There's a Sucker Born Every Minute... Even Faster on the Internet

Tom Snyder photo by Tom Snyder on May 08, 2000

Urban Legends, Hoaxes, Chain Letters… all a part of today’s landscape. With the advent of the Internet, should we be surprised that they’ve already woven themselves into the fabric of the Web?

Frequently, I receive e-mails from well-meaning, but misguided friends, relatives or acquaintances. They tell me about great new income opportunities, a chance to get in on chain letter that “really isn’t illegal,” watch out for a new Virus, or how to get free clothes, software and/or money for just forwarding an e-mail.

If it sounds too good, scary, illegal, unethical or ridiculous to be true, it almost certainly is.

These types of e-mails usually fall under one of four different types listed below.

1. Chain Letters
Anything that requires your name to be added to the bottom or top of a list of other names is a chain letter. If it requires you (or anyone else) to send anything of financial value (stamps, coupons or money), it is illegal. The fact that it’s going out via e-mail does not remove its illegality.

Although many of them come with threats of death if you break the chain, the worst that will happen to you is that you’ll lose whatever money you send out, find yourself in trouble with the law or both!

2. Virus Hoaxes
These are almost all identical… They begin: “If you receive an e-mail titled ‘(name of virus)’ DO NOT OPEN IT. It will erase everything on your hard drive.”…

These are tricky because there are several viruses that really are transmitted by e-mail. But the truth is that simply viewing an e-mail with an infected file attached to it will not infect your computer. A virus needs to be launched to infect your machine.

However, If you feel you have a moral obligation to save your friends from viruses, don’t pass on these inaccurate e-mails, send them to instead.

By the way, if you ever receive an e-mail with an attachment that you are not expecting, contact the sender to make sure it’s trustworthy. There are several viruses that secretly attach themselves to e-mails. So don’t just rely on the fact that you know the sender, as they may be sending out a virus to their friends without even knowing it. The rule of thumb is this: If you have any doubt, don’t save it, open it, or run it. It will be harmless if you just delete it (and if delete just sends it to your trash bin, make sure to delete from there, too).

3. E-mail Tracking hoaxes
The M.O. on these is always the same… Disney, M&M’s, The GAP, Abercrombie and Fitch, Microsoft, AOL or others can somehow track your e-mail, and if you forward an e-mail to a certain number of your friends, you’ll receive free product or money from them.

You really don’t believe that, do you? The idea that these companies will give you anything like this for free is surpassed in stupidity only by the concept that they can actually track your e-mail, to know who got what from whom, and can somehow figure out how to send this stuff to you with only an e-mail address. DUH!

4. Urban Legends
Cookie recipes, greeting cards for terminally ill children, ATM envelope poisonings, reports of organ harvesting from traveling salesmen, and child abduction alerts… all stuff that would travel even without the Web, circulate faster and further when sent by e-mail.

Just say “delete.”

While most of those emails are harmless, the one thing that is true about them all is that they’re not worth the bandwidth they consume, the space they occupy in your mailbox, and the time you waste reading them.

A great reference for all the hoaxes, pranks, and other stuff like this can be found at Should you receive one of these types of e-mails, instead of passing on the e-mail to someone else, go here first, find the truth (it’s ALWAYS there), and select “Reply ALL” so you can send out the real story to everyone who received the original e-mail.

Share this article