George V. Reilly

Chain Mail Hoaxes


I got an email earlier today from one of my relatives who has ties to South Africa, which read:

Last week a 3 year old girl (in South Africa ) was beaten and raped. She is still alive. The man re­spon­si­ble was released on bail yesterday. He is walking the streets. If you are too busy to read this then just sign your name and forward this on. The Government is planning to close the child protection unit and this is a petition against it. This is a very important petition. It is an essential part of the justice system for children. You may have already heard that there’s a myth in South Africa that having sex with a virgin will cure AIDS. The younger the virgin, the more potent the cure. This has led to an epidemic of rapes by infected males, with the cor­re­spon­dent infection of innocent kids. Many have died in these cruel rapes. Recently in Cape Town, a 9-month-old baby was raped by 6 men. Please think about that for a moment. The child abuse situation is now reaching cat­a­stroph­ic pro­por­tions and if we don’t do something, then who will?

Kindly add your name to the bottom of the list and please pass this on to as many people as you know. If you are signature no.: 120 please forward the mail-list to child­pro­tect­p­

Please don’t be complacent, do something about the kids of South Africa. You can make a difference. That child is fighting for life. This is just 1of the million cases of child abuse, so please pledge your support and help keep CPU (CHILD PROTECTION UNIT) open. Please give your support to the petition and ensure that it goes to as many people as possible. Please don’t just leave it, make a difference. In order to write your name copy this messege and paste it in a new mail (compose). Or click on forward and add your name to the list and send it on to others.

Again, if you are number 120 please send this to child­pro­tect­p­

[Lots of forwards stripped, as well as 97 signatures from South Africa, India, Nepal, the UK, and Australia.]

My immediate reaction was that this has to be a hoax. It has all the hallmarks:

Admittedly, many well-meaning but in­com­pe­tent­ly written petitions share the same problems.

Here’s what I wrote back to everyone whose email address I could mine out of what I had been sent:

Stop! It’s a hoax. Do NOT un­crit­i­cal­ly believe everything you get in email.

First thing you should do when you get a chain letter urging you to send email to everyone you know, is to Google around to see if it’s horseshit. Nine times out of ten it will be.

The first link that shows up when you google for "child­pro­tect­p­ca chain letter" is this:

Which led me to the South African Police Service:­nam­ic­Mod­ules/in­ter­net­Site/faqBuild.asp?myURL=242 is the go-to site for all Internet hoaxes. Here’s what they have to say about this one:

If you read any of these links, read this one. Then look around the Snopes website and get a feel for some of the crap that’s out there.

Now, please go and forward THIS email to everyone you forwarded the previous email to, and also send this email to everyone who sent you the chain letter in the first place. Stamp it out before it spreads any further.

(Note: Snopes indicates that some of the rape stories mentioned in this letter are true. A nine-month-old girl really was raped, though it turns out that it wasn’t the six men who were initially arrested, but the ex-boyfriend of the mother.)

I later followed up with the somewhat softer:

Let me just add this.

Hoax chain letters are a bad thing because some twit thinks it’s fun to cause trouble and spread lies. This one has been cir­cu­lat­ing for four years. I’m sure it will still be turning up in four years’ time.

About their only redeeming feature is that they get good-natured, if naive, people such as yourselves to do a little something in an attempt to make the world a better place. If these hoax letters actually achieved something con­struc­tive, I wouldn’t mind nearly so much.

I’ve shot down a few chain letters before. Every single time, Snopes has already written up an extensive page about it.

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