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TUCoPS :: Wetware Hacking :: Others :: vaccine.htm

Anti-Chain Letter Vaccine Probably not an effective "vaccine" for this pernicious memetic virus.



ANTI-CHAIN LETTER VACCINE A Directions: Read and digest contents thoroughly. Properly used, this vaccine will give strong immunity to letter viruses of the Pyramides family, as well as some increased resistance to other types. Not to be taken internally. Contents: If you have an email account, sooner or later you will probably receive a message that asks you to make copies of it and forward it to as many people as you can. Sometimes these messages promise some sort of reward if you participate. Before you do, you should consider the possible dangers, some of which may not be immediately obvious. The simplest sort of chain letter is one where you are asked to send a small amount of money (usually only a dollar) to each of the five (sometimes six) addresses listed in the letter itself. Then you are asked to add your address to the bottom of the list, remove the top address, and send copies to as many people as you can. Within a matter of weeks, you are told, you can expect to start receiving lots of money in the mail, as the people you wrote to begin to respond, and the people THEY wrote to, and so on. One main problem with this sort of chain letter is that it is ILLEGAL in most countries, even though the letter will probably tell you that some lawyer looked at it and said it was okay, or refer you to the U.S. Post Office web page telling you that it's perfectly legal (betting that you won't call their bluff and actually look it up). Legal or not, it's DANGEROUS, but we'll get to that later. There is a variant of this basic scheme that's been making the rounds, both in email and snail mail, for several years now, and which employs a clever device to make it look legal. This letter purports to be a legitimate business opportunity which will bring you $50,000 in 90 days. Two common variants open with "My name is Karen Liddell" or "My name is Christopher Erickson", and there are many other strains out there, but they all operate on the same basic principle. Just like in the primitive strain, you are instructed to send $5 to each of the addresses listed along with a note ordering a copy of some report. One common title is "How to Make $250,000 Through Multi-Level Sales". You might not actually read the report; you just need it to send out to the people who order it from you. This gimmick, of offering the reports as a token product in exchange for the money, is supposed to make the chain letter legitimate. Of course, it is still illegal, but that's not the only danger. THE DANGERS: These letters are very much like viruses; they take advantage of a host (you) in order to duplicate themselves so they can go out and infect other hosts. That's how they survive. And if making you think they can make you rich will trick you into copying them, then that's what they'll do, even if it's not true. The author of this article has received, over the years, over a hundred copies of the four reports chain letter, and collected hundreds of other specimens. From an exhaustive analysis of the frequency of names appearing in the address lists, he has calculated that the average participant in this chain makes no profit at all. This is partly because the number of people who will respond to your mailout will never be as big as is promised (you will be lucky to get more than one response), but also because a surprising number of participants cheat, usually by adding two or more addresses (commonly their street address and a P.O. box) instead of just one. (They may also neglect to pay for Report #4, which wouldn't show up in the data.) But the main point is this: Most participants will not make money from this scam. What's more, since this chain has been circulating since at least 1991, its population is probably fairly stable, which means that the net profit is zero. So, when a few participants DO make money, that means that the majority of participants are actually LOSING money. So what, you say? $20 isn't much, and it would be really nice to be one of the lucky ones who does make money? All right, let's ignore the fact that your $20 will get a better return buying lottery tickets, and assume that you really go all out, and send out thousands and thousands of letters, and get hundreds of orders. You just might make some money, right? And email is so cheap, it's worth it, if you make a couple of hundred dollars. Well, remember what they say about sexually transmitted diseases? When you sleep with someone, you're not just sleeping with them, but with everyone they've ever slept with? Well, the same thing is true in reverse with chain letters: You're not just sending your address to everyone YOU send it to, but to everyone THEY send it to, and so on and so on. If you're like most participants, and lose money, your address won't reach many people, and the risk is relatively small. But if you DO make a profit, your address will be seen by hundreds and hundreds of people, not all of them sympathetic to your generous offer of a "legitimate business opportunity". Who might that include? o Ordinary people who are sick of chain letters. For the most part, this won't do you much harm, apart from making a lot of people mad at you. So you might try to use a fake name or a post office box to retain some degree of anonymity. That won't help much, if your message is the 31st to reach someone whose rage threshhold is 30 chain letters. Internet users can be quite resourceful at tracking down information, including things like who rents a PO box. They might send you unpleasant items in the mail, or turn you over to: o Postal or Law Enforcement Authorities. As mentioned above, chain letters ARE illegal, despite any claims they may make to the contrary. So the agencies responsible for enforcing these laws may well act if they become aware that you're sending along a chain letter, and the chances that they'll act on YOU go up with every person who receives a chain letter that you passed along. o Tax Authorities. Great, so now your "legitimate" mail-order report business is flourishing, and people are sending you thousands of dollars. Fact is, most participants in these sorts of Make Money Fast schemes don't bother with the legal niceties of business licenses or reporting the income for tax purposes. After all, who's gonna know you got a $5 bill in the mail? Well, everyone who gets your chain letter will know you're ACCEPTING $5 bills, and anyone who receives a second or third generation of your chain letter will have pretty good evidence you've already received at least one or two. Given that the IRS actually pays informants a percentage of money recovered from tax cheats, sending out chain letters to people is virtually BEGGING someone to recommend you for an audit, which is never pleasant even if you've done everything by the book. o Criminals and Con Artists. Whether you're convinced by now or not, chain letters are a scam. They appeal to the victim's greed, promising easy money. When you put your name or address in a chain letter, you identify yourself as a confirmed sucker, a very attractive target for professional con artists. Sure, maybe you think you're clever enough to see through any confidence game. But then, that's why they're called "confidence" games, isn't it? So if you want to make money from chain letters, do it the honest way: Report the person who sent it to you to the proper authorities. Chances are, you won't get a big reward, but you won't get burned either.


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