I don't care if I die at 12 AM... I refuse to pass on your chain letter

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Group Members

Jennifer Goemans, Zina Kwan, Ramtin Nowtash, Michael Tod, Nancy Chau

Group Contacts

Jen - jagoeman@ucalgary.ca
Zina - zinakwan@yahoo.ca
Ramtin - rnowtash@yahoo.com
Michael - miketodcom@yahoo.ca
Nancy - n_chau21@hotmail.com

What the Heck are Chain Letters?!

A typical chain letter consists of a message, that induces the reader to make a number of copies of the letter, and forward it to their friends. Although sometimes interesting to read, manipulation is often the key that causes these ridiculous junk mail to be forwarded. Threatening statements such as "if you don't send this to 15 people within 15 minutes, you'll have bad luck forever," or those that cause false hope, and emotional "true" stories, are often the tactics employed in a chain letter, that causes those who are afraid to "break the chain" to pass the message along. To most people, chain letters are perceived as a nuisance, and to others, they are a form of entertainment, and addiction as some may say. In some cases, they may lead to emotional distress, however, the main concern with chain letters is the time and bandwidth they use up, the spam that they cause, and the possible viruses that can be obtained, once a chain letter is opened.

History of Chain Letters

Item chain letters have existed for years. It is very difficult to date the first chain letter recorded. If we consider a true characteristic of a chain letter to have the instructions to make copies of the letter and pass around for luck than we can date these "luck chain letters" to about 1900.Recently (2006) a chain letter from 1898 was found that is a Roman Catholic prayer for intercession by St.joseph. This is the oldest chain letter so far collected. One of the biggest examples of chain letters is “send a dime.” This letter started in Denver, Colorado in 1935, based on an earlier luck letter and millions of copies were made worldwide. Soon after the first publicity of “send-a-dime”, parodies appeared (1935); Money and Exchange chain letters also begin appearing after the introduction of “send-a-dime” in 1935. 1900 chain letters were inclined by increasing literacy, international mail and postcards, and changing attitudes about religion and miracles. In 1966 Alan dundes, a professor at the university of California, described these worldwide elements of a chain letter. (1) a announcement that the letter is a chain letter , (2) an order to send a specific number of copies, sometimes within a definite period of time, (3) a description of desirable consequences of compliance with the injunction, and (4) a warning of undesirable consequences if the injunction is ignored or disobeyed.

Events in Chain Letter History

1) Origin of Money Chain Letters (1922 - 1935) first example is denver's "send a dime"
2) Divergence of Luck and Money Chains (1935 - 1939)

THE GOOD LUCK CHAIN Dear Friend: This chain was started in the hope of bringing good luck to you. WITHIN THREE DAYS, make five (5) copies of this letter, leaving off the top name and address and add your name and address at the bottom of the list. Remember, faith, hope and charity! Mail or give these five copies to five of your friends or relatives to whom you wish good luck and prosperity to come. Be careful to choose friends who are reliable and dependable and who will be certain to keep the chain unbroken. An Army officer received $5,000 from sending out the letters. A housewife received $3,000 and a high school student received $1,000, so you can see that it pays off. Send 10¢ to the top name on the list, the one that you omitted. Wrap it carefully in paper, put it in an envelope, enclosing nothing else, as a charity donation. In turn, as your name reaches the top, you will begin receiving hundreds of dimes. Beware! If you break the chain you will have bad luck. One woman was in a car accident when she broke the chain. Another woman was sued for divorce. A man lost his job. A high school student failed to pass in three subjects. Bad luck will follow you if you break the chain! Send your five letters today! Pick good friends you can trust! The dimes will begin arriving if you do.

3) Luck Follows Money (1952)

This Prayer has been sent to you and has been around the world four times. The one who breaks it will have bad luck. The Prayer. Trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not on thy own understandance in all thy ways acknowledge him and he will direct thy path.

Please copy this and see what happens in four days after receiving it. Send this copy and four to someone you wish good luck. It must leave in 24 hours. Don't send any money and don't keep this copy. Gen Patton received $1,600 after receiving it. Gen Allen received $1,600 and lost it because he broke the chain.

You are to have good luck in 4 days. This is not a joke and you will receive by mail.

4) The Media Chain Letter (1948 - 1995) mostly chain letters that circulate online among friends for a laugh!
5) The Mainline Since 1982 Occurrences of Trust, Belief, Kiss, Wife's Money, Love and Car chain letters.

5 Common Types of Chain Letters


Money generating chain letters are created by un-credible sources using fakes names whose goal is to get personal information and or direct cash. In recent years the source of money generating chain letters has been linked to people in developing countries. A wide spread phenomenon of donated internet café’s has created opportunity to take advantage of unsuspecting targets in developed countries. The letter starts off very generic, then usually mentions an untapped fortune which the sender is willing to split. The most famous money generating letter of the 20th Century came in 1935 with the “Send-a-Dime” boom which had special appeal to distributors of money letters.


