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[NOTE: This article was originally produced for the Desk's Day Job. thank you- Dr. Leftover ]

"Yes, Virginia...."

With Links and Glossary.

      We've all seen the services advertised during the Christmas season. For a small fee, or sometimes for free from a charity, you can sign a child up to get a letter from Santa Claus. Some services will even send a small gift as well. Sometimes with a North Pole or Santa Claus, Indiana postmark.
      For ten bucks the people from will send the child of your choice a letter that is really from Santa Claus.

In their own words:

When you were a child, remember the excitement of getting something in the mail? Now imagine... if that something was a letter from Santa Claus himself, in his handwriting, stating exactly why you were good this year and what you wanted for Christmas? Now, give that thrill to the special child in your life... or even to an adult who's a child at heart!
end Posting
      It is cute, and well meaning people do it all the time. And perhaps the idea does occur to them that they are perpetuating a hoax on their own children for at least another year.
      Now the downside. Unless somebody with good penmanship who works for the company has legally changed their name to Santa Claus and he works a lot of overtime towards the end of the year hand writing letters, they might well be guilty of criminal misrepresentation with intent to defraud.

      In spite of the classic editorial written in 1897 in the New York Sun ( "Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Clause" ), Nicholas of Patara, later Bishop of Myra, died in the year 343 AD without anybody ever seeing him anywhere in the vicinity of reindeer or elves and there is no evidence he ever traveled further north than Nicea in Turkey. He became Saint Nicholas (and later Santa Claus) from the many stories of charity work he had performed while alive and miracles attributed to him after death.

      Face it. A letter from Santa is a hoax. Well meaning and done with love, but a hoax nonetheless.

      Face it. A letter saying Bill Gates is going to send you a check for forwarding an email is ALSO a hoax. Even though those that sent it to you may be as idealistic and hopeful as those that have a letter from Santa sent to their child. They may even respond with: "Well, you never know. It doesn't hurt to take a chance."
      Yes you can know. And if you want a real chance of somebody sending you money, buy a lottery ticket. At least in the case of the Lottery, somebody somewhere will eventually win real money. Most email hoaxes and friendship tests are more or less harmless, all they do is clutter up inboxes and waste bandwidth. With email scams and frauds the only winner is a criminal who now has your money or even your identity.

      In this article we will go through a short review of a few of those email based hoaxes and scams that simply refuse to die. Of course a single article, or even the extensive debunking sites listed in the LINKS section below simply can not address every email of this type in circulation today, and new ones and new variations on old ones are being sent out every day.
      Spam is: Unsolicited, and most of the time Unwanted, Commercial Email. Those things you get trying to sell cheap sunglasses, credit cards, prescriptions, porn, printer ink and even the occasional real and legal product or service. We're not talking about those here.

      No. We're talking about everything else and we'll begin with the one that you DID NOT SEE in the USA TODAY or on the morning news as the hoax email puts it.

CATEGORY: Something For Nothing (and Variations)
Bill and his fortune
Emails presented in this article were harvested "from the wild".

      To all of my friends, I do not usually forward messages, But this is from my friend Pearlas Sandborn and she really is an attorney. If she says that this will work - It will work. After all, What have you got to lose?
      SORRY EVERYBODY.. JUST HAD TO TAKE THE CHANCE!!! I'm an attorney, And I know the law. This thing is for real. Rest assured AOL and Intel will follow through with their promises for fear of facing a multimillion-dollar class action suit similar to the one filed by PepsiCo against General Electric not too long ago. Dear Friends; Please do not take this for a junk letter. Bill Gates sharing his fortune. If you ignore this,
... (email edited to save space)
end Email

      This is one of the favorites of well meaning people who forward things without thinking about them.
      Almost NOTHING in this email is true. Microsoft, AOL and Intel have not merged. There is no record readily available of Pepsi suing GE over anything (Pepsi did take legal action against Coke over Powerade), and while Bill Gates IS sharing his fortune, he is doing so through an international charitable foundation, not a spam email.
      The only way anybody can track how many times an email is forwarded is through a program like Constant Contact ( And even then, the users must click on the button in the email and then enter the recipients email into the form instead of just picking forward from their email window. Not even Microsoft has figured out how to track an email forwarded through outside email server like when you are using the Opera Browser on NetZero dial up.

