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Also see Pyramid Schemes
They ask you to forward it to everyone, but there are problems!
The specialists on cracking the evil of Chain Letters include Break the Chain.org and www.chainletters.org (gone - domain lost), but here is a brief set of guidelines which may help to save a few of us from the epidemic of suffering caused by these things.
If you receive a long e-mail, possibly some kind of long story, which tries to get you involved emotionally, you should flick through it to make sure it's not a chain letter. Don't get drawn in to it.
Even if it's from a friend, the letter itself may be evil. Your friend may also be a victim of it and may have been compelled to forward it on. And even if the content of the chain letter sounds positive, beware, there may be a sinister side to it. Chain letters often use religion, so don't get caught out by that either!
Chain letters are designed to be spread by forwarding on to as many people as possible, either by blackmailing you, threatening you, or persuading you by some kind of sucker type of trick. They'll use your emotions against you, or try to somehow make you feel compelled to forward on the message.
Therefore, NEVER forward-on any message containing a threat or insult or emotional blackmail, even if it pretends to be on the side of good and makes out you are bad for not sending it on. Any incoming long message should be flicked through quickly first to check it contains no threats. A while ago you used to be able to see a rogues gallery of chain letters at www.chainletters.org (gone - domain lost). Maybe Break the Chain might also have a rogues gallery. Knowing what these things look like helps you to beware of them.
How to test if any particular e-mail is a chain letter:
Check if the end of it says you should forward it on to as many people as possible. If that is the prime aim of it, then it is a chain letter. (Requests to forward it don't make it a chain letter in itself, but if that's the prime purpose, then a chain letter is what it is!).
What to do if you get a chain letter:
Don't send it on to lots of people! Also, reply to the sender and tell them about this page and/or chainletters.org , and also inform them about what a chain letter is. If they don't respond, do REPLY ALL and warn all the people on the list. Also, if it's some kind of a warning which you are being urged to spread, take a sample of some of the text and look it up on search engines . In general, someone somewhere will have put up a page to say it's a hoax.
Implicit chain letters also include hoaxes such as the Pavlo_88 message, and various virus-like things such as sulfnbk as explained in the write-up about counter virus measures
There are other messages about which aren't chain letters but are to a greater or lesser extent misleading, and some have disinformation. I had my doubts about the ATM SCAM message even though it turns out that some of the information is true (though not all), and more recently there was a message about fake degrees and paying unnecessarily which is interesting. I hope people don't forward disinformative messages on. It's important to get the information right. See parcel delivery service message.
Why it's not harmless:
Firstly, because people kill themselves because of chain letters. Also, it creates a lot of suffering to a lot of people. And, even in cases where there is no suicide and/or suffering, it wastes a huge amount of people's time and resources, which gratifies the originator of these things. Don't let them get away with it!