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Coming to Your Inbox Soon?
by Nancy Castleman

Ever get one of those forwarded again and again e-mails from a friend who is horrified about legislation that would put a surcharge on every e-mail sent, with the proceeds going to the U.S. Postal Service? Marc and I have been asked about this impending e-tax any number of times.

To find out if this chain letter was real, we visited www.urbanlegends.about.com/science/urbanlegends/mbody.htm, which confirmed it was just another hoax. There are numerous, oft repeated rumors like this, that take on lives of their own -- spreading like wildfire online, via e-mails urging the recipient to "send this important message to everyone you know."

These tales are cyberspace versions of older "urban legends," for example, the one about baby alligators being flushed down New York City toilets, reappearing full-grown to stalk the city sewers. Writer David Emery, the site's "guide," delights in chronicling and debunking everything from computer viruses that will supposedly wipe out your hard drive to bogus medical reports that claim antiperspirants cause breast cancer.

In the case of the alleged bill to impose a surcharge on e-mail, About.com led us to a response on the U.S. Postal Service site, which explains that no such bill exists. In fact, "modem tax" scares have been kicking around for a decade, says CNET, a technology news service, which calls these Internet access scare e-mails the "most insidious" in its Net Hoax Hall of Fame. To read about the top 10 hoaxes, go to: www.cnet.com/Content/Reports/Trends/Nethoaxes.

Another recent and widespread hoax has been an e-mail chain letter claiming that Microsoft will pay you for forwarding the message to other people, allegedly so it can "track" users. The usual version claims that Microsoft will pay $5 for each person you forward it to, but the version our researcher Marcy Ross received upped the ante to $245 per person! A trip to the Urban Legends site led Marcy to a statement by Microsoft, confirming that this seemingly lucrative tracking system was indeed a hoax. Shucks.

Thought Those Frogs Had Retired?

Now making the rounds for a return appearance is the Budweiser Frogs virus alert, which warns that a Budweiser screensaver circulating via e-mail would cause you to "lose everything" on your computer. It's just one of the dozens of virus hoaxes -- alerts that urge you to "forward this warning to all your friends."

When a real computer virus lurks, you can be sure that it'll be a hot news story. But virus warnings aside, it's just good cyber-sense not to open any e-mail attachments you receive, unless you know who's sending them and why.

We know that all the chain e-warnings we receive come from well-meaning folks who truly want to alert us to something important. In truth, though, blindly sending on these missives wastes everyone's time, clogs up e-mail boxes, and gets everyone worked up over nothing. And the e-mails that encourage us to complain to the Post Office or write to legislators about bills that don't exist waste our tax dollars, too. After all, some staffer working on our nickel has to sift through all the e-mail, write and post the denial, etc.

Next time you're tempted to send everyone you know seemingly "important" messages, ask yourself if you'd send them out via snail mail. Marc and I bet you'd think twice. So do yourself and your friends a favor. Bookmark www.urbanlegends.about.com/science/urbanlegends/mbody.htm, and check there to see if you've just been sent a hoax before you forward it on to the rest of the world.

The Pocket Change Investor
The Secrets to Getting Ahead -- Even If You Have a Pile of Credit Card Bills, Hefty Mortgage Payments,
Loans Out on a Clunker or Two, & a Bad Case of the "I'm Tired of Living Payday to Payday" Blues.

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Reprinted from The Pocket Change Investor, Issue #27
© 1999, Marc Eisenson & Nancy Castleman
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