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Do You Check Your Skepticism At Your Inbox?

The e-mail arrived yesterday, except I'd read it many times before: a breathless accounting of how Microsoft would pay you THOUSANDS!!!!! of dollars if you forwarded the message enough times, all because it was anxious to promote its Web browser. The note had, in fact, been forwarded numerous times, with dozens of other people on the address line by the time it had landed in my inbox.

It was, of course, false; not even Microsoft can justify writing $24,800 checks to prop up the steadily falling market share of Internet Explorer. And yet people were willing to suspend their disbelief and spam their friends and co-workers with this bogus advisory.

On one level, it's all harmless fun. I love a good prankm, especially when it's done with some style. What's the worst that happens when one of these messages goes around? People only lose a little of their time, that's all.

(These e-mails are easy to spot. You can check them at the myth-busting site Or you can just employ a little skepticism: A message that describes a company acting in some absurd, self-destructive manner and yet fails to link to any third-party sites that verify said conduct is almost always false. The odds of one of these chain-letter e-mails being true also drop as the number of exclamation points in the message increases.)

On another level, though, a lot of dangerous stuff arrives via e-mail--viruses, phishing e-mails, spam and other harmful nonsense--and much of it employs the same basic sales pitch: "Forget what you saw before, this is true and you need to act on it now!"

It worries me when smart, experienced people who have run their own businesses or survived medical school get taken in this way. Will they remember to turn their scam radar back on when an e-mail isn't asking them to forward copies to everybody they know and instead only needs them to do one little thing--verify their account or download a special program?

If you've sent a "forward this to everyone you know!" e-mail to everybody you know, could you tell me why you did it? (Your secret is safe with us.) If you once did but then stopped, what got you out of the habit?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 20, 2007; 10:06 AM ET
Categories:  The business we have chosen  
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Mama always told me..there is no free lunch. Some folks refuse to believe I guess.

Posted by: tina | July 20, 2007 10:45 AM | Report abuse

If something sounds too good to be true, it is.

Posted by: rjrjj | July 20, 2007 10:53 AM | Report abuse

I don't even send on virus warnings until I've run it by snopes or some other third-party source. Generally forwards like that end with me. The jokes and such I'll pass on, but most of the others are false.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 20, 2007 11:33 AM | Report abuse

I'm a Snopes believer as well. Because I've debunked so many of these scams -- usually including the relevant link to Snopes -- most of my friends and family, rather than check Snopes themselves, treat me as their own Snopes to verify.

When I do the Snopes check, I'll usually do a reply-to-all but convert the dozens/hundreds of e-mail addresses to BCC, if for no other reason than to drive home the idea that it's important to protect the privacy and sanctity of others' e-mail addresses. (It's akin to Rob's column about Facebook -- some of my friends aren't friends with some of my other friends, and so don't need to know their e-mail addresses.)

I use the same philosophy with e-mails regarding online petitions. In my opinion, such petitions are useless and downright lazy, and are very likely ignored by whoever they're targeted to. That's why, time and again, it's reported how much more attention people (companies, politicians) pay to real letters -- someone felt something was so important, they mailed a letter. (Even if it was copied, pasted, and printed out and took 60 seconds to do, it still carries more weight than "click/type name/click Submit.")

Posted by: JC | July 20, 2007 12:36 PM | Report abuse

I've pissed off many, now somewhat friends by holding to my golden rule: Don't include my e-address on any of these "forward this to everyone you know!" Otherwise, I delete them out of all of digital existence. It's bad enough some unscrupulous person can do harm to me, but I won't act as an enabler to allow them to violate my friend. Please hold me in the same regard!

In this day and age, I can't believe people still fall for this.

Posted by: umm.huh | July 20, 2007 1:23 PM | Report abuse

I am so sick and tired of it that when I get it, I reply to everyone on the list that I am sick and tired of having received it for the hundredth time, that it is really, really old BS and it was NOT on Oprah and in USAToday. It's the only way to get people to stop sending it.

Posted by: charlie | July 20, 2007 2:10 PM | Report abuse

When I along with a cousin was new to the net, she forwarded me the Neiman Marcus cookie recipe, which I forwarded on to someone else, because I didn't know about chain email and all the forms it took back then. Embarrassing as this is to admit, I thought it was an actual account from a friend of hers. However, when that recipe chain cropped up on some completely unrelated lists from completely different sources, I realized we'd both been had. Argh! Then there were the dying/missing kid chains. Learning that people make up sick stories and then insult you as heartless, selfish and lazy for not forwarding those big lies on and passing along a lot of emotional battery to your friends - can we say outrage!? Who the hex do these hoax-originating cowards think they are and what gives them the right to anonymously insult people on a massive scale just to get them forwarding their sick hoaxes? Then there are the stupid jokes and annoying preachy friendship and "God will love you more if you pass on this chain letter that was written by angels!" type fwds. All of which, I hate. It also urks me to no end when chain email makes up stuff about real people and/or uses the words "God" "Jesus" or anything religion oriented as a hook to get people spamming their friends. And chain email is killing real communication. Because so many people would rather keep sending "hug-a-war" and good luck/friendship chain email telling you what a hug is or what friendship is, instead of actually being your friend and sending you emails with their own words. All chain email is a huge manipulation to get people forwarding it. For this reason, I detest any and all forwards, jokes, warnings, glurge (that sappy friendship and prayer stuff) Chain email is causing a lot of anti-Christian backlash because so many Christians will pass on anything that tells them it came from Jesus! Argh! Am I the only Christian who hates religious chain mail as well as the others because I see it for what it is? I really don't like my friends and relatives letting themselves get fooled and cyber-manhandled into forwarding this junk. And who gets scolded when the record is set straight with a debunk and referral to the snopes pages? Me! No kidding. This email list member started sending me all these blasted fwds she got from whoever in her email. I hit the reply-to-all with a debunk, an url, and a caution to stop sending chain email, and somebody else in her huge address list writes me back, when she should've been ranting at her friend who included her address in the fwd in the first place. And then when your friends realize you don't want chain email, they stop emailing you, and go on sending chain email to other people. If anybody who's treated me that way ever wonders why they never hear from me any more, this is why. If all they're going to do is pass on fwds, why the heck are they even on the internet? I can excuse a newbie who is willing to learn and get out of sending chain email, but people who defend their actions and continue to send fwds when they've been shown why it really isn't so cool to do so, I have no more patience for. Annoying how some ignore the debunks and even all out requests to quit sending fwds, when the next one hits their inbox, they send it far and wide. So, people addicted to forwards value what a fwd tells them to do over what their real live friends on the other end of the email say.