      The next two entries are usually not forwarded by friends and family. These come from dedicated professional scammers and arrive in your mailbox with a 'From' address that has probably been spoofed and an offer that is indeed 'too good to be true'.

The 419 Scam

      The 419 scam is named for the section of the Nigerian law that deals with advanced fee fraud. Although it has been around for years through direct mail letters bilking the gullible of their life savings, the internet has been a golden age for the scammers.
      The scam works when the victim, in pursuit of easy money, sends the scammer an advance fee, or even earnest money, to enable the transfer of the much larger sum. The scammer gets his money, but the deposit is never made to the victim's bank account. In many cases the scammer talks the victim out of personal and financial information, then the victim's account is further drained by the scammer who now has their information, and according to some reports, the victim's identity is then used by the scammer to open up lines of credit in the victim's name.
      According to some estimates the scam takes in over three hundred million dollars a year from Americans. And it is a world wide problem involving everything from just white collar fraud to kidnapping and in at least a couple of well publicized cases- murder.

419 Example: The Princess Letter
Actual email received on 28 March 2006 presented in entirety as received:

I know this letter will come to you as asurprise, I have already thought of what will come to yourmind or how you will feel when you see my mail, butbecause of the persuation I have in the spirit, and theconvinction God has placed in my mind, I picked up courageto write you knowing that it is Gods wish.
I am Princess Rose Dikibo, daughter of Chief Fred Dikibo the king of Ogoni Kingdom. I am 26 years old and agraduate of Mass Communication. My father was the king ofOgoni Kingdom the highest oil producing area in Nigeria.He was in charge of reviving royalties from the multi-national oil companies and government on behalf ofthe oil producing communities in Nigeria. After thehanging of the Ogoni Nine(9) including Ken Saro Wiwa bythe late dictator General Sani Abacha, my father sufferedstroke and died in August27th last year. But before hisdeath, he called me and told me he has Twenty Three Million Five Hundred and Sixty Thousand Dollars(USD23,560,000.00) cash in his possession, speciallydeposited in a Security vault company in Spain. Headvised me not to tell anybody except my mother who is thelast wife of the (8) eight wives that he married. My mother did not bear any male child for him. Which impliesthat all my father's properties, companies e.t.c., we haveno share in them because my mother has no male child according to African Tradition. My father thereforesecretly gave me all the relevant documents of the saidmoney, and told me that I should use this money with mymother and my younger sisters because he knows that tradtionally, if he dies we can not get anything, as inheritance. He importantly advised me that I should seekforeign assistance and that I should not invest thismoney in Nigeria because of his other wives and malechildren who happen to be my elders. I am soliciting for your immediate assistance to get a Bungalow for us, whereI will live with my mother and two younger sisters andfurther advise me on what to do
But before my father's death i was the General manager of his company , Grimes electronics equipment Ltd. we deal with all kinds of electronicsequipment such as handset ,mobil phone,vcd, eyewears, gold, and communication of wirleness etc with thesecured Twenty Three Million Five Hundred and SixtyThousand Dollars (USD23,560,000.00) i will like to startmy own private sector, I would be very greatful if thisproposal interest you.
So that you will assist me transfer this money to youraccount to enable me start my own company and invest itwith you or your company.
I believe that by the special grace of God, you willhelp me move this money out of Spain to any country ofyour choice where we can invest this money judiciouslywith you.You are entitled to a reasonable part of thismoney based on our agreement, and God will bless you asyou help me.PLease reply through my e-mailLooking forward to hear from you as soon as possible.
Remain blessed.
Princess Rose Dikibo.
- princess rose dikibo
end Email
      There is a standard checklist investigators use to evaluate these things. These include the title of the supposed dead millionaire or other notable who had the money that needs to be gotten out of the country. The country of origin of either the letter or the funds, which is usually on the African mainland (although as in this case it claims Spain) but it can be anywhere in the world, although if the 'from' line is spoofed, it could originate in New Jersey. And the actual amount of money to be transferred, it is usually rendered in millions (sometimes hundreds of millions) of dollars, but it can be in Euros or Rupees or any other currency.
      The letters can look and sound official, as if from a real government official and are often brimming with sincerity, national pride or even religious fervor. They can offer quotes from real world sources such as news outlets or national leaders. They may have real working telephone numbers or invoke a legitimate entity such as a bank. However, they are, every one and no mistake: SCAMS.
      If you write back to them you will receive a reply from a real person. It will praise your honesty and trustworthiness and promise you great rewards if you will just help them do this. Then they'll ask for you to demonstrate your good will by giving them whatever they are looking for. And then you will lose you money or identity, or if you fly to their country to facilitate the transfer as some have done, you may lose your life.