Luck generating chain letters serve little purpose but for a fake feeling of personal safety. They use pass forward techniques such as pyramid schemes, which means they ask you to pass it on to so many people before a stated time if you want to have good luck. This maximizes the amounts of people for which the chain letter reaches and the trend continues in an exponential amount. Initial scepticism from the reader is countered by lines in the email which try to re-enforce its “realness.” Such lines could include, “Remember, this thing really works!” or, “Don’t break this chain of luck or else you’ll receive bad luck for the next month!”


The altruistic chain letter is designed to guilt you into passing on a certain email. The message in the email contains a story of some sort which appeals to your natural instinct of selfless concern for others. There is no main goal but to get you to pass on the letter because you feel bad for the “person” in the message. Examples include sick children who will get help should you pass it on, people involved with accidents and will be noticed should you pass it on etc etc.


These chain letters lure you into passing on an email which will lead to a reward of some kind. Companies such as Clearing House and others like them are famous for sending emails which are vague but imply a big cash reward should the receiver reply to the message. Other examples are passing on a certain email and for every person you pass it on to you will receive ‘x’ amount of dollars, or replying to receive a large prize. One of the most famous examples of the former pertains to the “email tracking” message which has been circulating for many years now and promises that Bill Gates promises you a certain amount of money for each person that you forward the email to. Of course it’s just a hoax as Bill Gates isn’t THAT nice of a guy.


Humour chain letters are very common amongst friends and generally don’t prove to be very harmful in any way. You’ve probably sent one or two in your lifetime as well, not with bad intentions, but only in hopes of putting a smile on a friends face. Whether it’s a funny video you saw on EbaumsWorld or YouTube, or maybe a funny picture of the joke of the day, the humour chain letter was made to share some joy. Unlike the other four mentioned categories, these usually aren’t started by mailing list companies; more like individuals who saw something funny and just wanted to pass it along in an un-harmful manor.

Common Methods of the Transport of Chain Letters


Traditionally, chain letters began as hand written messages sent through the mail. It used to take a fair amount of time in order to reproduce enough to pass along to others. Now that new technologies are more widely available, the spread of chain letters has increased significantly. The effort required in order to keep the chain going has almost disappeared, and thus the issue of chain letters has grown.


The use of fax machines in general is slowly diminishing. Although the transfer of chain letters through fax machines are not common, it is still a possible method of recieving one.



Through many sites that provide e-mail services, most commonly Hotmail, Yahoo, or Google, it is often inevitable for your account to be full of junk mail and chain letters that often begin with "FWD:" or with an outlandish title, that causes one to open the message without the knowledge of it being a chain letter. In most cases, many are hoaxes, stating that if you don't forward this message to at least a certain number of people, your account will be deleted in so and so days. Others often promise some sort of benefit in the end, such as "you'll find your true love in 48 hours," however if you do not perform the specified task, "you'll have bad luck for 6 years." These e-mail providers are often easy targets for spammers for illicit purposes such as chain mailing, due to their wide availability, popularity, and ease of registration of new accounts (the majority are free). It just goes to show that you get what you pay for! However, most have spam policies that do not tolerate these practices, and accounts engaging in these activities are terminated without warning.



Applications such as the "Wall," "Fun Wall," "Super Wall," and "Advanced Wall" are often the areas in which chain messages are sent. Common chain messages are the ones stating that you have been tagged as one of their best friends or one of the hottest guys/girls and you should forward this, and others are stories that aim to influence you emotionally and then at the end of the post give you an ultimatum such as: "Now you have 2 choices:

1) Repost this message, or

2) Ignore it as if it never touched your heart."

Others promise secret information or a message to be shown once you've posted the note, but then again its usually a hoax.


With the same general methods that Facebook provides, MySpace allows comments in the form of messages, pictures and videos. A person's MySpace page can often become cluttered with these "comments" and fill up quite quickly.


Chain letters have also become quite common on YouTube in the form of video comments. It has become an increasing problem that users are growing to dislike more and more. A simple search on the website will produce numerous complaints and rants in the form of videos by people who wish to make a point about how annoying these chains can be.


Another form of recieving chain letters is through a text message on your mobile phone. Although not nearly as common as the ones through E-mail and Facebook, these are still equally as annoying, if not more, because text messaging services cost you money.

Variations of Chain Letters


Look out! They're coming to get you!!

300px-Wolf spider attack position.jpg

Spider chains are those nasty little petitions or lists of names that encourage you to sign at the bottom. The problem with these, is that your name is only being added to one copy of the chain letter, and therefore creating another branch of that original copy. So, instead of sending around the same chain letter that was sent to you, you start another branch or version of it, and this then creates a new branch everytime someone else signs their name and passes it along. This is where the name comes from, because in a way, the original chain starts to sprout a number of legs, however, it is often exponentially more than eight! This is a huge issue, because the whole purpose of the letter was to get a a bunch of people to sign one petition, however, the result is a bunch of petitions with different information on them, that most likely cannot be tracked down. Some give instructions to email the list back to one person when you are the 100th signature, etc, etc, however it seems to be fairly pointless if there are hundreds of versions floating around with very different information. It would take a very long time for this to be completed. For example if Joe started a chain spider and sent it initially to Sally and Sam, who in turn signed it, Sally and Sam would then have different lists to send on with Sam's friends never being added to Sally's list and vice versa. Any chain spider with a large number of names on it is almost certainly fraudulently created because an exponential amount of these letters would have to exist for the letter to have been passed on in so many steps. For example, if each recipient who received a chain spider sent it on to 10 friends and nobody signed it twice, then for any one list of names to contain 10 signatures, everyone in the world must have signed one of the billion separate messages in existence.