Posted by: Capri | July 20, 2007 2:17 PM | Report abuse

I agree entirely with Capri. My boss is the worst offender with the angels/friendship/virus/carjacking etc chain e-mails. It's almost like the boy who cried wolf too many times; I delete almost every e-mail from her that has Fwd: in the subject line.

Posted by: nurseboy | July 20, 2007 7:37 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Capri -- but if friends and relatives are the ones sending those stupid forwards, we can't just filter out their email addresses. That is where I am frustrated. I just delete the email, and hope they will stop....

Posted by: rjrjj | July 21, 2007 11:50 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Capri -- but if friends and relatives are the ones sending those stupid forwards, we can't just filter out their email addresses. That is where I am frustrated. I just delete the email, and hope they will stop....

Posted by: rjrjj | July 21, 2007 11:51 AM | Report abuse

There's only one thing you need to remember, and it's quite damn simple too. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING in this world is ever free. When you think you're getting a good deal from someone, ask yourself, why in the world would that somebody offer you a deal that only seem to benefit you? And hell, you don't even know him.

Posted by: Tiger | July 21, 2007 10:17 PM | Report abuse

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It doesn't matter if the email promises money from Microsoft or blessings from heaven just for forwarding an email. The worst are the ones that threaten you if you don't forward the email to everyone in your address book.
This is not to say that someone can't be blessed by receiving an inspirational email, get a chuckle from a joke or informed by a news item, but beware. Most "news items" are either hoaxes or old news. Check , etc. before forwarding email warnings.
Now, does anyone know how you tell that an email has traveled around the globe seven times since 2001? Or what that means?

Posted by: Mike | July 22, 2007 9:02 AM | Report abuse

To answer Rob's question, no, I've never done that. I have mostly stopped getting these from my family, but that might be because they got tired of me sending them Snopes links.

And to the anonymous person above who still forwards "jokes" -- please don't. I don't want my email address sent to dozens of other people.

Posted by: LM | July 23, 2007 10:14 AM | Report abuse

My favorite was a virus warning that said it had been checked out by Snopes.
When I went to Snopes, I found out it was a hoax & a phishing site.

Posted by: Unindicted Co-conspirator | July 24, 2007 1:13 AM | Report abuse

Like everybody else I get between 10 and 20 suspicious emails a day. It's easy and neds only slight pressure on the left button of the mouse - Delete - Delete - Delete.

However don't forget to empty your delete box every now and then.

No use getting all obfuscated about it. Just delete.

Posted by: Suspicious | July 24, 2007 1:15 PM | Report abuse

I get between 60 and 80 spam emails per day, but I only see maybe three or four. All the rest are caught by my trained spam filters. I use Eudora 6.2, and it took me a couple of weeks to train it to the point where it is now. At first one has to troll through the sludge bucket to catch the few real messages, but it soon learns how to keep them separated. IMO its worth buying a Mac just for Eudora, not that there aren't plenty of other good reasons.

Posted by: Patherick | July 24, 2007 5:29 PM | Report abuse

People really are stupid when it comes to forwarded emails. I mean if a letter came through your door offering several thousand $ to send it on to everyone you know, you certainly wouldn't do it.

Hell even if a friend of yours sent you a funny joke in the mail asking to post it on to everyone you know and include the addresses of previous recipients you wouldn't do it.

Yet with email they do and they don't understand that if you send out chain emails you only serve to get yourself on a Spammers list.

I'm sorry but if you get spam in your inbox, you probably deserve it for either sending on such emails or by allowing your friends to send your email address out there by including you in the bulk sends.

Posted by: Stephen | July 27, 2007 5:24 AM | Report abuse

I have gotten several e-mails telling me they are a attorney trying to locate family of someone who has died. They say they have several million dollars to give them if you will only send them your information. I only let them know I am reporting them as scam.

Posted by: tilos | July 31, 2007 7:45 PM | Report abuse

I too have become a snopes for my gullible web circle. Latest was the Mars close incounter that happened in 2003

Posted by: R.D. McDowell | August 8, 2007 10:19 PM | Report abuse

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