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Hoaxes & Myths

Chain Letters

A letter that is sent successively, via regular mail or email, to one or more people, and asks the recipient(s) forward it.

Click on the title to see the complete hoax text, a description, brief history, reporting date in a new browser window. In many cases, the hoax description site may also include reactions from hoax subjects, an extensive history, and provide links to additional analysis and interviews.

Basic Chain Letters | Chain Letter Give-aways | Chain Letter Threats | Petitions | Based on Fact

Basic Chain Letters

In a new twist to the old paper-and-stamp variety, this new breed of chain letter would have you believe that technology has moved years into the future and can now track your email. eMail can NOT be tracked.

McDonald's vs Taco Bell - Per this chain letter, if you forward it to 6 people you will see the Taco Bell dog run across your screen. If you send it to 8 people, Ronald McDonald comes out and attacks the dog. This is a hoax. While there are progams that you can install on your hard drive that make cartoons run across your screen, email does not contain executable code, nor can ithe forwarding of it initiate an action on your screen.

World Record Hoax - Supposedly forwarding this chain letter will put your name in the Guinness Book of World Records. This is a hoax. Although this particular chain letter is dated... it could be updated and re-circulated at any time.

Chain Letter Give-aways

These are supposed no-strings-attached give-aways by large companies, that - with promise of great reward - encourage you to forward the email to everyone you know. In reality.. eMail tracking programs don't exist, and there is no such technology that can perform this task.

Most of these hoaxes come in several different versions... re-written over the years to keep them current.

Bill Gates eMail Tracking Hoax - This hoax has Microsoft co-Founder Bill Gates asking for your help with their new email tracking program. It has several variants, but all are supposedly sent directly from Mr Gates himself. Word of warning... do NOT open any attachments. This is a hoax.

Microsoft & AOL eMail Tracking Hoax - This chain letter hoax claims that Microsoft's Chairman Bill Gates "...is sharing his fortune", in a supposed alliance with AOL. The hoax contends that in an effort to make sure that Internet Explorer remains the number one Internet browser, the two companies are running a beta test of email tracking software for Windows, and will pay out potentially thousands of dollars for your involvement. Other variants of this hoax include Intel as one of the participants, shelling out even more free cash to those who forward the chain letter. This is a hoax. Participants will NOT receive any money from any of the named companies, but you will eat up bandwidth that could better be used by others. The important thing to remember here is that THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN EMAIL TRACKING PROGRAM, and no company is going to give away millions of dollars to "test" something that is technically impossible (with current technologies) and would be in violation of US law if it did exist. Using the link above (or clicking HERE) you should follow the "Cash from Bill Gates" and "Cash from Microsoft" links at Snopes.com (first and last link on list at Snopes) <-- These links actually just take you down the page, so you can also scroll down the Snopes page and read all of the variations of chain-letter giveaways. This hoax is back in circulation as of January 2005.

Disney eMail Tracking Giveaway - This is a twist on the Bill Gates hoax. Supposedly Walt Disney Jr wants in on the email tracking scheme, and is willing to pay you handsomely for your participation. This is a hoax.

Bank eMail Tracking Giveaway - Yet another Gates-inspired giveaway... this time U.S. banks promise to pay you for your participation. If the idea of banks giving away their money doesn't tip you off to this hoax, maybe the suggested illegal pyramid scheme should. This is a hoax.

Free Miller Beer eMail Tracking Giveaway - This hoax promotes another email tracking program. The reward this time is coupons for free Miller brand beverages. This is a hoax.

Netscape-AOL Merger-Inspired Giveaway - This hoax is a variant of the most popular email tracking hoax - the one with Bill Gates' name on it. Apparently Mr Gates is supposedly getting nervous over the Netscape-AOL merger. Macintosh users are excluded from this hoax ment to fool only Windows '95 and '98 users. This is a hoax.

