The bioterrorism of October 2001 caused by the distribution of anthrax through the U.S. postal system was compounded by the significant delay associated with positive identification of the Bacillus anthracis spores and the unknown extent of their distribution along the eastern seaboard. In the ensuing two years, literally thousands of hoaxes, letters containing harmless powders, have been mailed creating additional anxiety. Thus, there is a need for instruments and/or methods that can not only identify anthrax-causing spores to save lives, but also identify hoax materials to eliminate costly shutdowns. Here we present Raman spectra of Bacillus cereus spores, an anthrax surrogate, as well as of 30 common substances that might be used as hoax materials. We also examine the choice of laser excitation, 785 nm or 1064 nm, and its impact on the ability to measure visible particles in 5 minutes or less, and to provide a complete answer to the question of suspicious material identity.© (2004) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.