Break the Chain There's Hole in the Bucket

Exclusive (3/13/2001) A recent posting in our forum asked about a very convincing "e-mail tracking" chain letter. What we found was an experiment gone terribly awry.

I received this message from a friend who normally doesn't send such things. I'm sure it's a hoax. Can this be checked out somehow?

From: Brandon Fridge
Sent: Wednesday, February 21, 2001 2:02 PM

This is an email received the other day, but I was a bit skeptical about until I read about the new "java hole" security issue that allows companies to track emails. In fact, I'm sure that a lot of the ones in the past have been scams, but maybe not this one, please send it on for me. (and you) I took the time to clean it up a bit b4 I sent it on.

Hello, my name is Jason Cox and I work for the legal firm of Guberman and Snelling. I have been assigned to assist one of our clients, who due to legal issues involving federal anti-trust laws is about to lose his current business. He desires to move all of his assets out of his current software business and into the telecommunications industry. Unfortunately, this will not be possible as any corporation these assets are acquired by prior to the final ruling will be subject to the ruling.

To boost this new company (not yet named) and to achieve greater personal name recognition, our client has authorized us to liquidate his assets in a most inovating way: each time you send this email on, the recipients will be added to a central registration database that will be used at a later time to contact everyone who might be interested in the future of telecommunications and new solutions. Every time you forward this email, your account will be credited $5.00 US, and each time someone you have introduced to this offer (either directly, or through a subsidiary individual) passes it on, you will be credited $1.00 US. This offer is only good up to the amount of $10,000,000.00 US, and after the total sum of these accounts exceeds that cap limit, no one will receive any further credits from this offer.

Employees and their friends and family of Microsoft, GM, Disney, or any of their subsidiaries are not eligible for this offer.

Thank you for your time,
Jason Cox, Attn. at Law

When this gem first appeared in the Break the Chain Forum I commented that it was clearly a hoax, but one of the more convincing hoaxes I've ever seen. Shortly thereafter, Brandon Fridge, the letter's author contacted me with the following explanation:

1) Thank you for the compliment.

2) It was supposed to be $10,000,000 total, not per person.

3) The mention of GM, Disney, etc. was supposed to lend credibility because they had been spoofed, and the people who keep sending me stuff like this apparently never caught on in the first place.

4) Email tracking is possible through use of imbedded JAVA, but only if you're using the IE or Netscape 6. I've been trying for the last half hour to find that article on CNN or ABCNEWS, with no success. When I find it again, I'll send you the link. If there's an official term for this, I don't know it, but "JAVA hole" seemed good enough for my time constraints.

5) The use of Jason Cox's name: I made that name up as an amalgam of two of my coworkers names, but apparently it was the only credible bit in the whole thing since I later found out that there is a Jason Cox who works in the MS PR department.

I never expected this to get past generation #1, never intended for it to. The point was to make fun of a friend who sent me a forward claiming Cracker Barrel would give me a $50 gift certificate. I intended to demonstrate that anybody can take fifteen minutes and make up something more credible than the ones they're spreading.

Unfortunately, Brandon's creation was a bit too believable. It continues to circulate by people on the chance that it just might be true.

The article about the "Java Hole" (or "e-mail wiretapping" as privacy advocates call it) that Brandon mentions can be found here. While e-mail tracking as it's described in the e-mail is made technically possible by this development, I still stand by my assertion that companies will not use it to give money away. It's most likely application will be to spy on employees and identify e-mail and internet abuses. E-mail chain letters are not a good marketing tool and no lawyer would encourage his client to use one to liquidate assets. Break this Chain!

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