Work at Home SCAM
As sent by

Want to be home with your kids, but still need extra income? It's time to start your own lucrative home-based business. Look for a work at home job or home based business opportunities.
We have reached high prospectives volume of jewelry products in Greece and also,in other European countries and we are now trying to penetrate in the U.S. market. Unfortunately, we are facing new difficulties regarding taxes. The international money transfer tax for legal entities (businesses) in Greece is 30%, whereas for the individual, it is only 6%. That's why our company is looking forward to hiring agents to receive payments for our products and to resend the money to us. This way we will save money due to the tax decrease.
JOB DESCRIPTION Agent's work consists in receiving payment from customers (Wells Fargo) and making further payments to our main office or to one of our regional affiliate departments, depending on the customer's location. Being a part-time job, it should not take more than 2 hours per day.
Agent's commission is 6% from each transaction (for instance: you receive $1000.00 to your bank account, you will withdraw the money and keep 6% as payment for your service). All further money transfer charges and fees are covered by our company.
end Email
      The same premise is in operation here. You send them some up front fees to establish the business relationship, and maybe even make a couple of transactions (also called money laundering) for them. Then the business relationship vanishes and you find out that the checks you deposited in your account from some Greek Bank aren't worth the price of the lighter it'd take to set them on fire. Not only are you out the money you sent them, it is up to you to pay the charges and fees associated with clearing up the bad checks from the Greek Jewelers which you presented to your bank.
      Many of these are simply high tech Ponzi-schemes which will eventually fall apart under their own weight, at which time the original scammer will scurry back into the shadows with everybody's money only to surface somewhere else with another business name to start all over again.
      Yes there are REAL Work At Home Options. NO you will not find them through a spam email.

CATEGORY: Phishing

      According to some estimates this type of internet crime now runs second only to auction fraud as the leading financial crime on the internet.
      The emails can look very official. Often using the actual name and corporate logo of major banks, credit card companies and retail outlets. However, the email was not sent by anybody inside the walls of any real business.
      The letters are from a scammer who has stolen the identity of the bank, and quite possibly has hijacked the bank's website, in order to get customers to enter their personal information into a form which the scammer generates and saves, to enable them to either siphon the money out of the customer's account or to open lines of credit in their name.
      Most financial institutions now tell customers to not click on links or reply to emails even if the bank did send it out. They recommend you type the address of the banks site into your own address bar and enter through the front page of the site, and if something doesn't look right to close the window and call the bank's customer service department.
      Unfortunately given the nature of the web and the international reach of email, a scammer can set up a phony website, send out several thousand phishing letters, bilk those that respond, close everything up and vanish into the darkness all in a matter of hours. Making it very difficult to track the crime back to the perpetrator and, if they are operating from Costa Rica, even harder to prosecute.
      The only advice anybody can give: Do NOT click on anything in ANY email that is asking for ANY personal information, even if you are a customer of that institution. If you get something from a company you deal with (VISA, EBay, etc.)- go directly to the company's website and log in or call their customer service center at the number listed on your regular monthly statement, not one in the email.
      Very good advice at one bank's site: Link Below

