I recently got a chain type letter in the mail. Here is a summary of what it said:
TAG! YOU’RE IT!
Please Follow These Directions Carefully
Make six copies of this letter & go buy six instant scratch off tickets for your local lottery.
- You will see two names on the back of this letter, marked #1 and #2.
- Send one instant scratch off ticket to the #1 person on the back of this letter.
- Move the #2 person to the #1 position.
- On each of your six copies, list the new #1 person on the back of each letter. Then, list YOUR name and address as the new #2 person on the back of each letter. Only your name and mine will be listed.
- Send a copy of your new letter along with one instant scratch off ticket to six different people. Be sure to send them only to people that you feel will participate. If you have a feeling that someone will not participate, do not send them a letter.
Note: This is not a chain letter. It is just for fun. If you cannot or will not complete the request within six days, I ask that you please return the un-scratched ticket back to me. It wouldn’t be fair to those who are good sports.
Let’s spend a few bucks and see if we can make someone happy and rich at the same time!
If we all follow these directions carefully, you should receive 36 tickets within the next few weeks. It will be fun to see all the different tickets you receive.
Remember…you have only six days…so get busy!
It sounded like clean fun, with a potential payout.
What I did not know initially is that this form of letter is illegal, as one can find out by reading the United States Postal Inspection Service website:
A chain letter is a “get rich quick” scheme that promises that your mail box will soon be stuffed full of cash if you decide to participate. You’re told you can make thousands of dollars every month if you follow the detailed instructions in the letter.
A typical chain letter includes names and addresses of several individuals whom you may or may not know. You are instructed to send a certain amount of money–usually $5–to the person at the top of the list, and then eliminate that name and add yours to the bottom. You are then instructed to mail copies of the letter to a few more individuals who will hopefully repeat the entire process. The letter promises that if they follow the same procedure, your name will gradually move to the top of the list and you’ll receive money — lots of it.
There’s at least one problem with chain letters. They’re illegal if they request money or other items of value and promise a substantial return to the participants. Chain letters are a form of gambling, and sending them through the mail (or delivering them in person or by computer, but mailing money to participate) violates Title 18, United States Code, Section 1302, the Postal Lottery Statute. (Chain letters that ask for items of minor value, like picture postcards or recipes, may be mailed, since such items are not things of value within the meaning of the law.)
Recently, high-tech chain letters have begun surfacing. They may be disseminated over the Internet, or may require the copying and mailing of computer disks rather than paper. Regardless of what technology is used to advance the scheme, if the mail is used at any step along the way, it is still illegal.
The main thing to remember is that a chain letter is simply a bad investment. You certainly won’t get rich. You will receive little or no money. The few dollars you may get will probably not be as much as you spend making and mailing copies of the chain letter.
Chain letters don’t work because the promise that all participants in a chain letter will be winners is mathematically impossible. Also, many people participate, but do not send money to the person at the top of the list. Some others create a chain letter that lists their name numerous times–in various forms with different addressee. So, in reality, all the money in a chain is going to one person.
Do not be fooled if the chain letter is used to sell inexpensive reports on credit, mail order sales, mailing lists, or other topics. The primary purpose is to take your money, not to sell information. “Selling” a product does not ensure legality. Be doubly suspicious if there’s a claim that the U.S. Postal Service or U.S. Postal Inspection Service has declared the letter legal. This is said only to mislead you. Neither the Postal Service nor Postal Inspectors give prior approval to any chain letter.
Participating in a chain letter is a losing proposition. Turn over any chain letter you receive that asks for money or other items of value to your local postmaster or nearest Postal Inspector. Write on the mailing envelope of the letter or in a separate transmittal letter, “I received this in the mail and believe it may be illegal.
Anyway, I know someone who mailed out all six copies as prescribed. They sent a ticket back to the #1 person on the list, who they did not know. To date, they have not received a single lottery ticket back in the mail.
I think that this type of chain letter, intended for fun only, is an excellent way to expose the greed in people, or an excellent way to demonstrate that people are unable, or unwilling, to read simple instructions. Since the letter originally comes with a scratch off lottery ticket, you have the option to simply scratch off the ticket and throw away the letter, disregarding the instructions. My mother mailed the whole thing back to the originator when she got it, stating that she did not have the time or energy to do such a silly thing. She was also right to do so, as this was illegal. Her other option would have been to give this to her local postmaster.
