Software

Chain e-mails: We don't want them, but what to do?

Chain e-mails. We've all received them, and most IT professionals probably loathe them. But how should we go about asking people to refrain from sending them without running the risk of offending a good friend or a relative? This is my stab at it.

Chain e-mails. We've all received them, and most IT professionals probably loathe them. But how should we go about asking people to refrain from sending them without running the risk of offending a good friend or a relative? This is my stab at it.

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It seems like a catch-22 situation. On one hand, we don't want to be the recipient of those annoying chain e-mails. On the other hand, we don't want to be too harsh on a friend or relative asking that we be excluded from their mass e-mailing. What to do? What to do?

Yes, some (maybe most) of these chain e-mail senders do deserve a harsh cease-and-desist order. But what about the ones who deserve a bit more?

I recently attempted to solve this dilemma by sending, what I hoped to be, a friendly and professional request to opt out of such future mailings. Feel free to copy my letter and send it along to people who send you these types of e-mails. Or if you can come up with better wording or explanations, please share with your TR peers. Also, please share any other experiences or comments you have about these things -- these chain e-mails.

(Due to requests, the letter has been edited and condensed from its original form.)

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Dear.....

Regarding what I might call chain e-mails -- a missing child report; a pyramid letter; a joke exchange; a heart-throbbing story about some dying child; a political statement, usually making some fringe-element claim; or any number of other useless bits or bytes of information (or misinformation).

Please exclude me from your list of recipients. I don't want to receive any of them, even the ones you think I will just love. I never pass them along when people do send them to me, the claims are almost all hoaxes, and people would be wise to simply ignore all of them. Moreover, these types of e-mails actually pose a threat to the security of my computer -- and yours. One of the worst things a computer user can do is to broadcast his/her e-mail address to too many people, which ultimately gets it added into any number of address books.

Whenever any e-mail is forwarded to others, all e-mail addresses that came before are also forwarded. And you'd be surprised at how many computers, especially home computers, have malware of some sort residing on them -- some of which are designed to actually harvest e-mail addresses from people's address books and from their e-mails.

So please, do me a favor and stop sending them to me. And consider doing yourself a favor and refuse them yourself. If you'd like to share this request, feel free, but PLEASE don't forward it or mass e-mail it, but rather send it individually. I would never share your e-mail address with anyone without your consent, and forwarding any e-mail does just that.

Regards.....

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Like I said, feel free to copy my letter and send it along to people who send you these types of e-mails (minus my name and e-mail address, of course). If you can come up with better wording or explanation, please share with your TR peers. (Mine does seem kind of long.) Also, please share any other experiences or comments you have about these things -- these annoying chain e-mails.

58 comments
wbs_aus
wbs_aus

I use one word: unsubscribe

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

If you have some idiot, friend or family included, doing chain mail ruthlessly cut them out of your email and tell them to use the phone. Even using that mantel of charity argument for these boneheads in your life makes you suspect in my book. I even double checked the byline, I suspected it was that politically correct dimwit Toni Bowers.

gadjet
gadjet

First I delete the chain mail, second If I need to forward a email, I cut and paste the important part. Third, when I HAVE to send an email to multiple addresses I use "Blind Carbon Copy" "BCC" in MS Outlook, at least it minimizes the number of visibile email addresses.

Datacommguy
Datacommguy

I'm not particularly thrilled by chain emails either. But if it comes down to the choice of making a friend feel like I think they're an idiot or hitting the delete button, I'll go with the button and occasionally reply with a "Did you know" widget of truth or a link to Snopes if I think they might really believe what they sent. And I'd like to take exception to the part of the 'letter' which claims that forwarded emails contain all of the previous forward info. Most of my friends have heard/seen my lecture about why they need to strip off all the previous forward info before sending and why we don't want their (and my) email address scattered all over a ga-zillion PC's which may be infected. That 'lecture' also includes how to use the BCC option. Not all of them clean up their forwards, or use the BCC option of course, but most at least try. And frankly, some of those things are stupid enough or funny enough to be my smile for the day.

mark.barl
mark.barl

The ones that often slip by are warnings of some "new" scam or virus that is the end of the world as we know it. Users get panicked into sending them to everyone they know. I made it policy at work that any emails of this type are sent to me for verification before being sent on. Needless to say, a swift google normally shows up a hoax or really old scam.

