Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Science Fair Project: Fraudulent Chain Letter


Science Fair Project: E-mail hoax!
In the years before computers, chain letters were common and were sent by U.S. mail and required a stamp. This limited the extent to which chain letters were passed on, because sending them involved time to type the letters and money for stamps.

Today, with the click of a button, a message can be forwarded to hundreds of people at no apparent cost to the sender. If each of us sends the letter on to only ten other people (most send to huge mailing lists), by the ninth resending there is an ending result in a billion e-mail messages. This unecessary hoax clogs our networks and interfs with the receiving of legitimate e-mail messages. If you also factor in the time lost reading and deleting all these messages and you see a real cost to organizations and individuals from these seemingly innocuous messages. If you unwittingly participate in one of them, it takes even more time to copy and paste and find suitable forwarding email addresses. And then when you do find out that it was a hoax, there is the added cost of worrying about it and wondering if your name ends up being used inappropriately, somehow.

Chain letters that ask you to send money are illegal under current Postal and Federal Trade Commission regulations. Even those that offer an inexpensive report or disk that people sell to you to get your money are also illegal pyramid schemes. The others are a waste of time and energy and often just clog up all of our mailboxes.
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List of some of the chain letters (listed their online scam name) that are still circulating (some for many years) on the Internet. This is just a random selection, it is by no means, all of the current hoaxes or scams.
- Hawaiian Good Luck Totem
- Everything You Never Wanted
- McDonalds vs. Taco Bell
- World Record Hoax
- Cool Video Hoax
- Tweety Bird Wish
- Mrs. Ary's 2nd Grade Class
- Helping Kids With School Project Chain
- Send a Report Pyramid
- Make Money Fast Pyramid
- Make A Loan Pyramid
- Old Lady With A Box Hoax
- Little Girl Song - Candle Memorial Chain
- Tweedie Bird Chain
- Amy's Ghost Chain
- Second Buddylist Chain
- Angel Tag Chain
- Spooky Message Chain
- Incredible Walking Man Chain
- Irish Friendship Wish Chain
**Science Fair Project Chain**
- PayPal Chain

Science Fair Project Chain
This chain letter began on the Internet in March of 2004. The basic premise was that a science teacher was requesting (of special friends that were most likely to help with the project) to do a simple name and numerically based online project that simply involved adding your name to a list of names and then copying the text of the letter and mailing it to 10 more of your own online friends. The persuasion was that it was helping out a student, you were specially selected as someone who would most likely be willing to help, and that eventually something magical, and most likely 'scientific' would happen as a result.

In reality, it is simply an endless circuitous chain letter that has been self perpetuated for the past 4 years. There is no master list of names, as they migrate and mutate in a non-stop fashion. If this were truly a Science Fair project, there would be a way to send information back to the "student" doing the project and some kind of an ending date so it is not forwarded forever.

The text of chain letters often changes along the way, but the gist of it is something like this :
"Copy and paste this letter into a new email (PLEASE do NOT hit "Forward"), then read the list of names. If your name is on the list, put a star * next to it. If not, then add your name (in alphabetical order, put no star.) Send it to ten people and send it back to the person who sent it to you. Put your name in the subject box! You'll see what happens - it's kind of cool! Please keep this going. Don't MESS it up, please! "

And then a huge list of names follows. I deliberately did not chose to paste and copy my list and expose all of you good hearted bloggers who got 'caught' by this hoax. So, this is an 'old' list.

Aaron* Alan Amanda Andrew Ann Annettee Brad Carmella Carol Cheryl Cindy Daron Dave Deanna Debi Dianna* Donna Frank Hank Helen* Irene* Jacob Joe John Judy Julia Julie Kandy Kathie Kay Kina Laura* Linda*** Liz Lynn Mary* Mary Jo Martha Maureen Melissa Micheal Nancy Nita Pat Patty* Paula Phil Rickey Rusty Sandy Stacie Stephanie Susan Susie Tamara Tammy Tina Tirrell* Tracie Verlann Von Yolanda Val Cheryl....

The list of names is usually followed by some fake name of either a teacher or an administrator at the fictitious school. Like memes and urban legends, chain letters by their very nature, change and mutate along the way.

The reason I am writing about this:
A good hearted, well meaning person in our blogging circle sent it to me, as one of her own 10 people. On the list I was sent were primarily people from our own blogging circle expanded from another blogging circle. So, that told me that some of my online friends had already unwittingly participated in this hoax.

It seemed prudent during this busy season, to not have endless others participate in this attempt to trick all of us into a senseless chain of forwarding. If you already participated, nothing too terrible will happen. It just wastes time!

But don't feel bad, I had already copied and pasted the text and was scouring my own address book for 10 names when I suddenly realized it was fake and that was because there was no ending, no place to send the final results and also some misprinted text boxes at the bottom of the letter...html errors kind of thing.

So, I researched it online in the hoax web pages and sure enough, there it was...listed as an ongoing hoax! So, I almost fell for it myself! It is easy to want to help someone else, especially during this time of year! And that is the primary reason we fall for chain letters. We know the last sender and we are encouraged by their participation to 'help them out'.

Buyer beware is now sender beware, as well ;)

5 comments:

  1. Oh yeah :0). How about a link to your favorite hoax finding sites?

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  2. Thank you. I dislike chain letters though my niece will send me some occasionally and a couple of friends. I'm afraid I just let it die on my computer and never say a word to anyone. For one reason, I'm not so happy to get them myself and why would I want to give a friend the same unpleasant feeling. I've sort of adapted the same feeling towards the blogger awards though I participated the first couple of times when I first started blogging. How much is a game and how much is a burden? No body wants to be a spoil sport but still...

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  3. I, like you, do not like chain letters and always delete them immediately. Thanks for making people aware of the "cost".

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  4. I too delete them, but maybe some of my well-meaning friends will stop sending them if your word spreads.

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  5. I have three friends who regularly forward me their mail. Some of them are interesting and inspirational, but for the most part, they are hoaxes and chain mail sorts of things.

    I had a boss who was notorious for sending these kinds of things. I even responded from time to time to let her know when something she sent was a hoax. Eventually I had to tell her to stop sending me junk mail period.

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Michele Bilyeu blogs "With Heart and Hands" as she journeys between Douglas, Alaska and Salem, Oregon.