Around the holiday, I always see more chain emails coming through from well-intended friends and relatives, and so it’s time for an annual warning. Some of these chain emails just have interesting pictures, some make outrageous claims. A large majority of the latter are hoaxes.
A chain email is just like an old-fashioned chain letter. A message is sent to thousands of people, encouraging them all to “pass it on”, often because of either extreme cuteness, or because some bogus message is being trotted out as so incredibly important that recipients will see it as their duty to send it on to as many people as possible. It’s surprising too, how many intelligent and well-educated people actually take the bait, and send it on to everyone in their address book. Here’s a tip: Don’t do it! You’re not going to win a prize from Microsoft. You’re not going to help a sick little girl, and you’re not going to help your favorite cause. In most cases, all you will do is help spread misinformation. But even if on rare occasions the claim does turn out to be true, spreading it through chain emails is still not a good idea–first, because it does very little for whatever cause you may be trying to promote, and second, because there is a security risk involved.
Besides the risk of spreading misinformation, there are greater dangers afoot. When you receive one of these emails, if you scroll down through it, you will notice that there are perhaps hundreds of email addresses contained in the thread, from all of the people who have passed it on before you. The security of your own email account is at risk here. If you pass on that chain email, your own personal email address will be exposed to a great many people, as it continues to get passed on down the line. You may well trust the person who sent it to you, and you may well trust your friends that you would send it to. But do you trust your friends’ friends? How about your friends’ friends’ friends? We’re talking about complete strangers here. When it comes to Internet security, the watchword always should be, “trust no one.” All those email addresses could be very easily harvested for use in spamming operations or worse.
A quick look at BreakTheChain.org shows some of the most popular of these chain hoaxes. Many of them sound very realistic, and are often designed to tug at your heartstrings and get your sympathy. Don’t fall for it! Here’s just a few examples:
“Bonsai cats”–completely false. This long-running hoax claims that a Japanese man sells kittens that he has placed in a bottle and feeds through a tube, so that they take on the shape of the bottle. This plays on your sense of outrage, and includes a petition to sign which will somehow end up at the US Animal Protection Society. Unfortuantely, petition-based chain emails don’t work, because once they are in the wild, they are, well, wild! There’s no direction to them, and no way to get the so-called petition to its intended destination.
Petition to stop religious programming. This one plays the religion card, claiming that the FCC is going to put a stop to all religious broadcasting on television, and asks for your help (and your signature on a petition). Also completely false, the FCC does not have the authority to do what the email claims, nor is it seeking such authority.
Dunkin’ Donuts involved in unpatriotic activity. Come on now! My favorite donut shop! There have been a few variations of this one, claiming that owners of Dunkin’ Donuts shops have burned the American flag, that somebody saw an American flag with Arabic writing on it, and that Dunkin’ Donuts shops won’t serve American servicemen. As BreakTheChain put it, this is “ridiculous paranoia masquerading as patriotism.” And not to mention, it’s maligning a pretty darn good donut, too. Completely bogus. DON’T pass it on. Enjoy your donuts instead.