jsaubert
jsaubert

For my work email I use the excuse that any email sent to or from me becomes a company record and can be saved for years. I tell them that you never know how a higher-up might take the intention of an email, so please don't send anything funny, religious, political, military, about a product, virus related or anything else that might be misconstrued. That's taken care of about 90-95% of the chain mail/junk mail. I do still get a few ones with pictures of kittens or about missing kids, but those don't bother me. And for my home email I have one set up just for junk that I give to everyone until I know they can be trusted enough not to send that kind of stuff.

rraisley
rraisley

You didn't mention it, but I hope you are sending these out to all your spammers with their address in BCC. ;-)

cbader
cbader

I used to get several emails a day with all of the different urban legends and critical warnings going around in emails (My Dad surprisingly never got that check from Bill Gates for forwarding the email). So what I started doing was going to snopes.com and sending him a link to the page debunking the rumor in the email he had just sent me. He eventually got the hint. I think almost falling for the scam from the guy in Nigeria who had 10 million dollars he couldnt access without your help also cured him a bit.

eScoop
eScoop

I have found that benign neglect works quite well, thank you. I quietly hit the delete button and never "reply to the person who sent it". after a time almost everyone I deal with regularly has gotten the idea that I'm not going to respond and they take me off of their "send to all" group but - and here's the important part - I do it without alienating them. They still send me other email and if they occasionally send me a chain-letter I UNDERSTAND THAT THEY ARE MY FRIEND and CUT THEM SOME SLACK. What is the harm to me to cut my friends some slack? It really costs me nothing - and I don't risk loosing a friend because I was so inflexible and angry about a PRETTY SMALL THING in the big picture of our relationship.

Fregeus
Fregeus

That way they end up not sending it to me anymore, which is, bottom line, what I want. I don't do it in a mean fashion, but I do make sure the message gets across that what they are doing is wrong. I think it's the only thing you CAN do. TCB

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

Just tell them you don't appreciate them and ask them not to send anymore. Them create a rule to delete them.

dogknees
dogknees

If they are sending you these, they are not your friends. As for relative, well you're stuck with them! These things are a scam, anyone sending them is trying to rip you off. If they really don't understand this, explain it gently to them and then if they still insist on sending them, find a better class of friend.

Kevinleh
Kevinleh

I can't be bothered to read the details, but I know where u are coming from. For me, I just don't send any.. after sometime, u will get none. Coz u sent none. It's a give and take world.

Jaqui
Jaqui

using a pre-screen capable tool, examine all messages for the junk I don't want and bounce it. The sender gets a not deliverable, no such address maildaemon message. when the senders asks what my new email is next time they see me, I tell them it hasn't changed. They mention bounced message and I explain that mass forwardings are spam.

Joe_R
Joe_R

Re the original blog piece: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/helpdesk/?p=346 We've all received those chain e-mails. I recently wrote a letter requesting to opt out. Feel free to copy my letter and send it along to people from whom you get these e-mails (minus my name and e-mail address, of course). If you can come up with better wording or explanation, please share with your TR peers. (Mine does seem kind of long). Also, please share any other experiences or comments you have about these things - these annoying chain e-mails.

turtlewalker
turtlewalker

the way Snopes has pop-unders for Zwinky and the like...!

Joe_R
Joe_R

Toni (a great person and excellent editor, by the way), gives us the freedom and flexibility to write our own dimwitted stuff. As such, we hang the target on our own backs for those who make cyber-sport of taking pot-shots at us. Nonetheless, thanks for contributing to this edition of my [i]Garden Party. You see, ya' can't please everyone, so ya' got to please yourself.[/i]

xtra
xtra

Mark, Panic factor is a good observation. As others have indicated a reply with the snopes or other verifiable link along with a suggestion that you may want to check before fowarding stuff has worked wonders. Actually, I used to send out verified virus alerts to my contacks - stuff that I would come across at tech sites that the mainstream press wouldn't pick up on for days or weeks. Haven't done it for quite some time as mainstream seems to have gotten a lot better at reporting tech news/viruses. Whenever I did it, I started with note that my contacts would recognize as my writing style (You know how I loath mass mailings - so for me to send this you know I think it's important...) I always included reference links and a reminder that I was blindcopying to all my contacts so you probably don't want to do a reply all... jh

acsmith
acsmith

Some of the offenders dropped me off their list and others learned to use snopes themselves which dropped traffic to everyone.

