Virus Hoaxes are a type of Internet fraudulent activity that involves the installation of computer virus attacks on the victim's computer through a variety of means. These viruses have different uses including being able to phish a computer in order to steal its contents, including passwords used, any files that include personal information like names, social security numbers and account numbers, or simply as a vicious pranks that will cause someone's hard drive to fail.
Most virus hoaxes begin with chain emails that are sent to random email recipients. In the email there may or may not be an attachment, which you should never open. The email will instruct you that there is a virus on your computer, or that you must forward the email to X amount of people immediately or your computer will become infected with a virus that will wipe your hard drive. Most of the time, it is simply a prank but it can also have damaging effects on your computer.
Often times, the virus hoax emails appear to be from legitimate organizations like McAfee or Microsoft, therefore many individuals or businesses will open the email not knowing they should suspect something illegal. However, they will include links or attachments in the body of the email that can warn you not to continue with the email's instructions, and to just delete it immediately. Other types of emails to avoid as they may be a hoax include those with instructions to follow urgently or else something bad will happen to your computer, or with emotive language.
To avoid getting caught up in a virus hoax, be wary of any email message you open, especially if the sender is someone you do not recognize. Never click on any random link in an email or download an attachment you were not expecting. Forwarding emails for urgent matters is never necessary, therefore should be avoided at all costs. In most situations, just opening the email won't do any harm, but you should never forward it. Once you open it and read its suspicious contents, delete it at once.