From the pages of FidoNews:
FidoNews 11-09 Page: 2 28 Feb 1994
Make Hoaxes Fast
From the Canadian Hoax Interception Project (CHIP) @ 1:250/730
Electronic networks such as Fidonet are frequently prone to such things
are urban fictions, chain letters and hoaxes. These are referred to as
"modem tax", "Dave Rhodes" or "Craig Shergold" stories. Fidonet and
other nets do well to warn users of the many false or illegal documents
What do these documents look like? This article will give some examples
of what is meant by a pirate posting. These types of messages are in
effect text viruses (virii?), since these propagate from system to
system as a program virus might. Such distribution depends on users
and sysops who pass along on without checking for trouble.
After the following listing some of the various pirate postings (not
a complete listing, but hopefully enough to give the idea), some
general rules can be applied to combat such bogus babblings.
=== Pirate Posting Examples ===
These are descriptions of actual messages that have appeared in one
form or other on Fidonet, Usenet, or some other-net.
<< Modem tax mania >>
A "modem tax" message is an unfounded warning of an alleged tax on
modems or other data communications services as to be imposed by
regulators, telephone companies or whatever.
One notorious message is a lengthy wonder which looks like a press
release or other news article. This announces extra revenue generation
schemes (why... don't call it a "modem tax") that are supposedly for
funding the information superhighway. Names such as J.R. Dobbs and Roger
Carasso are included to give the appearance of legitimacy. Now try
looking up such folks in the U.S. government and see how far you get.
Needless to say, this story is a figment of someone's wild imagination.
A recent work of Canadian pirate fiction tells the tale of a planned
Bell Canada $50 per line charge for using a modem or fax machine of
4800 bps or higher. Of course, no references to public or tariff
notices are given, just the dire warnings of disaster. Never mind
that big business (and little business) is not interested in having
big league charges on all their fax and modem lines. Whoever wrote
this up originally just wanted to get a big charge out of the masses.
What folks might want to watch out for are moves directed at BBSes
that collect fees, in effect running as businesses. There are valid
concerns regarding uses which could be construed as business purposes.
Meanwhile, it's always helpful to keep a direct eye on the regulators
rather than reacting to any story that comes from uncertain sources.
<< Bogus BBS licencing blarney >>
Another tall tale being passed around regards alleged threats from
governments to licence BBSes. The most recent appearance of this
involved the Canadian BBS scene, where the message warned of imminent
danger with the looming BBS licencing regime.
Well, many folks have contacted the Canadian regulator, the CRTC,
and the story is thoroughly denied. Not only that, the trend is
towards less regulation in telecommunications, with the CRTC being
given powers to abandon aspects of their regulation where competitive
factors warrant. They're getting a bit tired of not only the BBS
licencing calls, but also the "modem tax" calls, the results of those
who who uncritically accept and distribute misinformation.
<< Craig Shergold needs your cards ... NOT!!! >>
Once upon a time, there was really a boy named Craig Shergold. He
really was stricken with leukemia and didn't have much of a life
expectancy. He really did appeal to the world to send him cards
so that he could make the Guinness Book of Records. Craig went on
to actually win the world record of received cards. This event was
But wait, that wasn't the end of it... Craig received good medical
treatment and he's been quite healthy for some time, a remarkable
recovery indeed. Unfortunately, some sick puppies in computer land
decided to perpetuate the now-outdated request for cards. So Craig
got even vaster quantities of get-well cards even though he already
got well. Craig's improved fortunes have been documented in news
reports such as in the Detroit News, or other newspapers (check out
how to use newspaper indexes in libraries). The false continuation of
these appeals, on the other hand, no longer has a substantiable basis.
But behold, some ultra-sick prankster puppie out there saw that this
was not good enough. So the request was modified so that Craig's age
was changed - without his permission - from twelve to seven, and then
this hoax generator proceeded to fabricate a request from Craig for a
world record *business* card collection. Never mind that the addresses
listed on such pseudo-appeals were now obsolete.
Ever since then, variations of the Craig Shergold theme have circulated
wherever distribution means can be found. The Craig craze has now
devolved to messages bearing different names, different ages, different
whatever. Any such warning messages are probably hoaxes intended to
<< Dave Rhodes - working on the chain letter gang >>
MAKE MONEY FAST! How? Well, the story starts out like this:
"Dear Friend, My name is Dave Rhodes. In September 1988 my car was
reposessed and the bill collectors were hounding me like you wouldn't
believe.... This January 1989 my family and I went on a ten day cruise
to the tropics. I bought a Lincoln Town Car for CASH in Feburary [sic]
This "Dave Rhodes" would have us believe that each of us can rack up
a mere $50 000 in cash, in 20 to 60 days just by following the
simple instructions he gives. Just get into the "mailing list"
business (the euphemism for "chain letter scheme") and send $1 to
each of the ten names listed at the end of the message. Get into the
business yourself and get those $1 payments coming in to you.
Never mind that such postings likely violate a variety of national
and perhaps international laws and never mind that chain schemes
implode when the mathematics of exponential chain growth are calculated.
