Protect Yourself and Report the Latest Frauds, Scams, Spams, Fakes, Identify Theft Hacks and 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
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:
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:
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:
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: