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Hoaxes & Myths

Sympathy Chain Letters

An untrue or misleading request, in the form of a chain letter, for help or sympathy for someone who has experienced a tragedy, illness, or accident.

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.

Abductions | Critically Ill | Missing Persons | Suicides | Based on Fact | Hoax Spoofs


Abducted From Sam's Club - In this chain letter, a mother at a Sam's Club turned her attention to the meat counter, only to find that her daughter had disappeared. The undressed little girl was supposedly found a few minutes later in a bathroom, her head half-shaven. This is a hoax. Variants of this hoax claim the location is an amusement park or McDonald's. Sometimes the intended victim is found partially disguised, sometimes the kidnapper is caught taking the already disguised child through a door, or the child has been drugged.

While child abductions are very real and happen every day in America, these chain letters are almost always hoaxes. has a very good discussion of this on their site.

Critically Ill

Help Save Stuart's Life - This is NOT a hoax. MacWizard asks that you please help by donating if you can. It is assumed that this plea might be included in this database in the future as a "hoax" IF it is widely circulated on the web long after the summer of 2003.

Little Girl Dying Hoax - This chain letter tells of a little girl that will soon die of cancer and wishes only to spread the word via a chain letter that everyone should live their life to the fullest. Supposedly the American Cancer Society will donate 3 cents for every forwarded email - that in itself is false. This is a hoax.

There are at least two variants of this hoax: A version re-written to include more text and the name of the professor making he plea. And a bonus, a variant leading off with a long poem.

Little Girl Dying of a Brain Tumor Hoax - In this chain letter a 29 year old father claims his 10 year old daughter Rachael is dying of brain cancer. This hoax comes with a photo of a naked baby wrapped in a blue bow (very cute). The problem is that the baby couldn't possibly be 10 years old. This is a hoax. A later variant changed her age to 10 months, still questionable. But even if you believe that the photo was provided "only for effect", this is still a hoax. The most recent variant includes a nice poem. Check out the photos at CIAC's site (click the 2nd photo to enlarge).

CIAC incorrectly lists this as "Little Girl Dying of Leukemia" - Leukemia is a cancer of the blood, not a cancer of the brain.

Little Girl with No Arms Hoax - This hoax, which claims a 9 year old girl is dying of bone cancer, and has already lost her arms and legs, asks you to send cards to the hospital, not surprisingly... the Cincinnati hospital asks that you don't. This is a hoax.

Jessica Mydek Cancer Hoax - This chain letter is a variant of the first 3 chain letters described above. This is a hoax. This variant names the dying girl, better describes her cancer as a cerebral carcinoma, and continues the myth that the American Cancer Society donates money to individuals.

Tamara Martin Cancer Hoax - eMail tracking programs will come to Tamara's rescue if you believe this chain letter. Tamara supposedly has both lung and throat cancer. This is a hoax. The author of this chain letter tries to make the skeptical reader feel guilty by finishing with "To those too selfish to take 2 minutes to do this, what goes around comes around."

Dave Matthews Hoax - This chain letter is a combination of The Little Girl Dying and Tamara Martin chain letters, and is supposedly from Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews Band. The supposed Mr Matthews makes it clear that this isn't a chain letter, then turns around and refers to it as such. Near the end the author states that "...if you're too damn selfish to waste 10-15 minutes..." "'re one sick puppy...". Note that this attempt at a guilt trip was exposing... who would want to "waste 10-15 minutes"? If this were a legitimate request then the author wouldn't call it a waste of time. This is a hoax.

Anthony Parkin Hoax - In this chain letter a little boy at the Mayo Clinic is dying and his last wish is that this chain letter circulates forever. Seven year old Anthony adds his two-cents worth in a seemingly attached email. This is a hoax. At least this author doesn't try to get us to believe that there are such things as email tracking programs.

Amy Bruce Hoax - CIAC calls this a joke, but it's hard to tell the difference between this and the other sympathy chain letters (except for the Boy with Just a Head spoof). Perhaps they mean that this hoax is a joke... then again they all are. CIAC still titles this with "hoax", so we assume it is just one more twisted attempt to waste your time. This is a hoax.

Seems that Amy has a second chain letter out there asking for her dying wish to be fulfilled...check out Make-A-Wish Foundation's response.

