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Undesired Email Flavours: Internet Hoaxes and Chain Letters


This article is a part of the series on undesired email (spam, phishing, viruses, etc.). The material covers the Poisons and the Remedies.

By Stas Bekman.

Published: May 15th 2006

Undesired Email Flavours: Internet Hoaxes and Chain Letters

I'm certain that you've received at least one email that contained some message and urged you to forward it to everybody else you know. Those are usually hoaxes (fake stories) or chain letters (other fake stories). Sometimes it suggests that you will make a fortune if you forward it to at least 10 people. Sometimes it tells a heart breaking story. Sometimes it's a joke or a funny picture. And so on. Whatever it is you've received, please make everybody else and yourself a favour - do not forward it to anybody else, even if the message suggests that if you don't, then you will be cursed, lose your job, fortune and sanity. Here is why.

The main reason is that it helps providing spammers with fodder for their activity. Most people on the net are email-illiterate. They know how to write an email and to click 'send', but they have very little awareness of things like privacy of other people. How many times have you received an email CC'ing you and 50 other people? And how many times have you received that same email, that has already been forwarded by several people, so that you can see some 100 email addresses in the body of the message? I receive these emails all the time.

How do you deal with this? You tell your friends to stop forwarding you (and others) those chain letters. You of course explain why (e.g. by sending them to this article). And you also explain that if they ever want to send the same message to a group of people that may not know each other (and probably don't want to have their email address exposed to others) they should use the BCC email headers and not CC (or To). The former stands for Blind Carbon Copy, and when used prevents from anybody seeing who else have received this email. Whereas the latter stands for Carbon Copy, which lets everybody see the email addresses of everybody else.

Please respect the privacy of people you communicate with and don't assist in augmenting the already heavy undesired email traffic.

There are other reason for not forwarding hoaxes and chain letters. One is the global resources usage: just like an Internet virus which sometimes brings parts of the Internet down, a chain letter can create a similar effect. Another reason is that you help feeding the troll who has created the chain letter or the hoax in first place - if everybody ignores their email, they'd just stop doing that. If their campaign is successful, expect more of those letters hitting your box and reducing your and everybody else's productivity.

And to repeat again: when you forward a chain letter you first of all expose yourself to more undesired email, since the recipients of your forward are very likely to forward it further and your email will end up in the spammers database.

If you are concerned that your friends won't like you anymore if you ask them to stop sending you undesired email, tell them about the risque they expose themselves to and I'm sure they will be happy to stop and thank you for making them aware of the issue.

If you already receive too much undesired email, here is how to defeat it.

Related Links

And here are some pointers for additional information on the subject:


Chain Letters Anonymous (http://www.csicop.org/chain/)
How to avoid a bad karma of breaking the chain :)

Hoaxbusters Chain Letters (http://hoaxbusters.ciac.org/HBChainLetters.shtml)
Examples of some chain letters.

Wikipedia on Chain Letters

Chain Letter Evolution (http://www.silcom.com/~barnowl/chain-letter/evolution.html)
An interesting treatise on the chain letter evolution: starting with the first chain letter reported circa 1795 and going to nowadays.

How to Defeat a Chain Letter (http://www.kith.org/logos/things/chain.html), The Anti-Chain Letter (http://www.perry.com/bizarre/antichn.html)
Anti-chain letters sent to stop chain letters :)

breakthechain.org (http://www.breakthechain.org/)
Helps you to break the chain, using the search engine.

Chain letters (http://www.cs.rutgers.edu/~watrous/chain-letters.html)
Another interesting treatise on the chain letters with many related links.

Wikipedia on Hoaxes



Related Books

And here you can find books that will provide an indepth coverage of scam, hoaxes and related material:

Continue reading about other email-related Poisons or jump into the Remedies section.

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