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The Recent Starbucks Hoax

I was at a conference in Southern California earlier this week. While reading my email, I noticed that there was a message in my queue from a longtime friend and colleague. I would never have expected the content of any message sent by him to be what it was—it was an announcement of a free pastry with the purchase of coffee at Starbucks on July 21. All you had to do, according to the message, was to print the coupon within the message and take it to a Starbucks acoffee shop.

Whenever I receive a message of this nature, the first thing I do is to immediately check out hoax buster sites. Sure enough, the first one that I hit (snopes.com) stated that the free pastry with the purchase of Starbucks coffee message was a hoax. After a second site that I also very much trust stated the same thing, I was convinced that the hoax message was bogus, and thus felt constrained to let everyone on the message distribution list know. I sent a short message saying “Sorry, but snopes.com and other anti-hoax sites say the Starbucks promotion is a hoax,” and nothing more.

What happened afterward did not exactly make my day. The sender of the message about the alleged Starbucks deal sent a series of message that in essence said “I checked it out, and I assure you that the deal is real.” That seemed a bit strange for two reasons:

• The so-called promotion was not anywhere on the Starbucks.com site.

• The original message, forwarded by the person who sent it to me, had a sender address that indicated it had come from Switzerland. Why would someone in Switzerland announce a Starbuck’s promotion?

I had lots to do, so I refrained from contributing to what was starting to amount to spam. Additionally, so what if people believed the hoax, went to a Starbucks shop to collect on the so-called deal, only to be disappointed. Starbucks shops are everywhere, so nobody would waste much time, and the worst that could happen would be that some people might waste a little gas and time, at the same time feeling disappointed or perhaps even a bit angry.

Tuesday, July 21 came, and curiosity compelled me to go to two nearby Starbucks shops and see if there would indeed be free pastry with a coffee purchase. No way—the people behind the counter looked at me as if I was crazy when I asked if there was such a deal. I walked back to my hotel room, got back on the Internet, and told my friend that I had checked out the so-called deal and found that there was none. He replied that he had gotten a free pastry, and so had a friend of his.

The detective in me compelled me to recheck the facts. There was still no word whatsoever about the alleged promotion on the Starbucks site. Then I ran into a nice posting on yet another hoax buster site. It said that the message about the so-called promotion was a hoax, but that some Starbucks stores were honoring the coupon even though they did not know it was bogus.

This is indeed a strange world in which we live. I’m glad that a few people got something for free despite the message about the alleged deal was specious. There is a lesson for information security professionals here, though. Granted, none of us is perfect, but we must do everything in our power to ensure that messages we create and also the ones we forward contain bona fide information. There is a lot of bogus information being spread over the Internet, and we need to do everything in our power to avoid being part of the problem. Doing a little detective work is the right solution. There are many great anti-hoax sites, and before we forward any kind of message containing claims, offers, promotions, and the like, we need to check out these sites out.

Oh, and by the way, my friend and I are still very much friends…

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