E-Mail warnings: How do I find out if this is true or not?

I was asked about this Tim Horton’s e-mail a few days ago.

Are you a Non- Smoker or Against smoking all together? Do you ever wonder why you have to have your coffee every morning?

A man from Arkansas came up to Canada for a visit only to find himself in the hospital after a couple of days. Doctor’s told him that he had suffered of cardiac arrest. He was allergic to nicotine. The man did not understand why that would have happened as he does not smoke knowing full well he was allergic to Nicotine. He told the doctor that he had not done anything different while he was on vacation other than having Tim Horton’s coffee. The man then went back to Tim Horton’s and asked what was in their coffee. Tim Horton’s refuses to divulge that information. After threatening legal action, Tim Horton’s finally admitted…


A girl I know was on the patch to quit smoking. After a couple of days she was having chest pains and was rushed to the hospital. The doctor told her that she was on a Nicotine overload. She swore up and down that she had not been smoking. SHE WAS HAVING HER COFFEE EVERY MORNING. Now imagine a woman who quits smoking because she finds out that she is pregnant, but still likes to have her Tim Horton’s once in a while. THIS IS NOT A JOKE, PLEASE PASS THIS ALONG…YOU MIGHT SEE THIS ON THE NEWS SOON.

Of course, there are many things wrong with this.

A line like this is a big tip off, “THIS IS NOT A JOKE, PLEASE PASS THIS ALONG…”

Usually, a google search on the subject of the e-mail or a phrase within it will reveal quickly whether there is any truth or not. They will usually lead to a site like http://www.snopes.com/food/ingredient/timhortons.asp, where they research the e-mail to find whether there’s any truth or not. Snopes.com is my favourite for that sort of thing and I often look there first. I’ve heard of this one before http://www.scambusters.org/ but I haven’t really used it. They have information on urban legends and other stuff as well.

On this page, they have information about urban legends in general, as well as a list of resources at the bottom of the page. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_legend

What it really amounts to is being skeptical about the information that you get via e-mail (and on the Internet in general). When there are few facts, the e-mail is poorly written, has been forwarded many times, and just seems unbelievable, it probably is.

There is an excellent guide at ArsTechnica about skeptical computing. I wish everyone would read it and at least try to understand it. It isn’t new, but not everyone has received the message yet.


3 thoughts on “E-Mail warnings: How do I find out if this is true or not?

  1. Good Job posting the Tim Horton’s Coffee Email.
    I think the more we spread the word about these things the better.

  2. I wanted to show some of my thought processes that go into figuring out how much truth there is in an e-mail. I usually don’t have to google it to tell whether it’s true or not as it is usually obvious to me almost immediately (However, I did fall for the Mars 2006 rumour). There’s something about e-mail that makes people very gullible.

    I would guess it has to do with not being able to see body language of the people who are telling the story.

  3. Hi Lincoln,
    don’t feel bad about the Mars one..i still get it in my email box twice a week. I think in this one people thought..ohh a powerpoint..must be real.
    I’ll post anymore of the ones I get if people email them to me. I’ll keep ya posted 🙂 Chow for now.

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