When I was a kid, I told an outrageous lie: that my grade school principal was going to pay me .25 cents for each piece of garbage I picked up at the school. My parents immediately saw it for the fiction that it was.
Unfortunately, people on the net aren't quite so observant when it comes to heart-pulling e-mail scams such as this one, which promises that AOL will donate 5 cents for every email forwarded to treat an infant with brain cancer.
Here's her e-mail allegedly sent out by her mom:
Date Collected: 9/10/2002
Hello, My name is Krista Marie and I have anew born baby named Natalie. She means the world to me, and just resently, the doctors have discovered that my little Natalie has Brain Cancer. Unfortunatly my husband and I don't have the money to pay for the bill. But my husband and I have worked out a deal with AOL and they have agreed to give us 5cents to each person that recived this e-mail. So please, forward this to everyone you know, and help out my little Natalie and I.
There are two kinds of e-mail tracking scams worming their way through the Internet: ones that pull at your purse strings, and ones that pull at your heart strings.
The purse-string variety tries to get you to annoy your friends through promises to give you money (or gift certificates or free M&Ms or just about anything else you could want) for every e-mail you forward
Heart-string scams like the "Natalie" e-mail appeal to the readers compassionate sides, and are usually so gut-wrenchingly sad that people feel that if they don't forward the e-mail they'll be as cold and heartless as Hitler himself.
Both varieties, however, are equally fraudulent. There are no major companies -- not AOL, not ZDNET, not even Microsoft, which is paying people to forward e-mail. Not only do such e-mail tracking programs not exist, but any company that tried such promotions would quickly go bankrupt thanks to the wonders of exponential growth (when five people send five e-mails to five of their friends, who proceed to send it to five of their friends, who repeat the process all over again, the costs quickly grow astronomical).
As for little Natalie's e-mail, a quick check of AOL's Web site quickly finds no stories hyping such a public-relations friendly story as this one, which is surprising for a company as desperately in need of some warm, fuzzy good news as this one.
Further, there have been no news stories trumpeting AOL's benevolence, as one might expect. The American Cancer Society, which a concern individual might expect would be interested in promoting such a program, makes no mention of it. (it does, however, have a nice page debunking various cancer-related e-mail hoaxes.
In the end, there's not one thread of proof supporting this hoax, and plenty of circumstanial evidence against it.
You can read more debunkings by visiting these Web sites:
- Snopes.com: Natalie: A brief debunking of this hoax, with links to debunkings of similar hoaxes.
- American Cancer Society: Rumors, Myths and Truths: While they have nothing on this particular hoax, they've got plenty of information debunking other notorious cancer-related hoaxes.