Fake Giveaways, Bill Gates, Disney World and Other Hoaxes

Fake Giveaways and Other Riches

(or "Bill Gates isn't going to send you or anyone else to Disney World just for forwarding an email to your friends")

Giveaway hoaxes go into great detail describing the wealth that you will receive from some big company if you would only send their message to everyone that you know. What they fail to say is how the big company would even know that you have sent on these messages to anyone, let alone the reason that they would even be willing to bankroll such a giveaway. There is no such thing as "e-mail tracking." No person or company is paying out money to people who forward chain letters. Everything in these messages is absurd. Do you REALLY think Bill Gates, as greedy as he is, is going to send a 1000 people to DisneyWorld? If you do, we suggest that you never make decisions involving money without first consulting a trusted friend. And you might want to read this letter FROM Bill Gates, himself posted on Microsoft's web site!

Names Used in Some Common Fakes

Abercrombie & Fitch
AOL/Intel Merger
AOL/Microsoft Merger
AOL/Netscape Merger
Bank Giveaway
Bath & Body Works
Bill Gates Hoax
Columbia House
Cell Phones - Nokia and Ericsson
Cracker Barrel Gift Certificate
EMI/Time Warner Merger
Free Champagne
Gerber Savings Bond
Honda Car
IBM Computers
iWon.com Chain Letter
J. Crew
M&M's for the Millennium
Miller's Free Beer
The Newell Company
Old Navy Gift Cards
Outback Steakhouse
RH Power
Tickle Me Elmo
Victoria's Secret

One the most common giveaway frauds involves the con that you can receive any of the following rewards from various companies by simply forwarding an e-mail message to your friends.  (Note these links open a window to www.snopes.com, who do a great job researching hoaxes)  Quoting from Snopes:

Summary: No, you're not going to be receiving money, merchandise, or free trips from Bill Gates (or anyone else), no matter how many people you forward this message to. Tracing all recipients of an e-mail message is not yet technically possible, and even if it were, Bill Gates certainly wouldn't be testing software that performed such tracking by blindly sending messages out to the Internet with a promise of financial reward to the recipients.

First and foremost, e-mail tracking programs do not exist. That folks continue to fall for myriad varieties of these leg-pulls is in part attributable to netizens having caught so many references to these non-existent programs that the new hoax is able to continue building on an already partially-constructed platform of belief.

(As with every other technological issue, the statement "e-mail tracking programs do not exist" becomes less and less true every day. It is possible in some cases to determine who has read a particular mail message, but there is no method of doing so that will work with all the myriad of e-mail programs out there or keep track of who forwarded the message to whom.)

Once again, e-mail tracing programs do not exist. Any "get something free" come-on or "help a sick kid" appeal which specifies an invisible program is keeping track of who received an e-mail and who it was then sent to is a hoax. Any such note. No exceptions. Not even ones not yet listed on this page.

Likewise, missives which offer no explanation of how the e-mails are being tallied are also hoaxes. Unless you are e-mailing a copy to a central tabulating point every time something is forwarded on, nothing is being counted, traced, tracked, or any other verb that would result in you getting free cargo pants from the GAP or inspiring an unnamed millionaire to donate just a little bit more towards the care of an injured child.

With all that said, we can begin looking at the various forms this jape has so far taken. And it's going to be a long, strange journey indeed.

The following message began circulating on the Internet around 21 November 1997:


Hello everybody,

My name is Bill Gates. I have just written up an e-mail tracing program that traces everyone to whom this message is forwarded to. I am experimenting with this and I need your help. Forward this to everyone you know and if it reaches 1000 people everyone on the list will receive $1000 at my expense. Enjoy.

Your friend,
Bill Gates


I would hope that any hoax this badly perpetrated would die a quick death, but events have proved otherwise. This message has been forwarded all over the Internet by people who should know better more often than the Jessica Mydek hoax, proving that if anything appeals to human nature more strongly than altruism, it's outright greed. "I don't know if this is legit, but I could use $1000, so here it is," reads the cover note attached to thousands of forwarded copies of this message. In other words: "Somebody's probably playing me for a fool, but any chance of getting free money is just too much to pass up, so I'll inflict this on everyone I know, just in case." It's no wonder the "Make Money Fast" scam won't go away.

