Congratulations, you won the lottery in a country whose name you can't even pronounce! A wealthy oil executive in a far-off land wants to give you millions of dollars, right now! Sexy girls want to meet you!
Now let's be honest. If someone came to your door and told you any of those things, you'd tell him to get lost. So why do people still fall for this stuff when it's in their e-mail, as if a poorly written message made a weird-sounding pitch any more legitimate?
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The saddest part is, the only reason annoying e-mail keeps filing your inbox is because it works. No matter the number of reports detailing e-mail hoaxes gone bad and tales of spammers taking people for all they're worth, people just keep on clicking.
Why? It's the law of percentages. The response rate for snail-mail spam is between 0.5 and 1 percent. That might not sound like a lot, but if you apply it to e-mail, it means a spammer can send 1 million messages -- without the cost of paper and postage -- and 5,000 to 10,000 people will answer. In fact, a study out this month indicates that nearly 30 percent of Internet users confessed to purchasing something from spam e-mail.
In 100 years, the spam boxes on our brain-implant chips will be maxed out, and we'll still be asking: Who's clicking on this stuff?
Here's PC World's list, in no particular order, of the top e-mail hoaxes that have come through inboxes and fooled millions.
Raise Bonsai Kittens in Bottles
It's amazing how many people were willing to believe this e-mail about a breeder in New York who raised kittens in bottles. Perhaps it's the horrible detail that outraged the recipients so much: The small animals are given a muscle relaxant to pacify them and to allow the breeder to get them in the bottle. They're fed through straws. Their skeletons take on the shape of the bottle. "Latest trends In New York, China, Indonesia and New Zealand." A bizarre case of animal cruelty? A sick joke?
Actually, it started as a fake Web site, Bonsai Kitten, the product of MIT students. The idea was so outrageous, it spread like wildfire via e-mail. Plenty of people fell for it, many begging animal-welfare organizations to help the small furry creatures. Even the FBI investigated. Perhaps it could happen -- after all, you can miniaturize a tree by pruning it and shaping it. But cats? Last time we checked, it's more or less impossible (not to mention probably illegal) to stop an animal from growing simply by keeping it in a small container.