Joe_R
Joe_R

.....and good friends - those are the people I was talking about. We can't be rude, and we want to educate.

Lovs2look
Lovs2look

I USED to get sent heaps of crap, and after investing some time, I too sent the debunking links to the offenders, and even up the line offenders, and now I get none of this type of crap anymore. Didn't have to directly offend anyone...just showed them that what they are forwarding is crap/hoaxes/pure BS. Wish I remembered to put in the bit about sending MY email address all over the place too, and compromising my email account, but I'll save that for the next one I get. Cheers!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Send him the debunking info, and requested he notify everyone else he copied. After the third or fourth one he started send them to me first to debunk. What finally convinced him most of this is garbage was a post-Katrina e-mail. It was screaming about Asian termites being spread in mulch made from storm debris. He's with NC State's agricultural county extension office program, and he already knew that one was bogus. Now he's pretty much able to filter them on his own.

Lovs2look
Lovs2look

Now your email address has been sent all over the world, possibly to a compromised computer and is in a hackers address book...waiting. I prefer to lose some so-called friends then have more virii sent to me...or worse. Having to re-build my PC due to an infection of some kind is NO SMALL THING to me, and really stretches any relationship that I may have with these people. If your friends feel alienated by you not accepting malware and virii, then they really are not your friends, are they?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Who each promptly forwarded it to 10 or 20 more. "Friends don't let friends send spam."

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

I especially like getting removed from chain messages that involve cute and cuddly animals. I stopped those messages from making it into my inbox by repeatedly replying "I think Anthony Bourdain ate one of those on the last episode...said it tasted good glazed in honey". ]:)

Joe_R
Joe_R

A couple of points, however. Some people take offense to a curt or harsh sounding comment, perhaps being hurt by something sounding so harsh, perhaps a person one wouldn't want to offend. Moreover, another motive is to inform others about the reasons for the request. Sometimes a chance to inform and educate an otherwise novice computer user is something that might be worth pursuing ? not only say don?t do it, but educate the person as to why. I sent a condensed version to someone, and she actually thanked me for explaining how the e-mail addresses (including hers) become wide-spread and why it's a bad idea. She said that she never thought about that - until I told her. (Yea, I know ? the version in the blog is wordy.)

bondr
bondr

It must be wonderful to live in such a perfect black and white world.

Joe_R
Joe_R

Yes, exactly. And make it an opportunity to inform and educate.

Joe_R
Joe_R

[i].....using a pre-screen capable tool, examine all messages for the junk I don't want and bounce it.[/i] What about on a Windows platform? Outlook, Outlook Express, or Windows Mail? Is there such a [i]pre-screen capable tool[/i] without the benefit of in-house mail servers or such?

cartunes
cartunes

Not really much shorter, but edited none the less. I incorporated some of the other ideas related in this discussion. Dear?.. I recently received your chain letter. Over 1,000 people have sent me chain letters, and every one of them has died within six months, probably from the "Chain Letter Sender's Curse." You will probably die soon if you experience any of the following symptoms: 1) Tiredness at bedtime, 2) Hunger just before lunch, 3) Inability to remember your license plate number, or 4) Stupidity. But seriously... I love hearing from you, letting me know your thinking of me, and considering I might enjoy what you are forwarding. However, regarding what are commonly referred to as chain e-mails ? please exclude me from your list of recipients. I never pass them along to others, the claims are almost all hoaxes (check the website www.snopes.com), and people would be wise to simply ignore them. Moreover, these types of e-mails actually pose a threat to the security of my computer ? and yours. One of the worst things a computer user can do is to broadcast his/her e-mail address to too many people, which gets it added into any number of address books. Whenever an e-mail is forwarded to others, all e-mail addresses that came before are also forwarded. And you?d be surprised at how many computers, especially home computers, have malware of some sort residing on them ? some of which are designed to actually harvest e-mail addresses from people?s address books and from their e-mails. So please, do us both a favor and stop sending them. And please consider refusing them yourself. If you?d like to share this request, feel free, but PLEASE don?t forward it or mass e-mail it, but rather send it individually. I would never share your e-mail address with anyone without your consent, and forwarding any e-mail does just that. If you do write an email that you want to send to more than a few people, one thing you can do to protect those email addresses is use the BCC (blind carbon copy) field instead of the "To" or "CC" fields. This will hide those addresses from prying eyes. Thanks for your serious consideration of this matter. Regards?..