The GAP eMail Tracking Giveaway - Announcing a merger of Abercrombie & Fitch (news to the hundred year-old company), this hoax has The GAP supposedly getting in on the Gates-Disney-Bank email tracking scheme. As with some of the other hoaxes, your involvement in this hoax would put you square in the middle of an illegal pyramid scheme with clothes instead of money as the big payoff. This is a hoax.

The GAP eMail Tracking Giveaway #2 - This hoax, supposedly sent by The GAP's founder, ups the payout for your participation. Admitting that the first GAP giveaway may not have paid out for all participants... you are asked to show how really stupid you are, and fall for it again! This is a hoax.

IBM Giveaway - In response to a supposed meger between Hewlett-Packard and Gateway, this hoax has IBM giving away 250,000 desktop computers. eMail tracking isn't mentioned, but is implied. This is a hoax.

Coca-Cola Giveaway - Although email tracking isn't mentioned, participating in this hoax will supposedly net you four cases of Coke or Diet Coke... you get to choose in a pop-up window... supposedly. This is a hoax.

Microsoft-AOL Merger - Two variants of this hoax incorrectly announce that Microsoft and AOL have merged, and are conducting a beta test of an email tracking program. Testimonials in both suggest a payout as high as $24,800.00. Microsoft and AOL have not merged, and there is no email tracking program. Refer to the "Beta Test Payment Hoax" below. This is a hoax.

Beta Test Payment Hoax - This hoax is a variant of the "Microsoft-AOL Merger Hoax", but this time you are told that your check is in the mail. The tax information isn't credible, the phone number for the contact person belongs to a telemarketer, the email address sends your mail to Lycos.com, and the Washington DC address doesn't exist - CIAC This is a hoax.

Intel-AOL Merger eMail Tracking - This time the hoax has Intel and AOL merging, and the payout is witnessed by an "attorney". Intel and AOL are not merging. This is a hoax.

Ericsson-Nokia Phone Giveaway - This hoax leads you to believe that Ericsson is countering Nokia's giveaway of cell phones by givng away their own. Again, you have to forward the message to friends so that your efforts can be tracked. A legal-looking disclaimer is included so as to make it look more legitimate. This is a hoax.

Note that the link to Ericsson on the CIAC site is outdated, and Ericsson no longer features the hoax on their home page. And yes... there is a Nokia Phone giveaway hoax out there too. This is a hoax.

Tickle-Me-Elmo eMail Tracking Hoax - Tugging at your heart strings this hoax - picture of Elmo and all - wants you to believe that The American Cancer Society will donate money to cancer research for every person you forward this email to. The AMC does not donate money to cancer research - rather they are one of the organizations you can donate to. This is a hoax.

Old Navy eMail Tracking Giveaway - Using very poor grammar this hoax offers a free gift card for every person you forward the message to. This is a hoax.

J Crew eMail Tracking Giveaway - This hoax seems to be aimed at AOL users, and offers you a free gift worth $50 for every 10 people you forward this to. Again grammar isn't the author's strong suite. This is a hoax.

Bath & Bodyworks eMail Tracking Giveaway - This hoax offers you a $50 gift certificate if you forward it to at least 13 people. This is a hoax.

Victoria's Secret Giveaway - This hoax is the same as the Bath & Bodyworks hoax. This is a hoax.

Columbia House Giveaway - In this hoax, Columbia House will supposedly send you a free CD for every person you forward this to. Yes, it's another non-existent email tracking program hard at work. Poor grammar makes this fairly obvious that a corporate president didn't write it. This is a hoax.

M&M eMail Tracking Giveaway - In this hoax you will supposedly receive a case of M&M's for every 2000 people you forward the email to. M&M's are manufactured by the Masterfoods USA division of Mars Inc. with national offices in Hackettstown NJ and Vernon CA, thus the supposed M&M executive named in this hoax is apparently secretly operating in it's competitor's backyard - wonder if Hershey Foods Corporation of Hershey PA knows? This is a hoax.

