Creative Consumer: Exposing the Oprah Letter Scam

"… THIS IS NOT A CHAIN LETTER!! THIS IS A PERFECTLY LEGAL MONEYMAKING OPPORTUNITY."

This is the other trend I've been seeing a lot lately in bogus e-mails and letters: denial. Another preemptive strike. Just in case you're worrying that this sounds like a chain letter, the crooks state up front that it's not. But, of course it is.

A chain letter is the most basic form of pyramid scheme. You receive a letter (or e-mail) containing a list of names. You're asked to send a dollar to the name at the top of the list. Then you're supposed to cross that name off, add your own name to the bottom of the list and send the letter to 10 friends.

Theoretically, if your friends do their part and pass the letter (and cash) along, eventually your name will be at the top of the list and you'll receive all sorts of money from strangers. Baloney! First of all, these chains usually break after just a couple of rounds. Secondly, they are just transfer schemes to move money from the bottom to the top of the pyramid. And third, they're illegal! Theoretically, you could be prosecuted for participating.

I've included most of the letter M.B. received, because the scam language is often very similar. Get to know the tone and claims of these obnoxious chain letters so you can avoid them. I suspect we will only see more of this sort of thing as the economy struggles to find its footing.

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