Merlin the Wiz
Merlin the Wiz

A man and his dog were walking along a road. The man was enjoying the scenery, when it suddenly occurred to him that he was dead. He remembered dying, and that the dog walking beside him had been dead for years. He wondered where the road was leading them. After a while, they came to a high, white stone wall along one side of the road. It looked like fine marble. At the top of a long hill, it was broken by a tall arch that glowed in the sunlight. When he was standing before it he saw a magnificent gate in the arch that looked like mother-of-pearl, and the street that led to the gate looked like pure gold. He and the dog walked toward the gate, and as he got closer, he saw a man at a desk to one side. When he was close enough, he called out, 'Excuse me, where are we?' 'This is Heaven, sir,' the man answered. 'Wow! Would you happen to have some water?' the man asked. 'Of course, sir. Come right in, and I'll have some ice water brought right up.' The man gestured, and the gate began to open. 'Can my friend,' gesturing toward his dog, 'come in, too?' the traveler asked. 'I'm sorry, sir, but we don't accept pets.' The man thought a moment and then turned back toward the road and continued the way he had been going with his dog. After another long walk, and at the top of another long hill, he came to a dirt road leading through a farm gate that looked as if it had never been closed. There was no fence. As he approached the gate, he saw a man inside, leaning against a tree and reading a book. 'Excuse me!' he called to the man. 'Do you have any water?' 'Yeah, sure, there's a pump over there, come on in.' 'How about my friend here?' the traveler gestured to the dog. 'There should be a bowl by the pump.' They went through the gate, and sure enough, there was an old-fashioned hand pump with a bowl beside it. The traveler filled the water bowl and took a long drink himself, then he gave some to the dog. When they were full, he and the dog Walked back toward the man who was standing by the tree. 'What do you call this place?' the traveler asked. 'This is Heaven,' he answered. 'Well, that's confusing,' the traveler said. 'The man down the road said that was Heaven, too.' 'Oh, you mean the place with the gold street and pearly gates? Nope. That's hell.' 'Doesn't it make you mad for them to use your name like that?' 'No, we're just happy that they screen out the folks who would leave their best friends behind.' Soooo .. Sometimes, we wonder why friends keep forwarding jokes to us without writing a word. Maybe this will explain. When you are very busy, but still want to keep in touch, guess what you do? You forward jokes. When you have nothing to say, but still want to keep contact, you forward jokes. When you have something to say, but don't know what, and don't know how, you forward jokes. Also to let you know that you are still remembered, you are still important, you are still loved, you are still cared for, guess what you get? A forwarded joke. So, next time if you get a joke, don't think that you've been sent just another forwarded joke, but that you've been thought of today and your friend on the other end of your computer wanted to send you a smile. You are all welcome @ my water bowl anytime..... Merlin

OnTheRopes
OnTheRopes

There was a discussion at TR similar to this one only it was regarding the use of Bcc. I sent a link to that page to a friend that constantly forwarded email to me and others. I could send him a link to this page but he finally got the right idea and doesn't send me stuff like that anymore.

Litehouse
Litehouse

I found this somewhere and liked it. Chain Letter Response: I recently received your chain letter. Over 1,000 people have sent me chain letters, and every one of them has died within six months, probably from the "Chain Letter Sender's Curse." You will probably die soon if you experience any of the following symptoms: 1) Tiredness at bedtime, 2) Hunger just before lunch, 3) Inability to remember your license plate number, or 4) Stupidity

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

that if they send me another I'll add them to my blocked addresses. Usually works. If it's one of my students, I ignore it.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"I sent a condensed version to someone, ..." Any chance we could see that versions? Gracias.

mburton325
mburton325

Someone finally mentioned the keyword here. Education does wonders for stopping the chain mail hoax trend. Especially when it comes to virus and this or that ISP is going to do something to stop you from using the internet. Educate your co-workers, users, family friends or any number of people.

