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Something for Nothing

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When your mama taught you better... it's probably an Urban Legend

     America Online or Microsoft wants to give you cash for forwarding an email. Applebee’s restaurant will give you a free gift certificate if you forward an email to your “closest friends.” British Airways wants to give away free flights; Nokia wants to give you cell phones. There’s free beer, computers, savings bonds, Hondas, X-Boxes, gift cards, M&Ms and even a certificate for free underwear from Victoria’s Secret. And by the way Mariam Abacha, widow of former Nigerian Head of State Gen. Abacha, has a LOT of money she wants to give you.
    Didn’t your mother ever teach you you can’t get something for nothing? She did? Then why are you hitting that silly forward button “just in case,” spreading computer viruses and choking up the bandwidth I need in order to see and hear the latest George Bush joke video?! (And speaking of George Bush, no, he doesn’t need your personal help to get oil money out of Iraq, no matter what the email says.)
    The Nigerian Scam alone, which has been around for over a decade and can arrive at your door via snail mail, email or fax, swindles an estimated $100 million a YEAR from people whose mamas didn’t teach them the only thing you get for nothing is taken for a ride.
    If you’re saying to yourself, “yeah, yeah, but what if..?” then stop right there. Because hitting that forward key can do things you might not be aware of.
    First, realize you’re paying to send that spam. No, you’re not paying by the piece, but industry experts say that $2 to $3 of the monthly fee you pay for Internet service goes directly to the cost of equipment to limit spam, and for your provider to purchase the extra bandwidth needed to send all that junk. At least with traditional junk mail, sent through the US Post Office, the sender had to cough up the money to send out his junk—you didn’t have to pay to receive it.
    Other than the annoyance factor for all junk mail, urgings to forward an email to get free stuff don’t really benefit anyone and, except for those added costs in dealing with spam, don’t much hurt anyone either. Other spam, however, can do much more damage.
    How about signing on to a petition (for a really good cause, of course), then forwarding that petition on to all your friends so they can sign as well? Forwarded petitions have shut down Internet Service Providers who were unable to deal with the flood of emails as the petitions were returned. And besides, do you really think politicians pay that much attention to an email that someone signed? Your elected representatives are much more likely to listen to you if you write or, even better, call them yourself. If the cause is that good, it should be worth the effort to make a personal contact with your representative.
    Other spam, of course, is designed to steal either your money or your identity. Have you received an email saying your bank needs you to confirm your information so click here and fill in your name, address and account numbers? Stop! No legitimate business will send out an email in this manner. Thieves, however, are delighted at your willingness to give them the information they need to fleece you of everything they can access with the information you provide.
    It gets even worse. Remember the Nigerian Scam from the beginning of this column? A select few of those who have responded to this get-rich-quick offer have been invited (at their own expense, of course) to come to Nigeria in person, in order to get their hands on even more money. Once there, they’ve been kidnapped and held for ransom.
    Your mama was right—you really don’t get something for nothing. But if you find yourself among that enormous group of people who have been guilty of hitting the forward key in the past, at least know you’re not alone.
    The entire back page of the current issue of Newsweek magazine (23 Aug. 2004) is taken up by an ad for GlaxoSmithKline (huh?) which attempts to scare you away from buying prescription drugs in Canada. The ad states, “Recently, the FDA ordered three medicines from ‘Canada.’ When they arrived, one thing was clear. They weren’t from Canada.”
    But look closer at that ad. In “step one” it states, “After receiving a spam email from a website offering to sell cheaper generic drugs from Canada, the FDA orders…”
    And they’re surprised at the result?

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Landon Otis

Tagged as:

urban legends, forwarding, gifts, George Bush, Nigerian Scam

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