This hoax, which appeared in early 2001, claimed that Bill Gates of Microsoft was conducting a beta test of new software and would send money to all those who forwarded the message to others.
"Even after almost eight years of continued circulation, many people still get fooled by this old hoax and send on the message," said Brett M. Christensen, who runs the Web site Hoax-slayer.com. This hoax has spawned a number of variants, and has traveled all over the world. One especially persistent version, for example, was that Microsoft and AOL were teaming up to make sure that Internet Explorer remained the dominant Web browser on the market.
"Every week, I receive at least a few e-mails asking if the information in the message is true," said Christensen. Although this particular hoax is not difficult to debunk and is not dangerous -- little more than common sense is all that is required, said Christensen -- "it certainly is one of the most widespread of all Internet hoaxes, probably because of the promise of free money."
2. Petition to Ban Religious Broadcasting
"This is one of the most sustained rumors on the Internet, and is based on the absurd premise that atheists are attempting to get all religious programming off the air," said Rich Buehler, who runs the Web site TruthorFiction.com.
This, like so many chain-letter hoaxes, has mutated over the years. It started out in 1996 claiming that the atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, who brought the lawsuit that led to the Supreme Court decision to ban prayer from public schools, was petitioning the FCC to ban all religious programming. It then spawned other chain letters asserting that atheists were attempting to forbid Christmas music in public places and remove references to God from popular television shows like Touched by an Angel.
"The most recent reincarnation is that the prominent evangelist Dr. James Dobson is appealing to people to write to the FCC to prevent atheists from banning all religious references in broadcasting -- both radio and television," said Buehler. "It's the perfect rumor in a way, because it has a threat, a villain, and enough specifics to sound credible."
1. Save Amanda Bundy
This chain letter has been in circulation since as early as 1997, and falls into a general category of "sympathy" hoaxes. There are a large number of variations of this letter in circulation, and many of them reference a sentimental poem "Slow Dance," supposedly written by this young girl who is dying of cancer:
Life is not a race.
Do take it slower.
Hear the music
Before the song is over.
Most versions of this e-mail call upon readers to forward the message to everyone they know, claiming that the American Cancer Society is a corporate sponsor. (Indeed, there are so many hoaxes that invoke the name of the American Cancer Society that the organization has created a Web page to discredit Internet rumors. Other names used in similar e-mails include Jessica Mydek, Rachel Arlington, and Craig Shergold.
The purported reasons to forward the e-mail vary. Mostly they claim that the cancer patient's dying wish is to tell as many people as possible that they should live life to the fullest, as he or she will never have the opportunity to graduate from high school, get married, have children, and so forth. Sometimes they say (falsely) that the American Cancer Society will donate money for every forwarded e-mail to try and save the person's life. In any case, "most of these stories of dying children are patently made up," said Symantec's Ramzan.