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Fake articles attempt to spread fear during outbreak

Posted at 12:37 AM, Jan 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-31 06:11:01-05

MICHIGAN — With all the information floating around out there, it can be easy to fall victim to an information scam -- especially during disease outbreaks like the coronavirus.

For this reason, it is essential that you look at every detail of a post before putting any stock into it. Ask yourself: Who wrote it? What is their motive? Does all the information check out? These three questions are essential to News Literacy.

One such post written by a scammer almost got one of our viewers. They shared that post, which had been forwarded through social media, with us. In it was a claim that the coronavirus had been found at Ferris State University.

The post read "CNN: Ferris State officials have confirmed a case of coronavirus within the Ferris community." The link that followed was a jumble of numbers, letters and a JPG file, which should connect you to an image.

On its face, it was obvious the link provided was not a story produced by CNN. When we searched the link, we found no website; but when we did a little digging on the JPG link included, we found inappropriate images and several screenshots of alleged "CNN" articles citing different health and safety scares for areas all over the country.

The one thing they had in common? The link for updates was identical in each post. If these were real articles, the links would reflect the different information; that's how computer code works.

Scammers like this are hoping you will look past their inaccuracies and click-through to their site, giving them the internet traffic they need, opening your device up to a virus, or worse -- like the image searched by my computer I now have to explain to my IT department.

We're glad our viewer questioned the post enough to bring it to our attention. Moreover, we're glad the information was fake.

The best advice we have in these situations is to trust your instincts. Look at every detail of a post before sharing and potentially spreading false information. Does everything check out? Can you search for the information independently, without the provided link? Who sent it out into the world? What would a possible reason for sharing this information be?

If the answers don't end up at "to share accurate information with our audience", move on.

For more information on News Literacy, click here. And no, we are not going to share the link to the fake post. There is no use in perpetuating it.