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12/29/2003
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The Privacy Lawyer: Don't Get Fooled Again

Do E-mailed claims sound too good to be true? They probably are.

Earn millions from Bill Gates! All you need to do is forward this E-mail to 20 trusted friends!

"In an effort to remain at pace with [its competitor, AOL], Microsoft has introduced a new email tracking system as a way to keep Internet Explorer as the most popular browser on the market. This email is a beta test of the new software, and Microsoft has generously offered to compensate those who participate in the testing process.

For each person you send this email to, you will be given $5. For every person they give it to, you will be given an additional $3. For every person they send it to, you will receive $1.

Microsoft will tally all the emails produced under your name over a two-week period and then email you with more instructions.

This beta test is only for Microsoft Windows users because the E-mail tracking device that contacts Microsoft is embedded into the code of Windows [95, 98, 2000, XP].

I know you hate forwards. But I started this a month ago because I was very short on cash. A week ago I got an email from Microsoft asking me for my address. I gave it to them and yesterday I got a check in the mail for $800. It really works. I wanted you to get a piece of the action. You won't regret it." (quoted from the Urban Legends Web site)

Cyberhoaxes, Rumors, And Urban Legends a/k/a There's A Cyber-Sucker Born Every Minute!
We aren't strangers to urban legends. The crazed stalker of couples on lovers' lane. The baby alligator, brought back as a souvenir from Florida, that, when flushed down the toilet, lived and hunted in the New York City sewers. Some legends live on from one generation to the next. (Do we even have lovers' lanes anymore, and aren't alligators a protected or endangered species?)

Remember Mikey, the kid who wouldn't eat anything? Well, you may also remember the rumor (totally unfounded) about 20 years ago that he died when his stomach exploded while he was eating Pop Rocks--the effervescent candy--and drinking a can of soda. I wrote my senior thesis on that and other business rumors. Perfect training for being a lawyer!

Rumors, especially those that sound believable, have abounded for centuries. It isn't any different in cyberspace. In fact, they move faster online than they ever could offline. Someone went to a movie and sat down on a hypodermic needle that had been left on the seat. She then contracted AIDS. Someone else was drugged by a beautiful woman and woke up in a bathtub filled with ice only to find his kidney missing. Apparently it had been removed and sold to someone who needed a kidney transplant. Reality or hoaxes? You be the judge.

Most good hoaxes and rumors have three main ingredients--they could have happened (they seem to make sense), they touch on something we know about or think is true (people can get HIV from an exposed infected needle, and people are desperate for transplant organs), and they feed on fear (getting HIV/AIDS, being drugged by strangers, dangers of having sex with strangers, etc.).

The difference between a rumor and a hoax is that hoaxes are planned fakes, while rumors may be believed and innocently passed on. But once a hoax is passed on by people who believe it, it becomes a rumor, so who cares anyway?

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