CATEGORY: Email Panics and Warnings
Computer Virus Warnings

      It is safe to say that the vast majority of emails warning about viruses, including those that say "this virus is much worse than ..." are hoaxes. Yes there are real viruses in circulation and new ones and new variants of old favorites come out almost every week. However, by the time any email makes the rounds, even if it is for real, the virus it is warning about has already done its damage. In one of the last major virus outbreaks the SOBER worm (virus) spread worldwide in a matter of a day or so and four new variants were reported in twenty four hours. spam emails seldom spread so quickly, but they do last much longer. One email virus warning was recently forwarded about the 'I Love You' virus, six years after the 'Love Bug' virus bit computers worldwide.
Example text from another hoax warning:

If you receive an email titled: "It Takes Guts to Say Jesus" DO NOT OPEN IT. It will erase everything on your hard drive. This information was announced yesterday morning from IBM; AOL states that this is a very dangerous virus, much worse than "Melissa," and that there is NO Remedy for it at this time.
end Email

      The best defense is to get and use a virus scanner and to follow a couple of simple rules. (which includes using Common Sense while online!) These include not opening emails with missing or nonsensical subject lines. Not opening attachments you are not expecting. And Do Not Forward junk email.

Health Scares

      These hit pretty regularly, usually after a major credible announcement through traditional news sources. They will usually attribute something to a renowned medical facility or University Hospital as was done in the KFC chicken email (which was a total fabrication). The false attribution works in two ways, it adds credibility to the hoax warning, then when the hoax is revealed, it also serves to discredit the reputation of the institution as people will remember the hoax. Email Below:

KFC has been a part of our American traditions for many years. Many people,day in and day out, eat at KFC religiously. Do they really know what they are eating? During a recent study of KFC done at the University of New Hampshire, they found some very upsetting facts.
end Email

      One of the more recent emails is the one about the cancer risk of storing and cooking food in plastic. If you look into it the email actually becomes funny because it advises that you can avoid ingesting dioxins from plastic by microwaving your food wrapped in a paper towel. But according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, bleached paper products like paper towels contain minute amounts of dioxins! The hoax cited information from Johns Hopkins Hospital and Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Of course neither hospital had ever said anything of the kind. But the truth, including a flat statement that it is a hoax from Hopkins hasn't stopped the spam from being forwarded again.

"... it is a rumor-- a hoax that has been circulating the internet now for 3 years. We don't know where it got started."

CATEGORY: 'Just Between Friends'
Chain Letters

      There are several types of the classic chain letter now. Some involve money, there are several that claim that somebody will send you a gift certificate for forwarding it. Some claim to be petitions, others promise dire consequences if you break the chain. None are worth the effort of forwarding to anybody.
      Any chain letter proposing an arrangement where you send a payment to the top person on the list then forward it with your name on the list where you'll eventually work your way to the top is illegal according to the United States Postal Inspectors Office. See link below.
      No restaurant will send you a gift card for forwarding an email. No electronics or 'big box' store will either. If you want a coupon for a particular restaurant, check their website or a coupon outlet source where you just might be able to print out a real discount offer you can take with you when you go out to eat.

"No big company is going to give you a GIFT CERTIFICATE, spamming your friends and family will not provide medical care or financial relief for an ILL OR INJURED CHILD..."
      Email Petitions are absolutely worthless. A few reputable electronic petition websites are on the web, and they do serve their purpose. However, any petition you receive as an email is either a hoax or a misdirected attempt to circulate a real petition. There is no reliable means to verify anything on an email petition, including the country where the signatories reside. If you want to get involved, use a petition website or get out actual pen and paper and circulate a real petition.
      Some chain letters play on religious themes or ask how you could be so uncaring as to not forward the story about the special education kid that wanted to play baseball before he died.
      Well when that particular email was held up for scrutiny it turned out to be partially true. However the name of the boy had been changed in the email version from the very Jewish 'Shaya' to 'Shay' and all mention of the Rabbi that told the original true story was removed. So... how uncaring was the person that rewrote the story?

      The bottom line- don't forward these things. Your toenails will not fall off and your cat will not be run over by a street sweeper if you hit delete on them.

