In the last week alone I’ve been sent no less than five pleas in e-mail from a dying child. These messages don’t come from the dying child directly, they come forwarded from some of my best and closest friends. These friends are well educated (one is a PhD at a major New York university), another is rich and savvy (a CEO of an international corporation), while another is online smart (works for an internet PR firm).
Hoax On Your Heart
The problem with these well-intentioned friends of mine is that they are being duped into a hoax and a scam. The hoax is perpetrated upon the goodness of their hearts. The scam comes when they quickly give over personal information for the sake of a dying child when they would never give that data to a complete stranger who asked them directly.
It’s funny that I never get “help this dying child” messages from my cranky, unkind, crabby-ass online friends — only the sweethearts get drawn in — and that’s a big loss, because their good hearts have been tested and tainted by the ill wind of bad intentions and that’s the greatest death of all. I mourn the inevitable cynicalization of their goodwill.
The Dying Child E-Mail Scam comes in many flavours — each of them, however, share the final, dying wish, of an innocent child. These pleas also always come via e-mail since it’s simple to hit Reply and send off your personal information disguised as a well-intentioned missive of support. This plays into our low level desire to do a good deed daily. We were brought up to help others and the Scamsters know and exploit this.
The dying child usually wants to be immortalized in some way (another base one drive for us mortals). The child may want to live forever on the internet and you can help (this causes a perpetual mail flood, which transforms the scam from hoax to malice), or the child wants to make the Guiness Book of World Records before death takes them over and the child can only do it with your help (if you’ll only send your business card with all your contact information included), or the child simply wants a greeting card (that will include your return address) from as many people as possible to brighten up their hospital room.
Why a Child?
When I inform my friends of this scam, their first reaction is incredulous: “How could anyone use a dying child for such an unseemly end?” This is the easiest piece of the puzzle to fit: These thieves prey upon your mind’s image of a dying child because your defenses are down the instant they successfully create that mental picture. When a child is in danger or distress, our first honourable instinct is to race to help the babe in need and toss our cynical good sense to the wind. This “loss of cynicism” is the most important part of the hook of the hoax, for if they don’t get you to bite quickly and without thinking, then you’ll never chew into their plan and turn over what they want — your private information.
How It Happens
Now it’s time to share with you a couple of real life examples of this Scam. I’ve included them here in the hope that you’ll recognize them now and then be able to avoid being drawn in to them later. Being careful and aware (and a little cynical) will help you learn to recognize the red flag warning signs in variations on these messages. I’ve changed the content information for these examples, so if you demand on being duped (G) and send something in… you won’t get hurt because your mail will be returned as undeliverable.
Example 1: The Guiness Book of World Records
Here’s one example of the Dying Child E-Mail Scam. Read it carefully. Notice it is rich in details… especially when it comes on just how to send in your private information. This one is a double-banger: Not only do they want your business card, they want you to start a mail flood by forwarding the message on to 20 of your best friends!
START SCAM WARNING!
Date: Sunday, November 10, 1996 9:42PM
November 10, 1996
I have been asked by Mr. X at Mr. X Construction to participate in a request that a business card be sent to Bobby Q. at the address listed below.
Seven-year-old Bobby has a brain tumor and has little time to live. He has turned in a wish to the Children’s Make-A-Wish Foundation and expressed his desire to have an entry in the Guiness Book of World Records for the largest collection of business cards received by an individual.
Please take the time to resend this letter to 20 recipients of your choice, helping make his wish come true.
Please send business cards to:
C/O Children’s Make-A-Wish Foundation
Atlanta, GA 30346
Thank you for your time and effort.
END SCAM WARNING!
Pretty smooth, eh? Here’s another example of the same Scam with variation.
Example 2: The Mail Flood Hoax
I just got the following dying child wish today. Notice that the original note was sent out (allegedly) on April 17, 1996. Based upon the forwarded quote count, this message has been sent on over 20 times before it got to me, creating a virtual mail flood on the internet.