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

"But seriously... I love hearing from you, letting me know your thinking of me" Les.

FlexNet
FlexNet

Love your Reply Litehouse! A little humor goes a long way...Cheers!

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

I have two friends who just won't lay off. They are dear to me - maybe this will do the trick. :D

Joe_R
Joe_R

Thanks for posting.

Joe_R
Joe_R

.....someone who might be overly sensitive - especially if it's a good friend or relative? Ignoring it is probably the preferred method. But what about your e-mail address being sent (by way of mass mailing) to all those others?

Violetw
Violetw

I don't mind the spam mails. Usually the story in the email is interesting, even if untrue. If I know it's not true, I reply to the sender with the link to swope or other service that verifies stories. As for ppl sending your email address to lots of other ppl and malware, well, it's not difficult to explain how to use 'bcc'. If the story says 'forward right now to 9 ppl' I forward it to ppl I don't like (you know, 'just in case' the evil eye thang is real, heh heh heh), otherwise I only forward links to interesting youtube videos, pictures that are not actually 'links', and funny jokes. For pictures that are links, if I like them, I find the original site and forward THAT (after checking the code). Oh, yeah, it's true. I'm semi-retired now so I have time to do checking, etc. I have never ever received malware or a virus from a friend's spam to me. After all, I've been in I.T. for 48 years now. Did you really think that gen-y'ers are the REAL computer literates? No. It's the ppl who started out 'in the beginning' and then 'continued to learn and grow', i.e. 'your grannies and granpas in I.T.'.

Joe_R
Joe_R

.....Brevity is the Soul of Wit. Thanks for participating in the discussion.

The Bird
The Bird

I just created an filter that throws any messages that have the FW: FW: headers right in the ol' junk folder. Out of sight, out of mind...

Jaqui
Jaqui

in the last 6 weeks the spam subject has come up a few times and tools like mailwasher were mentioned. I've posted the urls in those discussions also, when they were active. :D It is amazing how rapidly the junk stops appearing when you bounce it. Though tools to grab headers and first few lines of email are not as common as they could be.

cartunes
cartunes

I suspect you are pointing to the use of "your" instead of "you're" (you are). If that is the case, I stand corrected. Thanks for pointing that out.

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

Most of mine come from family members who don't know how to 'cut and paste' or edit their email. All I can do is try to educate them .. 'don't do it .. it's bad' Blocking their email is not going to stop them sharing your address with the rest of the world. Les.

richard.gardner
richard.gardner

This guy claims to be an IT Professional : "PLEASE don?t forward it or mass e-mail it, but rather send it individually. I would never share your e-mail address with anyone without your consent, and forwarding any e-mail does just that."

TechRepublic
TechRepublic

"and what kind of IT professional is it that doesn't know how to use BCC?????" I think it's pretty clear that these aren't coming from IT professionals. They are coming from casual friends, co-workers that aren't in IT bu use a computer every day, family members that might be able to spell computer but don't really know how it works, etc. I, personally, don't know *any* IT professionals that forward things like that.

richard.gardner
richard.gardner

It's always the one's that are a bit bonkers that send this crud anyway, generally speaking they don't have anything interesting to say or anyone to say it to, so I'm none too put out when I tell them to stop sending crap and they get all offended at me. Then I have one less idiot in my life, which is nice.... I have to say though, that is a pretty boring message you've put together, I think I'd be less interested in reading that than I would some snopes type nonsense, and what kind of IT professional is it that doesn't know how to use BCC?????

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If they're overly sensitive, they usually don't tolerate me for very long. I usually respond with a brief request asking the sender to not send anything they didn't create themselves; don't forward anything to me.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

it's too late. At least if I don't get anymore of them from that person it doesn't go out that way again. As for students, at least it's not my personal email address they're mailing to. God only knows what our network people do to manage spam. My guess is they work a nightmare in that regard. Some students will send anything to anybody.