November, 2002 Update
  The “Touched by an Angel” petition is a hoax perpetrated by the right wing. Don’t reply and don’t forward it to others. See

The tragic events of September 11 have brought out every nut case and unscrupulous person in the country. There are e-mails going around warning people of various terrorist activities, and scammers are making money from donations to nonexistent charities that purport to aid victims of terrorism. The best source on the Internet for security information is the Urban Legends site at And if you want to make a donation to assist the victims of terrorism, contact your local Red Cross or Salvation Army office, or the office of another charity that is already known to you.

Beware of the African money-transfer scam! Scammers in Africa and perhaps elsewhere (it started in Nigeria) are sending thousands of e-mails claiming they need help in transferring a large sum of money to a U.S. financial institution. If you help, they say, you will get a share of the money. There are various versions of this scam, but in most of them the sum to be transferred is around 25-30 million dollars. All of the versions ask you to put up some money in advance for various fees. Who would be dumb enough to respond to this e-mail, you ask? Federal authorities say that this scammer has made millions from gullible Americans! Don’t reply to scammers’ e-mails!

Many Internet users are concerned about scams and security on the Internet. It seems that unscrupulous people are coming out of the woodwork to victimize Internet users. In fact, court records from successful prosecutions show that many of the perpetrators of Internet fraud schemes are the same people who have been running scams by mail and phone for years. The rules for protecting yourself are simple, and they apply equally to the Internet, the telephone, the mail, and door-to-door salesmen. They are:

• If an offer seems to good to be true, it is not true.
• Avoid "Get Rich Quick!" schemes. They are scams; you won’t earn “$$$ Thousands per day while you nap!!”
Ignore offers that require you to act immediately. Reputable firms will give you time to think about what you are getting into.
• Don't respond to unsolicited e-mail offers.
• When you shop on-line, stick with established, reputable retailers.
• Chain letters (which often carry the phrase "This is completely legal!") are illegal, and will not bring you money.
• The Federal Trade Commission web site at and the Better Business Bureau Online at offer a wealth of information on protecting yourself from fraud.

A first cousin of the scam is the hoax, and the Internet has ushered in the Golden Age of hoaxes. Not long ago one of my acquaintances forwarded an e-mail he had received that described, in reasonable and believable language, how the Congress, in order to compensate the Postal Service for lost revenue, is preparing to put a six-cent tax on every e-mail sent. The message contained the number of the bill, the name of the Representative who was sponsoring it, and the name of an attorney in Northern Virginia who was said to be leading the effort to warn the public and organize opposition to the e-mail tax bill. I am by nature a skeptical, even suspicious, person. I knew the moment I saw this warning that it was a hoax. It took me about five minutes--using the tax-free Internet--to prove it. First, I went to the official web site of the US Congress at I quickly learned that there was no such bill before Congress, and that the Representative's name was fictitious. Then I decided to check on the Northern Virginia attorney. No such person. Case closed for me, but thousands of Internet users have been taken in by this hoax, even though they have at their fingertips the means of disproving it. Be alert for and highly skeptical of Internet myths, hoaxes, and rumors. Don't waste your time and money on them.

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