What's so Bad about Chain Letters?

One of the main problems with chain letters is the valuable time wasted due to spam. A recent survey found that 49% of Americans spend at least 40 minutes deleting spam every week, and 14% spend up to three and a half hours. This also translates into a loss in productivity, which can mean an actual monetary cost for businesses.

An example of a calculation of the cost due to spam from a chain letter considers if everyone using the internet received one spam message, and spent one minute reading and then discarding it: 50,000,000 people * 1/60 hour * $50/hour = $ 41.7 million

Chain letters can be even more troublesome when money is involved. One infamous example of a chain letter fraud is the Dave Rhodes "MAKE.MONEY.FAST" letter, which reached the internet and became a persistent spam problem in the 90s. The chain letter contains a list of people, to which the reader is supposed to send money, then cross off the name at the top and add theirs at the bottom. The letter claims you could make thousands of dollars after only a couple of months.

The emotional distress caused by certain chain letters can also be very problematic for some people. Luck generating and altruistic chain letters are usually the main culprits. Statements such as "If you do not pass this on to 5 people, you will die within a week" or "If you're a good person, pass this on" insist that you perpetuate the chain or else. These letters can cause significant distress to the people that believe them, and even the people that don't believe those statements may be uncomfortable after reading that they will suffer a horrible fate.

Some people may even develop some form of addiction chain letters. This may relate to emotional issues regarding the guilt or the pressure to passing chain letters on, or it may just be a problem in itself.



Chain letters of any sort are technically illegal in Canada according to the Better Business Bureau, regardless of their purpose. In particular, pyramid schemes where money is sent in by participants are in direct violation of the Competition Act. However, letters promising good luck, health etc. are also illegal. The United States has also made chain letters illegal if there is an exchange of money or “other items of value”, and if the U.S. Postal System is used at any point during the process. Chain letters can be reported to the U.S. Postal Service.

What to do when you Encounter One?


What to do?? Simply DELETE IT!

It's best to delete a chain letter, in the event that an attachment contains a computer virus. Don’t open email from unknown sources and do install anti-spam software to reduce the number of potentially dangerous email. Although most chain letters are sent from individuals that you know, remember that they can be potentially harmful and that there really is no harm in deleting them. Deleting the junk mail is a plus relative to letting the chain letters build up in your inbox space, because once your inbox is full, those emails that are of true significance will not be received.

But you don't want to spend countless hours deleting them?

Most email accounts allow you change your settings regarding the emails that you receive. Hotmail has options which allow you to set the type of filter for incoming messages, what to do when an email is regarded as "junk mail", and an option which allows you to report to Microsoft and other organizations that help fight junk mail. When a message is regarded as junk mail, two options that are available is to 1) automatically transfer the message to junk email folder, where it is deleted after 10 days or 2) delete the junk mail immediately. Setting these options will save the amount of time spent on deleting these nuisances.


An example of this is shown below, written by Jed Hartman in November 1994:

"You are under no obligation to forward this letter. Nothing bad will happen to you because of failure to forward it. Furthermore, this letter absolves you of all bad luck you might otherwise have experienced through failure to forward other chain letters. That means you never again have to write "I'm not superstitious but..." on a chain letter and send it on; you never again have to worry that if you don't forward a chain letter Bad Things will happen to you. Next time you get a chain letter, read this letter again and throw out the other one without forwarding it. If you want to, you can send this letter to the person who sent you the bad-luck chain letter, but again, you will not experience bad luck because of failure to pass this letter on. You may wish to keep a copy of this letter around for future use, but you may also dispose of it immediately without ill effects. If you do pass this letter on, please send only a single copy of it to any given recipient; never send multiple copies of anything to anyone. Mailbombing someone with this letter is every bit as bad as any other form of mailbombing.

Please note that by forwarding a standard chain letter to someone, you are saying, in effect, "If you don't do what I tell you to do, something bad will happen to you." Would you make such a threat under any other circumstances? Would you be upset if someone else made such a threat to you? Just say no -- don't be a victim of bad luck wished on you by others. Refuse to propagate the chain."

This is an attempt in defeating a chain letter. Clearly, it doesn't work that well as chain letters are inevitable and have existed for over years and years. By sending this to those who sent it, you are still wasting your time forwarding a message, and still are creating a chain like effect.


Most chain letters are scams and do not come through on the promises they make. There is no benefit to the user whatsoever, they are a waste of time, bandwidth, space, and in some cases, money, and the emotional stress that they might cause is not worth it. If you recieve one, the easiest and most effective method to get rid of them is to simply hit the delete button.