Tall tales infect many using e-mail

March 20, 2000|By Mike Himowitz

I get more than my share of breathless e-mail warnings, tips and questions, but when this arrived in my Inbox last week, I was absolutely delighted. I repeat it here in its entirety. Please read it through before asking questions:

"I was on my way to the post office to pick up my case of free M&M's (sent to me because I forwarded an e-mail to five other people, celebrating the fact that the year 2000 is 'MM' in Roman numerals), when I ran into a friend whose neighbor, a young man, was home recovering from having been served a rat in his bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken (which is predictable, since as everyone knows, there's no actual chicken in Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is why the government made them change their name to KFC).

"Anyway, one day this guy went to sleep, and when he awoke he was in his bathtub, and it was full of ice and he was sore all over and when he got out of the tub he realized that HIS KIDNEY HAD BEEN STOLEN. He saw a note on his mirror that said 'Call 911!' but he was afraid to use his phone because it was connected to his computer, and there was a virus on his computer that would destroy his hard drive if he opened an e-mail entitled 'Join the crew!'

"He knew it wasn't a hoax because he himself was a computer programmer who was working on software to prevent a global disaster in which all the computers get together and distribute the $250 Neiman-Marcus cookie recipe under the leadership of Bill Gates. (It's true -- I read it all last week in a mass e-mail from BILL GATES HIMSELF, who was also promising me a free Disney World vacation and $5,000 if I would forward the e-mail to everyone I know.)

"The poor man then tried to call 911 from a pay phone to report his missing kidneys, but a voice on the line first asked him to press #90, which unwittingly gave the bandit full access to the phone line at the guy's expense.

"Then, reaching into the coin-return slot, he got jabbed with an HIV-infected needle around which was wrapped a note that said, 'Welcome to the world of AIDS.'

"Luckily, he was only a few blocks from the hospital -- the one where that little boy who is dying of cancer is, the one whose last wish is for everyone in the world to send him an e-mail, and the American Cancer Society has agreed to pay him a nickel for every e-mail he receives.

"I sent him two e-mails and one of them was a bunch of X's and O's in the shape of an angel (if you get it and forward it to more than 10 people, you will have good luck, but for 10 people only you will only have OK luck, and if you send it to fewer than 10 people you will have BAD LUCK FOR SEVEN YEARS).

"So anyway the poor guy tried to drive himself to the hospital, but on the way he noticed another car driving without its lights on. To be helpful, he flashed his lights at him and was promptly shot as part of a gang initiation.

"Send THIS to all the friends who send you their junk mail and you will receive 4 green M&M's. If you don't, the owner of Proctor and Gamble will report you to his Satanist friends and you will have more bad luck: you will get sick from the Sodium Laureth Sulfate in your shampoo, your spouse will develop a skin rash from using the antiperspirant which clogs the pores under your arms, and the U.S. government will put a tax on your e-mails forever.

"I know this is all true 'cause I read it on the Internet."

Obviously you know this is not all true.

The government is not going to tax your e-mail.

But if it wanted to levy a stupidity tax on stuff like this, I'd vote for it.

This little parody is, in fact, one of the best collections of myths, urban legends, misinformation, disinformation and downright silliness that I've ever seen under a single e-mail header.

Having been assigned to track down some of these "stories" myself during a 30-year career in newspapers (many of these tales predate the computer age in one variant or another), I appreciate high junk when I see it.

So I'd like to thank Tim Krahling, who manages a network for the Maryland Department of Human Resources, for passing this on to me. Tim goes back to the dawn of microcomputing (in the '80s, I used to dial into an electronic bulletin board he ran on a Radio Shack Color Computer). As the guru in his neck of the woods, Tim gets this kind of thing forwarded to him all the time.

When I replied to Tim's e-mail and asked him whether I should publish it, he agreed.

"Its real value could be in educating those who believe and propagate this malarkey," he wrote. "Just think, Mike, with one column, on any given Monday, you could wipe out the gullibility viruses that have plagued us lo these many years.


Lawyers in Cyberspace, Part XXVII: As I've mentioned before, the biggest growth industry spawned by the digital age is the practice of law. Everybody in this business is suing everybody else for some kind of patent or trademark infringement, and if they aren't suing, they're being sued.

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