So you think you, too, can make Ross Perot look like a hobo?
<< Religious Broadcasting to be Banned? >>
Have you seen the one about the warnings of the FCC plans to ban
religious broadcasting in the U.S.A.? You know, the actions that
Madalyn Murray O'Hair and her fellow atheists are doing? Well,
that's one of the better-known works of fiction we'll discuss here.
This one normally comes with an FCC docket number which turns out to
be an invalid one. The FCC has not - and will not - restrict broadcast
licencing on the basis of religious affiliation or lack thereof. Thus
religious broadcasters will not be subject to laws any more restrictive
than those applied to broadcasters in general. The FCC's main
information line in Washington even has a message devoted to exposing
what's wrong with this message.
So... Praise the Lord and pass this false alarm to the garbage can.
U.S. taxpayers' money has already been squandered enough as the FCC
already dealt with untold thousands of letters on this matter.
A side note for Canada, where there are definitely restrictions on
religious broadcasting: the CRTC (Canadian broadcast regulator)
completed a proceeding last year to review religious broadcasting.
Having done that, and sorted through thousands of submissions on
that topic, there is a somewhat less restrictive policy in place.
If anyone sees the U.S. hoax adapted for the Canadian audience,
it can safely be tossed out, too, as there won't be another review
any time soon.
=== Fighting Fraudulent Fabrications ===
To Broadcast Or Not To Broadcast? - Whether to respond to pirate
postings in the same public echo as they were posted is a controversial
concept. Some moderators will reserve the right to deal with such
matters themselves, asking others along the way to hold their fire. Yet,
there needs to be a followup to indicate to others in a conference of
how such posts are a many kilobaud short of a v.32. Ask the conference
moderators for their policies on how to handle hoax posts; those
moderators who don't have a pirate post policy should be encouraged to
establish one and periodically send it throughout their echo.
Getting Off Topic? - Too many of these hoaxes start off with the poster
going "Sorry this is off-topic, but..." then proceed to do a bang-up
Craig Shergold tale on the Amiga and Maximus echoes. Such users admit,
then, that they are in deliberate violation of the conference topic.
Flaming net-mail not only to the node originating such messages, but
also to that node's hub, NC and perhaps ZC is a good prescription for
such ailments. Moderators, too, should be quick to denounce any such
posts appearing in their jurisdiction.
Demand Evidence! - If a regulator, government body or telephone company
were to introduce any action that affects BBSes or telecommunications,
there would be verifiable sources of evidence for such actions. It's
not good enough for someone to say "well it was a file that was on
the Jolly Roger EliteWarez System". For instance, a docket or public
notice number associated with a regulatory body could be used to confirm
or deny claims. Many hoax authors are too lazy to think of even
inventing an imaginary reference number, or other document reference.
The pirate posts just blab on about the impending apocalypse at hand.
Check For References - Some of these messages contain names, references,
document numbers and other things that could be used to confirm or deny
the information at hand. Is a docket or public notice number included?
Call the appropriate regulator and ask about it. Are there individuals
mentioned as government officials? Are they listed in directories or
do the agencies they supposedly represent acknowledge their existence
and the comments they are listed as making? What is the source of the
message? Track them down and demand where their information came from.
Laying Down The Law - Check for laws and regulations that may pertain
to the hoax texts. The Canadian Criminal Code, for instance, has
sections dealing with false messages and counterfeit proclamations
(sections 181, 370, 372). This is not to suggest the army be called
each time a user unwittingly pulls off a classic Dave Rhodeser, but
reminders of the potential illegalities of hoax messages can't hurt.
Monitor Governments - Agencies that can affect telecommunications
normally have procedures for tariffs and notices. These are often
published in gazettes and records of some form or other. It is helpful
to have a few eagle eyes check over tariff notices and other
pronouncements just in case there is something of substance. Getting
the information from the source, getting reference publications and
numbers and verifying matters with staff will help sort the fact from
Hit Lists - Current pirate postings and rumour mongerings can be
identified and warnings about these distributed to sysops. The
Usenet group alt.urban.folklore is a discussion group dedicated
to myth-information such as the Craig Shergold or Dave Rhodes
tales. Just as lists of program viruses and trojans have been
compiled, one could envision the distribution of bogus message
hot lists. Such information should be distributed not only among
sysops, but users who might otherwise be potential messengers of
User And Sysop Education - Users must be warned not to upload or post
any old suspicious tale they feel the public must know by yesterday.
Sysops need to warn their users not to just splash any old modem tax
or other story; an alternative would be encourage the private mail
discussion of such messages with a sysop or *C first. On the Usenet,
those spreading such messages are faced with vicious reaction, and
incite threats that fall just short of closing entire seaboards of
the network involved. The epidemic of pirate posts can be controlled
by sysops setting forth rules of the board about such messages; also,
it helps to exercise a bit of caution and to discuss alleged threats
in private mailings first.
= = = = = = = = =
There you have it, an introduction to the wild world of imaginary
rumours, money-making schemes, and outright balderdash. With the
application of some critical thought, and spreading awareness of
the sorts of scams that circulate, the pirate posts can be put to