Since the #2 person listed on the letter that my acquaintance sent out was someone they knew, they were able to just call her and ask just how many she got back. She got three.
Here is her response:
I only got three tickets after all that hassle! One was crap and the other two won $1 each. I did observe that people misinterpreted the procedure. For example, someone sent lotto tickets instead of scratch-offs, someone else sent me a ticket along with instructions to send out six more, and one person decided to re-type the instruction sheet and totally messed up the whole thing! Oh well, guess it was too complicated.
I personally think that a 50% response rate for her is better than I might have anticipated, but still dismal. I attribute most success to the choice of recipients.
I am appalled from talking about this that people could not follow the simple instructions. First, it clearly stated scratch off tickets. Second, people, you need to use logic. When the thing said to send one letter to six people, you must automatically send one to the #1 person listed on the back of the letter. You simply send a scratch off to that person, not a request to send six more letters. Why? That person has already sent the six letters out! You were supposed to send the letter and instructions to six different people!
It is funny to me that people reinterpreted the original instructions and decided to send their own instructions, which hosed up the original intent and procedures. No wonder my aquantance didn’t get anything back! This is not rocket science folks…it is quite simple really. Again, you have to use logic. What is the end-state goal? To get lottery tickets, of course! By putting the names on the back in the order that was prescribed, you ensure that everyone along the chain gets lottery tickets. If done right, everyone gets 36 scratch offs, with a 7 ticket investment.
It is a classic quadratic growth algorithm, and it could be visualized and analyzed mathematically as a tree structure. Cellular automaton follow this growth curve. Infinite growth is possible, capped only by the available population that can receive mail and agrees to participation.
The original author of the letter sends it to six individuals. But you don’t know who and you don’t really care. At this point, all you know is that you got the letter, and you need to send a ticket to the #1 person on the back and move the #2 person to the #1 slot, listing yourself as the new #2. Each of the six recipients send a scratch off back to the #1 person and they proceed to send six tickets out to 6 new recipients, listing themselves as the new #1 person. Each of the new recipients list themselves as the new #1. The six new recipients (now 2 generations ahead from the original) each send a ticket back to you as the number one person. You will get 36 tickets if everyone participates as planned. As the plan was formulated, each recipient is capped at 36 potential responses. But the letter could potentially grow to an infinite number of recipients over time, as this is a breeder algorithm. A really hasty sketch is included to illustrate.
So…in the end…it did not work out. It is a chain letter, folks, and it is illegal. Do not participate in such things! As the people who did participate relayed to me, perhaps it was too complex. Perhaps people could not follow instructions. Perhaps people reinvented the instructions. Perhaps people were greedy. Perhaps people did not care. Either way, not a single ticket, out of 36 potential tickets, crossed the desk of the people I spoke to who did this.
I received an email from one of the participants…and here is what he had to say:
BTW… I copied that lottery thing exactly… a zerox of a zerox of a zerox is ghetto…
And… The original instructions were not clear…
So if I was the butt clown… that mucked it all up…. I am sorry.
Thought it was dumb to send the full thing back to #1… but I was following what the document did not say, but implied… ?
Oh well, guess that is one more thing that I will never participate in again… did not realize…that following a horrible spec… was going to cause such heartburn
My response follows:
Well, who is to say that you are the one who mucked it up?
At any rate, someone did…
I guess someone took to rewriting the whole thing…their own way…with new instructions…and sent it back out…LOL
I was told it was clear…then learned that most people do not understand step by step stuff…or most people are unwilling to take the time to read it carefully.
In the end, it was obviously too complicated, though if you ask some people to define what a clear blue sky looks like…they will get into light refraction off water droplets and atmospheric patterns versus calling it blue, crisp and clear.
It’s easy to get GlassHalfEmpty=true over this stuff…the end state though is…did you enjoy participating in it? I personally got enjoyment hearing that everyone messed it up. I also think a lot of people were greedy…
In all, knowing now that it is illegal…it is good that people do not participate in stuff like this.