Honda eMail Tracking Giveaway - In this hoax, Honda supposedly gives you a new car if you forward the email to enough people. Several testimonials infer that once you begin the process, you can check your balance to see how close you are to that new Prelude... complete BS. And by the way, the attached letter from Honda's supposed Senior Marketing Advisor isn't real either. This is a hoax.

Newell Company Give-away - This is a real twist to the email tracking program hoax. In this story a fellow named Ryan Newell claims that he's rented an email tracking program to see if it works. He wants you to help him by forwarding this email, and will pay you for your effort. Somehow, he's been able to bend the time-space continuum and tell you what's happened since he sent you the email that you're reading... a dead giveaway that this is a complete hoax. This is a hoax. SPECIAL NOTE: Even though CIAC includes the full text of this chain letter, it isn't indexed, thus doesn't have a specific URL for us to link to. We have copied the full text and linked to it on this site.

RH Power-Outback Steakhouse Giveaways - These two giveaway hoaxes are modeled after the Newell Company hoax, and actually speak to it... that is these hoaxes were obviously authored after the Newell hoax. The supposed payout from RH Power Inc. is hard cold cash, and as a bonus - if you act right now - a gift certificate to Outback Steakhouse. This is a hoax.

Cracker Barrel Giveaway - In this hoax a fellow calling himself Junior Johnson claims that he will send you a $50 Cracker Barrel gift certificate if you send this email to 9 people. This is a variant of the Newell Company Giveaway. This is a hoax.

Applebees Gift Hoax - Not to be left out, Applebees is supposedly joining the other retailers and will reward you for sending the email to 9 of your friends - inferring that their non-existent email tracking program works just as well as anybody elses. This is a hoax. Linking to www.applebees.com will display a pop-up window with the following message:

"E-mail Promising Applebee's Gift Certificates is a Hoax
A fraudulent e-mail chain message promising Applebee's gift certificates for forwarding the message is currently making its way around the Internet. The message promises a gift certificate and a confirmation number after forwarding the message to a specific number of e-mail addresses. Applebee's International, Inc. does not sponsor or endorse this activity and is unable to fulfill these requests."

Chain Letter Threats

eMail that threatens to hurt you, your computer, or someone else if you do not pass on the message.

Click on the title to see the complete hoax text, a description, and a brief history.

Not a Joke Threat - This threat is aimed at Windows '95 users, and threatens to delete all of your files if you don't follow the instructions. The thing to remember here is that email messages themselves (ASCII text) can NOT contain executable code, which includes viruses, trojan horses, and worms. HTML-enabled email can, as can email attachments. This is a hoax.

AOL Riot June 1, 1998 / May 1 - Although outdated, this threat could be re-written and re-circulated in the near future. This threat demands that you forward the letter to 10 people or your account will be terminated and you will receive a virus through AOL's servers. This wasn't true then, and won't be if it is ever re-circulated. This is a hoax.

MSN ß®øöô¥ £.14 Hacker List Threat - This threat demands that you forward the letter to 10 people within 45 minutes of receiving it, or face a multitude of invasive punishments that make use of the personal information stored on MSN's servers (social security number, address, credit card numer, etc.). If you're not an MSN client, this seemingly wouldn't affect you. This is a hoax.

Petitions

Petitions most often have a political or religious agenda.

Click on the title to see the complete hoax text, a description, and a brief history.

Film Includes Gay Jesus - This chain letter was first circulated in 1984 and by the end of 1985 more than one million Christians had written letters of protest in an attempt to have the non-existent movie banned. In a report detailing the history of this hoax, snopes.com reveals that the catalyst for this hoax may have been a 1980 entry in "The Golden Turkey Awards" published by Harry and Michael Medved. An entry for the supposedly real 1974 film titled "Him", portrayed Jesus as being gay. Of the 426 entries, the Medved's challenged the readers to find the one "...complete hoax...". The false entry was "Him". Four years later, the film that had never been made, became the "film in production", which it wasn't. This is a hoax.

