free Printable Coupons to not only discover if your coupon is real, but find lots more coupons that you won't have to worry about.
How to Check Out a Hoax - More Information
As long as you're going to be on the Web, you're going to come across hoaxes - it's inevitable. Here are even more resources you can use to test what you see.