When Spam Bites Back

One of the biggest annoyances in my life and probably in the lives of most people who use email and computers regularly is Spam. Spam comes in all shapes and sizes and is usually sent from businesses seeking your dollar. Another and more frustrating form of Spam is conveyed by your friends and family in the form of chain letters. This form frustrates me more because the mail doesn’t come from some anonymous corporate evil, but comes from those you care about and who have been lured into purveying internet pollutants.

Chain letters come in many forms, most are harmless text messages that ask you to forward them to 10 or 15 people for one reason or another, some chain letters come as Power Point presentations or have other attachments that could potentially contain viruses. The two chain letter types that I receive the most are the “about me” chain letter and the “petition” chain letter.

The “About Me” letter, as I have named it, usually contains a list of questions that your friend has answered about him or herself and you are supposed to answer the questions yourself and then send it to ten people including the person who sent it to you. In this way you show your true friendship and multiply the distribution of the email by a factor of 10! This email isn’t that bad in that it can be fun, but after doing this once the fun is gone and the next 300 times you receive this letter and don’t return it with all your personal info you feel like a jerk.

The “Petition” chain letter usually steps up the anti as far as guilt. The petition usually is for some tear jerking cause like a child with cancer, some hot political issue, or anything that will get an emotional response from someone. The normal MO is to add your name to the bottom of the list and forward it to ten people. If you are the 100th person on the list you are supposed to send the email to some unsuspecting email recipient. This form of email is great for flooding the email box of a particular person which usually results in them being able to receive legitimate emails. Sometimes this email makes crazy claims like for every person that signs this Microsoft will donate $1.00 to the cause, or if you don’t forward the email evil dwarves will eat your cat. Ok, I’ve never seen that last one but I have seen similar threats and incentives that are just as crazy. If you ever receive an email like this DO NOT FORWARD IT for three reasons:

  1. The story is probably not true or is 5 years old.
  2. The email is designed to flood someone’s email with junk
  3. Effective petitions are never conducted via email. If you think about it, every time you forward the email the signed names are duplicated 10 times. To reach the 100 signatures the email will have duplicated to 10,000,000,000 emails and of the 1,000,000,000,000 names on the petitions only 1/100 will be unique. If you were to do a petition via email you would create a website where people would go to sign and only send out a link in the email where people would go. Since I’ve never seen a chain letter like this make it a rule to DELETE the email.

With this said you are probably sensing my frustration. A couple days ago I received a really nice chain mail with a touching message about returning to innocence and how to appreciate life you need trials. Then at the end of the email was a riddle and a message that to receive the answer to the riddle you needed to forward the email to 10 people and the answer would appear on your screen. Well, that ruined my good mood. I knew that people would be forwarding this email like crazy hoping to get the answer and not realizing that to have the answer appear on your screen was a likely as dwarves eating your cat. So, as I have done many times I responded to everyone who the email was sent to with the following message:

For all of you who actually forwarded this to ten people thinking
you’d get the answer…. sad… : ) But here IS the answer
-Link to the answer-
Tim

I sent the message to give people the answer they would most likely want and thereby eliminating the incentive to forward the email. Yes, the email was a little condescending and I didn’t look who sent it or who I was replying to, I just mailed it. Well…… A day later I found out the email was forwarded by a family member who I embarrassed a bit. Ouch. I didn’t mean for that to happen. So, I’d like to publicly apologize and let everyone know that if you don’t forgive me and forward this article to 10 people then evil dwarves will eat your cat.