FCC to Ban Religious Broadcasting (Petition #2493) - It's hard to believe that the author of this petition could think this would be helpful in any way what-so-ever. The hoax claims that the FCC will conduct hearings to consider Atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hairs' request to completely ban religious broadcasting of any type. In actuality, Madalyn Murray O'Hair (who was eventually found dead several years later) never filed such a request, the FCC was never considering any such ban, and the law that established the FCC and defines it's authority, prohibits the FCC from doing exactly what this petition claims will happen. Snopes.com has a good in-depth report on this subject. This is a hoax.

In a twist, the real 1974 petition #2493, asking that channels reserved for educational broadcasting not be taken by religious groups looking to use them for purposes other than education, was misrepresented and thusly defeated in 1975.

The FCC issued a statement regarding the false information that had been disseminated:

"The Commission appreciates the time taken by these individuals to make their feelings known, however, the vast majority of these letters are not directed to a resolution of the issues raised by the petition, as most are based on an incorrect understanding of the nature of the relief petitioners seek. Many of them are form letters that are premised on the mistaken view that the petition was filed by Madalyn Murray O'Hare, when such was not the case. In addition, the vast majority of letters urge us to reject what they understand to be the proposal to ban the broadcast of all religious programs (including church services) from the air. However, no such proposal was advanced by the petitioners, nor was it raised by the Commission."

You can read the FCC ruling for yourself.

AOL to Charge for IM's - The author of this petition would have us believe that America Online is planning to start charging for it's Instant Messaging service unless an Internet petition opposing the fee increase attracts a specified number of signatures. Any allegation that America Online is planning to discontinue or begin charging for the Instant Message feature is false. This is a hoax.

More recent variants of this hoax make this charge against MSN or Yahoo!

Free Closed Captioning to be Eliminated - This false petition claims that free closed captioning of television programs will end on September 30, 2001. After that date, only those who pay extra for the service will be able to use it. This is a hoax. There are no plans to eliminate closed captioning or charge consumers for the service, and in fact in accordance with an FCC ruling in 1998, 100% of all new programming and 75% of all old programming must be closed captioned by January 1, 2006 - a direct contradiction to this rumor. Although this petition is dated, petitions (and all chain letters) are regularly re-written and re-circulated.

Read more FAQ about closed captioning.

Boycott Saudi Oil Importers - In this chain letter that began circulating in 2002 (in several variants), we are led to believe that most of the oil imported to the U.S. comes from Middle Eastern countries and therefore funds terrorist attacks against Americans. This is NOT true. As of November 2002 only 31% of U.S. oil imports were from that region per statistics provided by the Department of Energy (see raw DOE data). Snopes.com provides a good discussion of this subject with graphs, charts, links, and references (as always).

Based on Fact

These chain letters use real events or situations as their premise, but

Brazil to Cut Rain Forest by 50% - This petition claims that the Brazilian Congress will vote on a bill that would reduce the size of the Amazon Rain Forest by 50%. Although Brazil had considered reducing the requirement for individual landowner's, the proposed law was shelved in May 2000. This is a hoax.

Read more at forests.org.

Paget's Disease - This widely-spread chain letter is actually NOT a hoax, but is included by CIAC in the Urban Myths & Legends section apparently because they consider it to be an extreme case of spam. The disease is real. Click the title for links to information about Paget's Disease.

PBS-NPR Petition - This chain letter was written and circulated by two Colorado college students in 1995 with the best of intentions in mind. Not so much a hoax, as a very unfortunate and mis-guided attempt to support PBS and NPR. Delete this chain letter if if ends up in your mailbox... and certainly don't forward it.

Mrs Ary's 2nd Grade Class - CIAC believes this to be a real message. And, while it is a chain letter, it at least has a cut-off date. Unfortunately it has continued to circulate.

 

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