7th January 2000 at 00:00
Come on, we can fleece that Bill Gates sucker! Arnold Evans urges caution in the face of Net hoaxes.

MICROSOFTIS offering anyone who uses Windows a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to earn thousands of dollars for a few minutes work. It is testing a system for tracking the progress of forwarded email. If you're lucky enough to find the test document in your In Box, all you have to do is forward it to a few of your friends. Microsoft will pay $245 for every copy you send. Better still you will be paid a further $243 for each of the recipients who subsequently passes it on. You are paid another $241 for each of your friends' friends who has the gumption to follow suit.

I have received two copies of the good news in as many days. One arrived with a covering note which read, "Come on, Arnold, let's make a few bob out of Bill Gates." The other had a PS which asked: "Can this really be true?" Really, it can't.

Even if Microsoft's boffins thought that it might be remotely possible to track every piece of email that was flying around the planet, they wouldn't waste valuable Ramp;D resources on any project that dubious or daft. You only have to do the sums to discover that, if it were true, someone in Microsoft's Ramp;D department deserves to have his knuckles rapped. If I circulated the email to 100 of my e-chums who all did the same to 100 of theirs who also did the same, I'd stand to pocket $243,454,500. But since everyone else involved in this little experiment could do as well, it would make a giant hole in even Bill Gates' fabled bank account.

Of course, one of the reasons for Bill being the richest man in the world is that he's got more sense than to give money away to total strangers simply because they know how to cc an email. It's a hoax - yet another of those pointless chain letters to which Net users seem peculiarly addicted. In the last year, for example, I've been told that if I send on an email, Miller Brewing Company will send me free beer, and that GAP - the clothing suppliers - will kit me out in me in a pair of cargo pants and a Hawaiian print T-shirt. I've been told that Nike are gagging to receive my old pairs of shoes, and that the profits made by Proctor amp; Gamble finance the Church of Satan.

Particularly annoying are those chain letters which contain bogus warnings about non-existent computer viruses. Take, for example, the scare story about "NaughtyRobot" - a virus that can sneak into the software that maintains the link between you and your ISP where it reads your telephone number, password and credit card etails. Next time you log on, it transmits them to some unspecified group of bad guys.

It's all baloney of course, but it's surprisingly easy to be duped by this sort of mischief. I speak from bitter experience, having been totally hoodwinked by a round robin explaining that any email entitled "Penpal Wanted" contained a virus that would obliterate the contents of any hard disc. Being a public-spirited type, I devoted half a page in The Times Ed alerting the teaching profession to the danger. As hundreds of readers were kind enough to point out, not only was it was one of the oldest hoaxes on the Internet, but also that anyone who wrote about computers should know that it is technically impossible to release a virus into your system simply by opening an email or logging onto the Internet.

These bogus alerts won't cost you more than a fleeting attack of the screaming ab-dabs. But another type of unsolicited mail could prove to be far more expensive. The Net is the latest happy hunting ground for all those con artists eager to offer you the opportunity to get rich quick by participating in some form of pyramid selling. Simons Ike BSc (UNN), MNIN, MCIA has a far more subtle approach.

His letter claims that he is a high ranking Nigerian civil servant who has been lumbered with the responsibility of laundering funds which his government misappropriated. All he asks is that he can temporarily deposit $18 million in your bank account for which he will pay a commission of 20 per cent. I didn't repond, but thousands have, and found that after several weeks of negotiation they were eventually asked to fork out a few thousand to help Mr Ike over some unexpected local difficulty. And once they've wired the money - surprise, surprise - he disappears. US investigators reckon that this sophisticated scam could be earning the perpetrators $100 millions annually.

Fortunately, there are some excellent sites dedicated to keeping tabs on the con men and debunking the various virus myths in circulation. So if you receive any dubious mail, always check it out before you pass it on or act on it or - worst of all - part with money. But please don't send me details of any get rich schemes unless, of course, you happen to be Bill Gates and you really are beta-testing some new software.

Chain letters www.cs.rutgers.eduwatrouschain-letters.html Internet scams www.Europe.Datafellows.comnewshoax.htm All about virus myths http:kumite.commyths Send any pathetic money making schemes to Arnold at:

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