While this dying child wish doesn’t appear to ask for any personal information, their hope is that you will send them something so they can pull your name and address off the return address. Why else would they provide so many forms of contact for you?
START SCAM WARNING!
This little boy at the Mayo Clinic is very sick and he knows that he will die. Well you know how they have those “Make a Wish Foundations” that give terminally ill kids a dying wish, well this is kind of like that. He likes computers and his wish is to live forever by having his chain letter be eternally passed on the Internet. This is not some joke. And for those of you who care please send this to as many people as possible so his wish can be granted. (THIS IS NOT A CHAIN LETTER JUST DO SOMETHING NICE FOR ONCE!) It is all the way down at the bottom.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Forwarded message begins here ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
From: Tony P.
Date: Wed, 17 Apr 1996 12:46:46 +0800
Subject: My dying wish
My name is Marcus P., and you don’t know me. I’m 7 years old, and I have lukemea. I found your name using gopher, and I would like for you to carry out my dying wish of starting a chain letter. Please send this letter to five people you know so I can live forever.
Thank You very much
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Forwarded message ends here~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“Don’t be dismayed at good-byes,
A farewell is necessary before we can meet again,
and meeting again, after moments or a lifetime,
is certain for those who are friends.
“I want to make sure everybody who has a job wants a job”
–George Bush, during his first Presidential campaign
Pheoess 99 bus 2
XXX Leuven, Belgium
Phone : xx32 – 16 – XXX 46 64
Fax : xx32 – 16 – 25 46 XXX
Email : xxx
Laboratorium en Magnetisme
Z. R. Beuven
END SCAM WARNING!
Rich, isn’t is? Not only do they tell you this isn’t a joke (it isn’t… it’s a scam!) they also openly upbraid you to “do something right for a change!” as they swear it isn’t a chain letter. What a rip.
Example 3: The Mail Flood Hoax, Part II
Here’s another delicious example of a Mail Flood coupled with the Dying Child Request:
START SCAM WARNING!
Subject: American Cancer Soc. – a final wish
No comedy here. It’s about a seven year old girl with cancer. Read it and pass it on to as many people that you can. Occasionally we get to use this medium for some actual good, rather than trading barbs across the waves. And once in a while things like this bring us back to reality, allowing us to count ourselves lucky in life. Let’s put our network to work here! It will only take you a second to forward this message.
JESSICA IS SEVEN YEARS OLD AND IS SUFFERING FROM AN ACUTE AND VERY RARE CASE OF CEREBRAL CARCINOMA. THIS CONDITION CAUSES SEVERE MALIGNANT BRAIN TUMORS AND IS A TERMINAL ILLNESS. THE DOCTORS HAVE GIVEN HER SIX MONTHS TO LIVE. AS PART OF HER DYING WISH, SHE WANTED TO START A CHAIN LETTER TO INFORM PEOPLE OF THIS CONDITION AND TO SEND PEOPLE THE MESSAGE TO LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST AND ENJOY EVERY MOMENT, A CHANCE THAT SHE WILL NEVER HAVE. FURTHERMORE, THE AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY AND SEVERAL CORPORATE SPONSORS HAVE AGREED TO DONATE THREE CENTS TOWARD CONTINUING CANCER RESEARCH FOR EVERY NEW PERSON THAT GETS FORWARDED THIS MESSAGE. PLEASE GIVE JESSICA AND ALL CANCER VICTIMS A CHANCE.
ADD ACS@xxx.COM TO THE LIST OF PEOPLE THAT YOU SEND THIS TO SO THAT THE AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY WILL BE ABLE TO CALCULATE HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE GOTTEN THIS. IF THERE ARE ANY QUESTIONS, SEND THEM TO THE AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY AT ACS@xxx.COM.
