Truth and Fiction in Chain Email

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There cannot be many E-mail users who haven't opened their inbox to see a subject line reading Fw: FW: XYZ. Love it or hate it Chain mail reaches us all! Some contain a sad story, others entice the user to gain themselves a free gift, but sadly there is only one group who benefit from Chain E-mails - Spammers.

No, not the person who thoughtlessly hit the forward button, but the person down the line who receives a copy of the E-mail. It really, really doesn't matter that you hit the delete button, when your contact sent it to you they probably sent it to someone else as well (Most chain mails demand that you forward to at least ten people). Assuming just one of the people your friend sent it on to sends it on again, your E-mail address has been included for the world to see. The odds are that somewhere down the line, all the E-mail addresses listed will be harvested and sold on.

That's not to say that all Chain E-mail is actively started by spammers, some are likely to be started by people who have seen a picture and think it's funny, or wanted to see if it would ever come back to them. Unfortunately the issue does not revolve around who started it, it's who receives the E-mail once your address is listed. Once that address is in the hands of the wrong person you may receive spam messages, or worse someone may start sending you Phishing e-mails.

You will never successfully rid yourself of chain E-mail, your friends will think you are a primadonna if you complain about it, but it is you they are inconveniencing, not the other way round. If you receive an E-mail that you think is funny then copy and paste the relevant text into a new e-mail, protect those who came before you and hopefully someone will do the same for you.

These e-mails often contain a very compelling reason for you to forward it on, but use your common sense. Is Microsoft really going to close your Hotmail account because you didn't forward an e-mail on? Are they really going to give you a free Xbox for forwarding it? Is some company really going to delay life saving surgery until they see how many times an E-mail is forwarded? How would they know how many times it is forwarded? The reality is, none of these e-mails exist for any purpose other than to pass an e-mail on.

An increasing trend I've seen in chain emails is to ask that you make some kind of change to the e-mail, then append your name and where you live to the change. So now as well as your e-mail address you are going to give away your name and your geographic location? Not wise, a logical person can work out whose e-mail address corresponds to which name and town. There may be a lot of E-mails in the To list, but each copy of the e-mail will only have a limited number of senders. Start at the bottom of the address list, and at the bottom of the name list and you know that Email address Z belongs to person Z.

The truth of Chain mail is that it is a complete waste of bandwidth. There may be the odd humorous one, but the risks far outweigh the bandwidth. Most people complain when their inbox is full of spam, but won't bat and eyelid when forwarding the latest chain mail. By forwarding you put your friends at risk, at least follow the steps mentioned above and put all the addresees into the BCC box instead of the To: box. That way the only e-mail address you will release is yours, and chances are whoever sent it to you has done that for you.

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