It is not possible, with current technology, to trace every single recipient of a multiply-forwarded mail message on the Internet. Even if you don't know this, you should be able to spot this message for a fraud. If this message truly comes from the Bill Gates, how come the magic word Microsoft is nowhere to be seen? Does Bill Gates actually think he's obscure enough that no one will make the connection? ("Bill Gates? Doesn't he work for some big computer company?") Do you really think Bill Gates would promise $1,000 to every recipient of a mail message with no controls on how many people might eventually receive it? At a cool $1 million per thousand recipients, Bill Gates must be on the hook for over a few hundred billion dollars by now. Even he doesn't have that much money. And even Microsoft software doesn't cost that much to test and debug. Or is this a different Bill Gates, one who is not the head of Microsoft, but still has idle billions to distribute? And whoever this "Bill Gates" is, how is he going to send you your reward? By e-mail?

A few weeks later, a follow-up hoax popped up - possibly from the same source, but probably from someone much more adept at pranksterism who decided put an elaborate spin on the original:


Microsoft Corporation
One Microsoft Way, Bldg. 8, N.
Office 2211
Redmond, WA 98052 USA


Thanks for your help in compiling the "email database." I am happy to report that the 1000 participant threshold was broken on December 2nd, 1997 with a final push from the Boston area. You and everyone else you forwarded that email to have just qualified for our $1000 COMPENSATION prize !!

To claim your prize, simply respond to this email with your credit card number and expiration date and I will have someone from my office credit your account with the $1000.00 winnings.

With Warmest Regards,
Bill Gates

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The Microsoft Corporation makes no claim and takes no responsibility for any damage that shall be caused by the EEVP (embedded executable virus program) which is now resident in the virtual memory of most if not all of the participants of the Late '97 E-Contest.

The E-contest was actually a testbed for a new product we are developing called "V-TRACE98 v2.04". Within the past few months specialists in our VMTF(Virus Management Testbed Facility) accidentally discovered several new strains of EEVPs which cause particularly devastation to Netscape Communicator 4.0 software.

VT98 is being marketed at network administrators (a consumer product is in development) as a virus tool to trace a new strain of embedded executable email viruses back to their original source and "extinguish the threat" by cleansing the network and all client machines of all EEVP viruses and all Netscape communications software. VT98 2.04 then refreshes the clients with Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.5 (our latest release which has just been developed to combat EEVPs and other Netscape and Sun Microsystems JAVA software security weaknesses).

Early estimates placed the trace limitation of such a program at 672 users. In actuality, we were able to trace the spread of the EEVP message back through 994 participants to our MSVSS (Microsoft Virus Seed Server) at the Microsoft VMTF here in Redmond. The E-contest virus distribution vehicle was quite successful!

And so, we offer this generous COMPENSATION prize to our 1000 willing participants to address the effects of this new strain of EEVP. We hope that $1000.00 will be enough to cover the certain loss of most of the files on your hard drive (we valued at $257), not to mention the time and anguish (we valued at $43), and the general pain and suffering (valued at $93). This leaves you with exactly $607.00 which we expect you will most likely want to spend on a copy of our new program "E-SPAM BARRIER 98 v1.0" to prevent receiving our e-contest testbed messages in the future (priced at $597). Lastly, we thought we should leave you for a couple of stiff drinks (priced at $9 or $10).

Happy Holidays!


Note the several outrageous anti-Microsoft tidbits placed in the message: blindly send your credit card number in to Microsoft for a free "credit," Microsoft is experimenting with "virus" software aimed at eliminating rival Netscape and Sun software from users' machines, and the "winners" have to spend all their Microsoft reward money on repairing the damage caused by this virus and ensuring that it doesn't strike again. And, of course, Bill Gates is laughing all the way to the bank - he got his software tested for free, at your expense. With an audience this gullible, somebody should write this software.

Unfortunately, the saga didn't end there. In early 1998 the hoax was updated yet again, with some of its earlier flaws corrected: Microsoft is mentioned by name this time, some detail about the alleged "e-mail tracking program" is provided (it even has a name and acronym now - "BETA" indeed!), and the prize now includes a free copy of the forthcoming Windows98. (Doesn't that make $1,000 cash seem paltry by comparison!) The mangled syntax of the original ("everyone to whom this message is forwarded to") remains, however:


Hello Everyone,

And thank you for signing up for my Betan email Tracking Application or (BETA) for short. My name is Bill Gates. Here at Microsoft we have just compiled an e-mail tracing program that tracks everyone to whom this message is forwarded to. It does this through an unique IP (Internet Protocol) address log book database. We are experimenting with this and need your help. Forward this to everyone you know and if it reaches 1000 people everyone on the list you will receive $1000 and a copy of Windows98 at my expense.


Note: Duplicate entries will not be counted. You will be notified by email with further instructions once this email has reached 1000 people. Windows98 will not be shipped until it has been released to the general public.

Your friend,
Bill Gates & The Microsoft Development Team.



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