Three cents for every person that receives this letter turns out to a lot of money considering how many people will get this letter and how many people they, in turn, pass it on to. Please go ahead and forward it to whoever you know- it really doesn’t take much to help out.
Jean Ann XXX, Ph.D.
Professor and Department Chair
Department of Psychology
University of South Carolina
END SCAM WARNING!
Example 4: Send Money Now
Here’s a rather unique request: “I’ve lost my money, please help me get it back.” A rather robust and incredible ploy. The fact that the Author uses ALL CAPS doesn’t help because you feel as if he’s SHOUTING at you.
START SCAM WARNING!
I WAS A SMALL BUSINESS OWNER IN THE ATLANTA AREA. I RAN THIS BUSINESS SUCCESSFULLY UNTIL ABOUT 60 DAYS AGO. AT THAT TIME, 2 SEPARATE COMPANIES FILED BANKRUPTCY AGAINST ME FOR A TOTAL OF $ 47,000. I COULDN’T SURVIVE THAT.
CONSEQUENTLY, I WAS UNABLE TO PAY MY CREDITORS, MOST OF WHOM WERE FRIENDS. THEY HAVE FAMILY AS I DO AND I CAN’T LIVE WITH THE THOUGHT OF DOING TO THEM WHAT HAS BEEN DONE TO ME. I’VE SPENT MANY SLEEPLESS NIGHTS TRYING TO COME UP WITH A SOLUTION. I HAVE NO WHERE TO TURN EXCEPT TO MY FELLOW MAN. MY ONLY FAMILY IS MY FATHER. HE IS 74 AND SUFFERING FROM DIABETES AND PROSTATE CANCER.
I HAVE SLOD EVERYTHING EXCEPT THE CLOTHES OFF MY BACK AND MY COMPUTER. AFTER THIS FINAL ATTEMPT FOR HELP, I WILL BE SELLING IT.
I WANT TO BE HONORABLE, BUT I CAN’T DO IT ALONE. I WOULD NEVER DO THIS EXCEPT AS A LAST RESORT, BUT I KNOW THAT I WOULD HELP SOMEONE IF I COULD.
WILL YOU HELP ME?? ANY AMOUT WOULD BE VERY MUCH APPRECIATED. THANK YOU
P.O. BOX 486
SMYRNA, GEORGIA 30081
END SCAM WARNING!
See the common thread in that request? Death and Cancer. It’s sickening that these people continue to use these universal human fears as cudgels to hammer money out of your pockets and into their outstretched hands! I’d buy the guy a dictionary to help him spell check his email pleas for money!
Mail Floods and Mail Bombs
I love in one of the examples above, the child’s “final wish” is to “live forever” on the internet — a mail bomb in disguise — and that’s precisely what you’re helping create by sending his plea “to as many people as possible.”
A “mail flood” is what happens when a major ISP or UUNET, or some other major internet provider, breaks down and mail to and from those addresses backup and flood the mail server attempting to deliver the mail. A mail server will continue to try and deliver a mail message every hour for 5 days until it is sent back to you as “undeliverable” — so you can imagine that when a break or an interruption of service happens in the “internet backbone”, millions of e-mail messages immediately begin to backup as new messages come in for processing.
A “mail bomb” is commonly known on the internet as an attack against a single e-mail address with thousands of messages from an angry group of “Crackers” (computer “Hackers” gone bad) or a single person bent on causing trouble for kicks or revenge. There are programs written by Crackers than can take down an entire mail server in minutes by simultaneously mass mailing (or bombing) a thousand e-mail accounts with a one megabyte mail attachment. There aren’t many mail servers that can handle that kind of huge demand for service in an instant… so the mail server chokes and dies.
By forwarding on these “dying child” messages eternally, you’re creating a creeping, effective and perpetual “mail bomb” because these dying wishes are out there clogging up mail systems across the world. The effect of this sort of forwarded mail bomb not be felt as directly as a singular megabyte mail bomb, but the continued flow of a single message being forwarded on to 20 people to another 20 people to another 20 people is a slow death for everyone’s mail; and the person who initiated the message is getting a tangential kick out of having enough “power” to slow down the entire internet with a single message.