Friendship and Personality Tests

      The real question here isn't what sort of friend you are or what your personality type is, the question should be: what forwarding these things says about the person who does it.
      No single test can reveal anything meaningful about something as complicated and changeable as the human personalities and relationships. And most are written with a particular slant or to prove some point, which makes them worthless as an objective evaluation.
      OK, it is something fun and you get to find out that your friend likes orange sherbet instead of vanilla ice cream. But is it really worth the time and bandwidth to forward it when you could just ask them?

Blessing Poems

I received this from a good friend who had a choice to make. It said that I had a choice to make, also. I've chosen. Now, it's your turn to choose.
end Email
      That is the introduction to the 'Box of Kisses' email. It is a perfect example of how these things evolve.
      The email claims the incident happened to an unnamed friend 'some time ago'.
      Well, not exactly.
      The original story comes from the Middle East, and it is at least several hundred years old. The email version has been significantly altered for Western tastes, but the message is identical, including that the child died shortly after giving her father the box and that the father kept the box for the rest of his life.

      Another example that resurfaces every so often is the so called 'Lotus Totus' which starts off with the following:

You have 6 minutes.... There's some mighty fine advice in these words, even if you're not superstitious. This Lotus Totus has been sent To you for good luck from the Anthony Robbins organization. It has been sent around the world ten times so Far. You will receive good luck within four days of relaying this Lotus Totus.
email continues below
      The motivational speaker and his organization named in the email have nothing to do with it and at one point publicly disowned it. The good advice listed in the email started out life in the Far East and has a distinct Chinese flavor to it. And when these types of emails end with a threat of unspecified bad nastiness if you don't forward it you have to wonder what sort of blessing they can bestow.
Do not keep this message. The Lotus Totus must leave your hands in 6 MINUTES. Otherwise you will get a very unpleasant surprise. This is true, even if you are not superstitious, agnostic, or otherwise faith impaired.
end Email
      Again, whether or not you forward these things says nothing about how you feel about "a Mother's Love", your patriotism or the condition of your soul. However, rewriting and altering it to match a given agenda says something about those that do.

CATEGORY: Harmful Hoaxes

      Remember the 'coughing CPR' email? That one could kill you. There is one somewhat rare and very specific type of heart arrhythmia which coughing can help, the other 98 percent of chest pain needs medical attention, not a coughing fit. The only advice that should ever be given is as follows: If you feel chest pain- call 911.
      How about the 'Teddy Bear Icon' email that told you how to remove the SULFNBK.EXE file from your computer claiming it was a damaging virus. Removing that file disabled javascript on your computer. This hoax caused actual damage to a great many computers when those that read the email acted without checking it out with a reliable source first.
      The *77 email about the fake cop and the celphone. Again, there is just a hint of truth to the email. Many state and local police departments do have a non emergency number for celphones to use such as the *77 number, which will work in New Jersey. However *577 is the number in Louisiana, but in Chicago it is 311. Again, the advice in the email could get you in serious trouble and the judge is not going to want to hear about how you read it in a spam email. If you are being pulled over and are uncomfortable about it: turn on your right turn signal and slow down, then proceed to a safe well lit public area to stop. A real cop will not mind when you explain why, an imposter will keep going. See link below.
      Every so often a new one appears that demands you take immediate action to prevent a disaster. It is far more likely if you do so things will be worse than if you spend a few minutes checking the story out with any of the reliable debunking resources listed below.


      Besides the bandwidth used to send and receive the various types of email we've discussed, and the storage space needed to hold them in your mailbox, and the time it takes to either delete unopened or to open it and read it and then to forward it on to your sister in law, there are further problems and issues with spam emails.
      Some contain more than they appear.
      Malware (in its various forms) and viruses can hide in the message either in any of the images or graphics in the body of the message or even in the text itself. If you open one with an animated cow jumping over the moon, you may well be installing a keylogger program onto your computer which will record your bank account information and then forward it to a crook overseas someplace. Others contain executable programs which come to life when the email is opened and when you think you are looking at the email you are actually on an outside webpage which is using active scripting to exploit Internet Explore's tendency to allow all sorts of programs to be downloaded and installed on your machine.

