The sham warning, which AOL said has been widely distributed via bulk email for "quite some time", warns email recipients not to open any mail containing the phrase "It Takes Guts To Say Jesus" in the subject line.
According to the hoax, users opening the email face the deletion of all files stored on their PC hard drive. The swindle explains that the virus erases files by "using" a reformatting function from Norton Utilities, effectively "destroying Macintosh and IBM compatible computers".
The fraud claims the warning was issued "yesterday" by IBM, and that it has been pronounced "worse than Melissa" by internet service provider AOL.
Details, such as how long the con has been in operation, and how many email users have fallen prey to it, are not known.