I received a chain letter containing a poem allegedly written to a dying
child, and with the claim that AOL and ZDnet would donate 32 cents (Zimbabwean)
towards the cost of an operation every time the letter was forwarded. My first
reaction was to ask if it is technically possible for someone to keep track of
a chain in this way. Perhaps you might discuss this. My 2nd reaction was to
check it out on Snopes, which confirmed the hoax, but didn’t actually discuss
whether it is possible to trace a chain.
It’s been a while since I’ve touched on this topic, so it’s overdue.
Forwarding an email will not help anyone. Forwarded email cannot be
Let me say that again: forwarded email cannot be tracked. So don’t
forward it. Please.
It’s an email hoax.
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I’m actually fairly amazed at the number of times something will get
forwarded around that is so obviously a hoax.
Paraphrasing from a previous article of mine, “Why
shouldn’t I forward this email asking me to ‘forward to everyone I know’?”
This isn’t just because I or anyone else says so, it’s very simple:
Even if a company or individual wanted to do what these hoax emails
claim, they simply cannot. Even if they did use some form of image tracking or
“web bug”, as they’re known, there are two massive problems with the
as many people as you can’ … DON’T.”
Most email programs don’t retrieve and display the images by default,
effectively disabling the tracking completely.
Most of these email messages are so mangled after however many forwards by
however many people using however many different email programs, the chances of
any tracking image even still being present and workable is next to zero.
The rule of thumb is very simple:
If it says “forward this to
as many people as you can” … DON’T.
That, all by itself, is the single biggest indicator that what you’ve got in
your inbox is a hoax.
To once again quote my earlier article:
Isn’t it safer to just forward – just in case it’s true?
No. It’s really more likely that you’d be passing on misinformation. It’s
really very simple … check it out before you forward. If you don’t check it
out, don’t forward, and no harm done. If there’s actually an important,
legitimate issue, then chances are you’ll see it in the legitimate
press … we’ve seen that recently with very real computer viruses and
terrorist anthrax threats making front-page news. Email is not
how news organizations, corporations and government spread legitimate news and
So how do you “check it out”? There are many, many resources. My favorite is
Snopes.com which is kept amazingly up
to date, even though the vast majority of scams circulating on the internet are
years, sometimes even decades old. Based only on the information presented in
the question above, I was able to locate the very hoax mentioned: Rachel
Arington. On that page you can see that the “Zimbawean” aspect was an
addition to the original hoax in 2001, and that the same hoax is floating
around in many variations and attributed to many different children.
On behalf of everyone you might forward these kinds of things to:
If you feel you must, please check it out at sites like Snopes.com first.
Why shouldn’t I forward this email asking me to “forward to everyone I
know”? for more explanation, more of the hidden costs of forwarding hoaxes,
and more ways to tell truth from fiction.