Timothy Flyte Hoax - This chain letter author believes in the email tracking system too. This time a local hospital will supposedly donate money to the "National Desease Society" every time this chain letter is forwarded. And of course there's a nasty finale' addressed to those who don't respond, it's the old "what goes around, comes around". This is a hoax.

Jada Cohen Hoax - This chain letter is depending on the magic email tracking progarm that doesn't exist to save little Jada. Supposedly a billionaire in California will give $.05 for each forwarded letter... with technology years away from a real email tracking program (not likely), anyone could pledge any amount and be safe from financial ruin. This is a hoax.

Kalin Relek Hoax - This chain letter teaches a good lesson... don't let your kids play in the street while cars are driving back and forth. Per this chain letter, that magic email traking program will come to Kalin's rescue and allow him to get that internal bleeding stopped. This is a hoax.

Missing Persons

If you receive an email or obvious chain letter regarding a missing child and feel that you must forward it, do some quick investigating first. Make sure that the incident date (if any is included) is fairly recent - if the date is more than one month old, don't bother forwarding the request. Some of the chain letters below describe real incidents (as noted)... but are VERY outdated and/or resolved. The problem lies in the fact that they are still circulating... which by that fact alone now makes them hoaxes.

Check with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Americas Most Wanted, and/or the Federal Bureau of Investication (FBI)... to check whether it is a real case. The FBI field offices are often involved in abduction cases, consider contacting your local FBI office, especially if you have information relevant to the case. Lastly, check with local authorities in the victim's area to make sure there really is a missing person.

Penny Brown is Missing Hoax - This chain letter claims that the author's 9-year-old daughter is missing from her home in Calgary Canada. This is a hoax. Although Monzine Jang's name is affixed to the bottom of the chain letter, she is not Penny's mother. Unfortunately Ms Jang's real phone number is included in the chain letter. This chain letter should NOT be forwarded. There are apparently dozens of variants to this hoax.

Chris Mineo is Missing Hoax - Chris supposedly disappeared in 1998. This is a hoax. Apparently, per investigations done in the years since, Chris was never a missing child, just a pawn in a custody battle. The text of this chain letter is almost identical to the chain letter written on behalf of another missing child, Kelsey Brooke Jones (see above). has conducted an extensive investigation into this chain letter's claim. A 2001 variant of this chain letter was for an un-named boy abducted in Spain... it used Chris' photo.


Garcia Marquez Farewell Letter Hoax - This is a strange chain letter. Supposedly written by Garcia as a farewell to his friends. This is a hoax. Turns out that it was authored by some guy named Johnny Welch. CIAC's link to a Reuters article is broken.

Based on Fact

Although these incidents were real, they have been resolved and should be retired from circulation immediately.

Krystava Schmidt - This chain letter describes a real incident. This WAS a real incident... problem is it's still circulating over 4 years later. In July of 1998 20 month old Krystava disappeared from Mounds View Minnesota while in the company of a family acquaintance.Two days later she was found. The Mounds View police would like people to stop calling, and asked CIAC to ask you to delete this chain letter if it ever shows up in your mailbox.

Kelsey Brooke Jones - This is another chain letter that describes a real incident in Southern Minnesota. This WAS a real incident, but this letter has been circulating since October 1999. It's time for it to be deleted. Little 5 year old Kelsey was found playing at a neighbor's house within a few hours of her disappearance. has come to a different conclusion, calling this a definate hoax.

Aaron Russell Steinmetz - This WAS a real incident. In December 1998 3-1/2- year-old Aaron and his father disappeared from Summerfield FL after leaving a family function. Aaron was found in February 1999. This chain letter is still circulating.

Craig Shelford or Craig Shergold Make-A-Wish - This WAS a real incident. In 1989, a then 9-year-old boy wanted to be recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records for receiving the most greeting cards. His wish was fulfilled by a wish-granting organization other than Make-A-Wish. By 1990 Craig had received 16 million cards. He is now a healthy college student and has asked that the cards stop. All cards are now forwarded to a recycling center. The Make-A-Wish Foundation weighs in on this frustrating situation.

This chain letter also comes with variations of Craig's name: Craig Sheldon, Craig Sheppard, Craig Shelton, and Craig Shelford. CIAC reprints the "Shelford" variant in it's list of sympathy chain letters.

Hoax Spoofs

These aren't real hoaxes or real incidents, just really funny spoofs.

Boy with Just a Head Spoof - This is perhaps the funniest spoof yet. A nice break from the con-artists that author the rest of the chain letters.


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