      There are several good sites which can be used as sources to debunk almost any of the above. Besides The Media Desk which has an extensive collection of these sorts of letters, not to mention a large collection of the 419 Scam letters and several of the others as well.
      Many of the below sites stock in trade is the exposing and debunking of hoaxes. Yet the problem continues to grow. It seems believing in Santa Claus is a lot more fun, and a lot easier, than checking things out before adding to the perpetuation of a lie.
      One good defense against the bad guys and their exploitation software is to use a firewall to prevent unauthorized programs access to and from the web, use Up To Date anti-viral software and to download and install anti-spyware software such as Spy-bot or Ad-Aware. A list is available at ....
                  .... that, AND to   Do Not OPEN or FORWARD These Things

Thank You

Links To Resources On topic or specialty. All will open in a new window

Nigerian 419 Scam
419 Coalition

Money Related Chain Letters
US Postal Inspectors

Good Free Software:

Police Traffic Stop Advice
The Toronto, Ontario Police Dept.
What To Expect When Stopped By Police

Other Fraud and Scam Sites

Law Enforcement

Sample Information Security Advice Pages by Industry

General Email Rumor Debunking Sites:

Other links mentioned in the article Also of interest:
Covering some of the more famous (infamous) frauds throughout history as well as their modern descendants:

Brief Glossary

419 scam: The numbers 419 refer to the law in Nigeria that deals with fraud. However the scam has moved far beyond the borders of Nigeria to include operations in many third world countries where the legal system is all but incapable of dealing with the scammers.

Chain Letters: If a letter which arrives through the postal service asks for money in return for the recipient mailing the letter on to others in hopes that one day they will get money mailed to them, it is a Federal Crime and the Postal Inspectors would like to speak to the sender of the letter. In the world of email, if the US Postal Service is used to send the cash, it is still illegal

Computer Virus: Almost generic term used to refer to malicious code of several varieties including Trojan programs, worms, keyloggers and viruses themselves.

Malware: Programs installed on your PC often without your knowledge or consent. Can be harmless (but annoying) advertising that pops up a window trying to sell you something, often when the computer is otherwise off-line. Can also be a hijacking program that can turn your computer into a spamming robot under the control of a third party or a program that records and sends out your banking information to whoever controls the program. The category also includes convenience software like sponsored search toolbars for browsers that keep track of your web habits and relay the information to advertisers - Adware.

Phishing: Email sent as a criminal misrepresentation with intent to commit fraud or theft.

Ponzi Scheme: One of the original investment scams which has a stark similarity to today's Multi-Level Marketing. Charles Ponzi would con a few people into investing in his company, then he would talk to more people to get investments which he used to pay some interest to the original investors. It would work for awhile and a few people got some money back. Eventually the layers exceeded the cash flow and the whole thing would fall apart. At which time Ponzi would walk away with most of the money.

Scam: Knowingly and intentionally perpetrating a fraud, a misrepresentation with criminal intent, a designed business ploy with no intent to conduct a legal transaction. In the realm of email the most persistent is the Nigerian Advance Fee (419) scam.

spam: By definition- unsolicited commercial emails. Most people are familiar with emails selling everything from low interest mortgages to fake designer watches and prescriptions. All are illegal, most are scams.

SPAM (all capital letters): Hormel Food's canned meat product and registered trademark as well as a Monty Python skit which is credited with coining the term for the flood of unwanted emails. By corporate statement, Hormel does not object to the term 'spam' to refer to unsolicited commercial email as long as it ia spelled in lower case letters. Both upper case and lower case have been commonly used although things are changing to meet Hormel's concerns. However nobody is on record of confusing canned pork with an email for a low cost mortgage. The Monty Python Troupe seems to be enjoying something of a revival in interest as a result of the use of the term.

Spoofing: Falsifying information in the header of an email (or the phone number displayed in Caller ID) to conceal the true origin of the message. Email programs used by spammers to send thousands of emails a minute can often fake the sender's address and even the IP address of the spam sender. Such falsification would be illegal if the email is a commercial solicitation or an attempt to commit further fraud, such as a 419 letter.

[NOTE: The Desk Site Is NOT affiliated with any of the outside links listed above and said author DOES NOT SPEAK for either DTI or the State of Delaware, everything expressed is from the Desk and nobody and nothing else. Thank you ]

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