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Forward For Freebies Email Hoaxes

by Brett M. Christensen

At some point, most Internet users have probably received a message that promises them a free product or service in exchange for forwarding the message to others.

The message may specify a minimum number of recipients or it may urge people to forward it to as many people as possible. Over the last decade or more, such messages have covered a range of products and services including free phones, free clothes, free air travel, free champagne, free PSP consoles, free food, gift vouchers and more.

But, regardless of the supposed freebie or the specified details, virtually all such messages are hoaxes. It is very unlikely that any legitimate company would base a giveaway promotion on how many times a particular email was forwarded. Given how rapidly an email can travel around the world, such a promotion could very quickly spiral out of control, leaving the company liable for many more giveaways than they originally intended to provide.

Moreover, it would be extremely difficult to collect reliable data about who forwarded the message to whom and was therefore eligible to receive a giveaway. Hoax messages of this nature often claim that the message is being automatically tracked in some manner. However, an email message could be forwarded many thousands of times in a variety of formats and there is simply no ethical and accurate method of tracking it.
Many companies give away vouchers or products from time to time as part of a marketing strategy. However, such giveaways are strictly controlled and are certainly not contingent upon how many copies of a particular email are sent. Thus, any email message that claims the recipient can get something free in exchange for forwarding the message is almost certainly a hoax.

Giveaway hoaxes tend to be very “successful” in that they propagate widely and may circulate continually for years. Comments from site visitors indicate that people often forward such messages even if they suspect that the “giveaway” claims are bogus, “just in case it really is real”. The prevailing mindset is that sending such messages is basically harmless, and if, by chance, the claims in the message turn out to be true, the sender might get something for nothing. “What have I got to lose?” they say.

Unfortunately, the issue is not that simple. Sending such messages may seem harmless enough. However, the Internet is groaning under the weight of so much spam as it is and sending on bogus “giveaway” emails just adds to the problem.

There are dozens of varieties of these giveaway hoaxes, many of which have been continually circulating for several years. This equates to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of totally useless emails adding to the clutter in the world’s inboxes.

So, if you receive an email that promises freebies for nothing more than forwarding, don’t be tempted to try it out. The chances that the promotion is genuine are exceptionally slim. And, by deleting the message rather than forwarding it, you “break the chain”. Not forwarding the message may ultimately stop thousands of extra copies of such nonsense from circulating. Every action that reduces the amount of garbage email, even by a small amount, helps in the war against spam.

If you are still a little worried that you might be missing out on a real deal, you can always research the supposed giveaway for yourself. If it is a hoax, googling keywords or phrases from the message might well point you to an article on the issue on a hoax-information website. Moreover, companies targeted by these hoaxes will often publish information denying their involvement on their websites.

The following is a typical example of a bogus giveaway email. The Applebee’s giveaway hoax has been circulating since at least 2001.

Subject: FW: Applebee’s – enjoy!

My name is Bill Palmer, founder of Applebee’s. In an attempt to get our name out to more people in the rural communities where we are not currently located, we are offering a! $50 gift certificate to anyone who forwards this email to 9 of their friends. Just send this email to them and you will receive an email back with a confirmation number to claim your gift certificate.

Importance Notice

After considerable thought and with an ache in my heart, I have decided that the time has come to close down the Hoax-Slayer website.

These days, the site does not generate enough revenue to cover expenses, and I do not have the financial resources to sustain it going forward.

Moreover, I now work long hours in a full-time and physically taxing job, so maintaining and managing the website and publishing new material has become difficult for me.

And finally, after 18 years of writing about scams and hoaxes, I feel that it is time for me to take my fingers off the keyboard and focus on other projects and pastimes.

When I first started Hoax-Slayer, I never dreamed that I would still be working on the project all these years later or that it would become such an important part of my life. It's been a fantastic and engaging experience and one that I will always treasure.

I hope that my work over the years has helped to make the Internet a little safer and thwarted the activities of at least a few scammers and malicious pranksters.

A Big Thank You

I would also like to thank all of those wonderful people who have supported the project by sharing information from the site, contributing examples of scams and hoaxes, offering suggestions, donating funds, or helping behind the scenes.

I would especially like to thank David White for his tireless contribution to the Hoax-Slayer Facebook Page over many years. David's support has been invaluable, and I can not thank him enough.

Closing Date

Hoax-Slayer will still be around for a few weeks while I wind things down. The site will go offline on May 31, 2021. While I will not be publishing any new posts, you can still access existing material on the site until the date of closure.

Thank you, one and all!

Brett Christensen,