How To Lose Friends and Destroy Machines: Forward Chain Emails

Warning! Your email is full of hoaxes, urban legends and scams… and you’re the one that’s responsible for keeping them alive. If you are new to email, you’re a threat to the rest of us.

There’s one born every minute…

How many times have you received an email from a friend with the subject line of:


Or how about this:

“For every person that you forward this email to [Large Company] will pay you $245 for every person that you sent to that forwards it on…”

Over 100 million of you were new to the Internet in 2009. Can we really blame those that are new for falling victim to the “Don’t Buy Pepsi In The New Can!” or “Life is beautiful virus” hoax or the “You’ve Won The Lottery” scam? Not to mention the “Nigerian prince” that needs your help to transfer money.

Really? Are you really so gullible to believe this shit? Apparently enough of you are to prompt a friend of mine to have me write this article. The funny thing is I thought this was no longer a problem. I was wrong. Why? Over 100 million of you were new to the Internet in 2009. Call yourself newbies, n00bs… or even dummies, but there are just some things you gotta get straight.

Here are 10 things to think about before you hit SEND or FORWARD on that chain email you just received:

1. No reputable company will use a chain letter to speak about its products.

2. Attachments sent in chain letters are a GREAT way to get a virus. You might think you’re opening a PowerPoint presentation showing you cute kittens or brave fire fighters, but chances are you’ve just infected your PC. Never open attachments you can’t verify.

3. When you forward a chain letter you are also forwarding everyone’s email address that forwarded along with YOUR email address. This is easy pickings for spammers. If you don’t know it now, you’ll learn later one simple fact: All spammers must die.

4. NEVER open a link in an email w/out first confirming where that link is going to take you. There are a growing number of viruses that can infect your machine just by visiting “compromised” websites.

5. Beware emails from “your bank” or from a website you use that tells you “you need to verify your identity by clicking on this link.” If you are not sure, open your web browser and navigate to your bank site directly. Don’t trust that the link in your email is going to take you to the right site. It might actually take you to a website that “looks” like your bank or membership site, but it’s just there to capture your login information–and or compromise your identity. This is known as a “phishing” scam.

6. Propagating a myth about a company “taking the word god off their can” or whatever the chain email claims about them can actually cause real problems for the companies. If 100,000 believe a hoax, they can clog up a companies’ real phones real quick.

7. If you are the one that’s attributed as the author of a hoax, you could be held responsible for its consequences. You never know how your “good intentions” can morph into real problems.

8. Turn off HTML email or change your settings so your email does not download the images contained in a message. Once you validate the veracity of the email, then you can download the images. In HTML, email images can contain tracking “bugs” that can tell the spammer if you opened the email, what your IP address is and more.

9. KEEP ALL OF YOUR SOFTWARE UP TO DATE AND CURRENT.  This includes your Operating system and all your applications. Windows and Mac users that neglect the ongoing messages for “Windows would like to update your system” or the equivalent on the Mac, are being irresponsible to the Internet community and risk getting infected themselves.

10. Help yourself out. Just buy a mac.  (note: it’s still a rare thing for a Mac to get a virus, but the day will come.)

I’ll close with this note about viruses…

Viruses that break your machine or delete your files are not where the action is for criminals. What’s in vogue today for virus designers is creating programs that infect your machine without you even knowing it. When you open an infected HTML email or website you run the risk of turning your machine into a Zombie. And according to Symantec there are 148,000 new zombie computers created EVERY DAY. A zombie computer can be used (without your knowledge) to capture your personal data, store illegal files or perform malicious tasks on the Internet…

There has been a growing discussion about making people get licenses to operate computers attached to the Internet. I think I could agree with this line of thinking.

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