There’s no way to effectively protect yourself from a mail bomb. Your ISP may have filters in place to quickly identify the characteristics of a mail bomb, but the Crackers are extremely effective at disguising a bomb, and can easily adapt to any filters set in place. If you get bombed, you get bombed. The best defense is to expect it to happen, and when it does, relish in your educated expectation that you knew it would happen.
A mail flood is also beyond your control, even though it can directly affect your e-mail service. If AOL goes down for a day (that happened recently), YOUR mail is adversely affected because AOL gets (and sends!) more mail than any single service provider on the internet. Even if you are not sending or getting any mail from the AOL domain, you still get hit. Here’s why:
If your ISP sends 500,000 messages a day to AOL members from its members — and AOL goes down for a day — all those messages back up on your ISP’s local server and suddenly YOU can’t send or get your mail because all those undelivered AOL messages are hanging around waiting for a re-attempt at delivery.
Just last week, the Cleveland UUNET hub (a major gateway on the internet backbone) went down for over 24 hours. This blackout of service caused a huge mail backwash as systems across the world tried to re-route not only their mail, but their WWW services as well. The Cleveland hole in the internet data stream wreaked major pain for ISPs across the world and some ISPs are still trying to recover today.
Many ISPs refuse to tell you they have a mail flood or a mail bomb because they can’t bear the negative publicity. People have this false ideal that e-mail is as reliable as a FedEx letter or “snail mail” from the Post Office. It isn’t. Think of your e-mail like smoke signals from the days when Indians ruled The Great Plains — getting the smoke signal depends upon the gust of the wind, your eyesight and your ability to interpret and process the smoke from where you are. Getting and sending your e-mail depends upon the health internet backbone, the strength of your local ISP’s mail server, and the character of all the other mail servers across the globe!
Your clue into the fact that your ISP got bombed or flooded is when you can’t send or get mail from your ISP — 9 times out of 10 the reason this happens is a mail flood or a mail bomb. Workarounds to floods and bombs include getting several POP3 e-mail addresses to use as backups for sending and receiving mail, and getting into the habit of resending a message you feel may have not been properly delivered.
What The Scammers Get
What if you’ve been tricked into sending in your personal information in the past? What happens? What do the scammers do with your personal information one they get it out of you? The end results can vary from simply selling your address to a marketing firm to thefting your entire identity by using your personal information to re-direct your mail to their Post Office box: Your resources have suddenly become theirs. Once that happens, they have your credit card numbers to make purchases and bank statement information to pull your money into another account of their choosing. The best way to prevent being taken in this manner is to only deal with people and resources you already know and trust.
What Can Be Done?
The best way to fight this Dying Child E-Mail Scam is to educate those who send you these messages. That can be a delicate line to walk, because you risk bruising their good intentions by informing them they’ve been duped. You must be brave for them and bring them up to speed because they need to know the truth of their actions in continuing to link the chain of hoaxes and scams. Their first instinct will be not to believe you, because they believed they were acting in the best interest of a dying child.
No one wants to be hoodwinked or feel like a stooge, but the best defense you can offer them for future Scam attacks is to dose them with the reality of the danger they’re creating for themselves by being an unwitting participant in the scam. You can send them here to read this article if they want more detail.
Also, if the “help this dying child” message you get is CC:d to other people, make sure you do a REPLY ALL when you inform the message Sender of the Scam. That way, others in that message stream will also quietly get a clue.
If you get any of these Dying Child Scams in e-mail, please forward them on to me by touching my name at the head of this article. I’ll curry them all together for a follow-up article to show as many examples and variations in this scam as I can — because being educated on this topic is our best defense and our best means of providing support for dying children in need who are real and not a hoax upon our good hearts.