Monday, October 08, 2007

MAKE.MONEY.FAST and Other Internet Hoaxes

MAKE.MONEY.FAST and Other Internet Hoaxes

The Internet reaches millions of people all over the world, a huge market for people who want to make money, spread rumors, and simply be mischievous. Here's your introduction to -- and warning about -- three of the most widely-known Internet hoaxes which never seem to die out.

"Hi, my name is Dave Rhodes . . . "

E-mail is the perfect way to send out chain letters, isn't it? A few keystrokes will send ten of your closest friends this most famous of Internet scams: the MAKE.MONEY.FAST chain letter. Send it to your close friends, though, and you may end up with some very close enemies, instead!

Dave Rhodes assures you that this scam worked for him and was perfectly legal -- he made over $400,000 after sending out a few copies of the letter. He was destitute, and had been driven to this desperate solution after being hounded by bill collectors. (Somehow he could still afford his computer, modem, and e-mail account. Go figure.) And as the years have passed, other people have tacked their names and success stories onto the letter, making the document a monster of testimonials of financial empowerment and pleas that the chain not be broken.

Well, just as chain letters are illegal when sent via "snail-mail" through the U.S. Post Office, these e-mail chain letters are more than a simple disk-space-wasting nuisance. The F.C.C. can prosecute participants for wire fraud, because the letter falsely claims that the process is a legal mailing list subscription service. Prosecution is difficult, however: proving an e-mail letter's originator is nearly impossible. Many communications software packages permit forging of information; and anyone who doesn't know how to forge can simply tell the court, "Um, yeah, um, someone broke into my computer and sent it without my permission, yeah."

So send out this chain letter at your own risk! Rumor has it that the original Dave Rhodes is now serving time in a Florida prison for wire fraud. Of course, that rumor could be just as true as the scam's success stories.

" . . . and I want to get into the Guiness Book of World Records . . . "

Craig Shergold had a brain tumor about ten years ago. He wondered if he could get into the Guiness Book of World Records for receiving get-well cards. Or was it postcards? Or maybe it was business cards. Versions of this hoax have varied over the years.

In any case, Craig has undergone successful surgery in Maryland and is recovering nicely. Thanks to the Internet, though, kindly people keep telling everyone they know that Craig needs more cards. It's a fine sentiment, but these people just haven't realized that:

1. He's received millions of cards. Yes, millions. Ten years' worth.

2. He's won the Guinness Book category. In fact, Guiness has discontinued the category because people haven't stopped sending cards. Poor Craig has created a monster!

3. He's no longer at the London hospital which keeps receiving cards. And flowers. And plush animals.

" . . . because I plan to buy the Catholic Church."

This very recent hoax came with an official-looking Associated Press (AP) dateline attached to it. The article explained, in great detail, how Microsoft chief Bill Gates had just hammered out a deal with the Pope to buy the Catholic Church, use Vatican City as an international headquarters, sell religious software, and gain a controlling interest in Church affairs.

What tipped the story off as an inventive, hilarious parody of Microsoft's incredible market power -- other than the whole idea of any company purchasing a major world religion -- was the list of services the new organization would provide. Priests would listen to confessions on-line via the new Microsoft Network! People could receive Communion without having to leave home! And there would be no need to worry about the time you'll be spending in Purgatory -- the new Microsoft Church software would allow you to purchase indulgences, reviving a practice the Church gave up during the Counter Reformation of the late 1600's.

So many people missed the humor in the story (which compared the Crusades to "upgrading to Catholicism," and called the historical practice of national religion an "exclusive licensing agreement" with a king) that both Microsoft and the AP had to send out press releases denying the purchase and denouncing the hoax. Amazing what people will believe!

Keep your sense of humor -- and don't suspend your disbelief!

Watch out for these hoaxes. If you receive any of these messages, or see them posted to electronic newsgroups, feel free to ignore them. Or write a polite letter to the originator of the message, reminding him or her that (a) MAKE.MONEY.FAST is prosecutable in the U.S.; or (b) Craig Shergold is doing just fine and deeply regrets ever having wanted to create a Guiness World Record; or (c) the sender has no sense of humor, and even less intelligence, to believe that any corporation can openly purchase the Vatican. Oh, and don't forget to add a short note to the bottom of your letter: the word gullible is not in any dictionary.

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