Friday, December 30, 2005

Email Hoaxes and Mind Viruses

I got an email forward today, titled "This is So SAD" or something like that. After I'd scrolled through the list of people who had forwarded it to others, who had forwarded it on and so on, I got to the meat of the message, which started off "Alexandra came out of a rigging fire alive, but now has to fight for her life and a normal future. She is 14 months old and..."

And it went on, describing the anguish of baby Alexandra and her parents. What got me thinking was the last line, which said something like baby Alexandra will get 3 cents for every person to whom the mail is forwarded.

How would anyone know I'd forwarded the email? How would they know to whom I'd forwarded it (in order to know to how many).

Now, if you think about it, that's a scary thing. In order to know if, and to whom, I'd forwarded the email, they'd need access to my email account. And that's supposed to be private, right?

Now I KNOW there's no way third parties can access my emal account to find out if I've forwarded anything but I decided to play safe and check the net to see if I'm wrong.

First I found the Trend Micro report that confirmed the email was a hoax. Like I knew, there was no way anyone could know about mail forwards, so there was no question of sending 3 cents to Alexandra's parents if I did forward the email.

Then I found something horrific. The story had apparently been taken from the World Healing Network, which asks people to pray for people in need. Whether one believes in the power of prayer or not, here was a true story taken from a genuine site and spun into a MINDLESS email forward. Think of what Alexandra's parents will go through if and when they find out someone is using their personal pain to send a fraudulent email around the world.

One might argue that at least this way, more people come to know of the tragedy. However, the email doesn't ask anyone to pray for Alexandra or to send money. It asks them to mindlessly forward the email and Alexandra will receive the money anyway. For most people, this is a convenient balm for the soul. "Hey," one thinks, "I did my part. I forwarded it."

But think a little bit more. Every time the email gets forwarded, more email addresses get added into the body of the message. Sooner or later, it will get posted to a public message board, email addresses and all, making each email address available to spammers and pornographers.

Is that what you want?

A baby's tragedy to be used to harvest email addresses?

NEVER forward anything without checking. If you don't know how to check, ask me.

At the very least, read more on Mind Viruses and Hoax Emails. The Internet Virus Antidote is a good place to start.



  1. Anonymous1:10 am

    Hello Deepak, and good day to you...I stumbled upon your post about a child named Alexandra and your reference to her name being on the healing list of my website, The World Healing Network. I'm very saddened to find that someone spun a hoax out of the misfortunes of this family...I don't keep records that far back of the form requests I receive to add people to my healing list, so I'm not sure of the origin of the request, but I can only trust that the benefits of the healing list far outweigh the ignorant actions of others...


    Cindy Oriente
    World Healing Network

  2. Anonymous9:11 am

    Thank you Deepak. Your web page was forwarded to me by a friend who wanted to shed light on the Alexandra issue. I have often received mails requesting me to forward the same which apparently will benefit some victim in monetary terms. I have always had doubts and have never forwarded the same. But I must say i also had doubts of whether i am denying some victim a chance to receive funds. You have put my mind and conscience at ease. I will pass your blog address to friends and hope that it will make a difference. Good work. Dhandewhad (thank you). Fatima , Malaysia

  3. Anonymous9:34 am

    Hi Deepak,

    Today as in your case this spam mail found it's way to my mailbox though a friend!

    The moment I saw it, I had my doubts so as usual I searched the net for hoax emails so that I could reply back to my friend and to all those who had received this mail in the hope of educating them and guess what? I came across your simple but yet eloquent blog in reply to hoax emails and I immediately copied (I hope you don't mind) it to my friend.

    Thanks for all the effort in research, made my work easier! :)


  4. Please do copy and email this blog post to your friends and acquaintances. I want to stamp out these hoaxes and whatever you do to help, I appreciate.

    Thanks, Priscilla,


  5. Deepak,
    I received this hoax this morning and decided that I needed to say something about it. I decided to reply to all with the following message.
    Thank you for keeping your page on this issue up and running. As you can see, this e-mail is still making the rounds and preying on people's sympathies to continue the hoax. Though I was worried that I would offend someone (which is not my intent) I tried to send an e-mail that was not offensive and would hopefully be heeded by others. The following is the message I sent:

    Good morning,

    When checking my e-mail this morning (4/8/2008), I read this message which had been forwarded to me. My heart broke when I saw the picture of a baby who has been so horribly injured and permanently disfigured.

    I am a burn victim myself ( third degree burns over 25% of my body at the age of 6) and my blood began to boil when I read that this was a message claiming that money would go to this family if you simply forward the e-mail. I know that this is a hoax and learned about this trickery when I forwarded a heartbreaking e-mail once only to learn that there is no such way to track e-mails and decided to look this one up online. I found several listings through Google, including this one:

    Please pray for this child and the parents who will be taking care of her and facing some very hard decisions, not to mention having to see their child suffering so.

    It does not matter how old this picture is, the prayer will be needed for years. I only pray that this child did actually live and can get past the pain, the scaring, and the fact that her tragedy is being used in such a cruel way.

    I apologize if my e-mail is offensive to you, but I just had to say something about this one.

    Nancy (last name omitted)

  6. Thank you, Nancy.

    I posted this in 2005 and my anger returns every time someone tells me that this email is still doing the rounds.

    Thank you for your proactive response to the email.


  7. I really appreciate your blog. Well written. Vitally, truth about a disgusting habit of forwarding any garbage, while feeling good about it.

    Think about the time before the email. Would most people make time to copy out the appeal, then spend money mailing it? NO?

    With the net dissipating nonsense is almost free. With freedom is responsibility to ensure we do not spread lies, or open our friends to abuse (from spammers). One who does not care to check the message, or use a BCC is actually an enemy (in addition to being stupid).

  8. Anonymous7:30 am

    thank you for posting this . I didn't get this in a email but it is making its rounds on myspace like crazy.Everytime i see it i almost always send a msg back telling them it is not true and to look more into things before reposting Thanks Jenn

  9. Anonymous9:10 pm

    Thank you for posting such good article , yes SPAM emails are bring lot of virus making system slow and crashing it. We need to be careful when opening emails and receiving files during chat

  10. Anonymous1:34 pm

    Hi Deepak,

    Now is July 2011, we still receiving the email about the victim call man it being so long ago. But, thank you so much for your clarify. Good job!



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