From the pages of FidoNews: FidoNews 11-09 Page: 2 28 Feb 1994 Make Hoaxes Fast From the C

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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 that circulate. 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 true history. 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 cause trouble. << 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] 1989." 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 the fiction. 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 hoaxes. 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 pasture.


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