A chain letter is a communication that, for example, encourages you to send money to a list of names that are included in the letter, then to add your name to the list and forward the letter to as many people as you can.
It’s not hard to imagine that if you send the letter to a lot of people and each of them sends the letter to a lot of other people, your name will be sent to multiplied numbers of folk who will be sending you money, just like you did to the names on the list you first received.
Sounds nifty, but it doesn’t work out that way.
There are a couple of kinds of chain letters: Those that don’t ask for anything of monetary value and those that do.
For example, the chain letters that don’t ask for anything of monetary value are ones that suggest sharing something like a post card or recipe. There are also some that include some kind of a blessing to be passed along to others or a request for prayers. There is little risk if you decide to participate in passing them along, because they are not asking for much. One caution, though: some of the chain letters that talk about blessing and curses may still be illegal if they include a threat of what might happen to you if you fail to forward it.
Chain letters that ask for anything of value, however, are a bad bet and, according to the U.S. Postal Service, may be illegal if you use the U.S. mail for any aspect of the chain. There are many chain letters that claim to be legal and are not, but if you have any question about one, check with your local post office to make sure.
The practical side of chain letters is that they virtually never pay off. One reason is that in order to fully benefit from a chain letter that has been forwarded to you, everybody in the chain is going to have to send letters as well, which just doesn’t happen.
The main reason is the sheer numbers involved.
Let’s look at an example:
You receive a chain letter with 11 names on a list that asks you to send $10 to the person who is first on the list, then add your name to the bottom. This means that before you’ll receive any money, the letter needs to go through 10 additional generations. Additionally, if you are going to receive the big bucks that were promised in the letter, everybody in those 10 generations will have to faithfully participate.
Here are the numbers:
Generation of Mailings Number of Participants 1 10 2 100 3 1,000 4 10,000 5 100,000 6 1,000,000 7 10,000,000 8 100,000,000 9 1,000,000,000 10 10,000,000,000
You’ll get your money once 10 billion people are involved! That’s nearly twice the population of the earth and depends on the previous one billion people making sure they all sent out their chain letters.
The bottom line is that most people who participate in chain letter schemes do not get their money back, do not make large amounts of money, and, in fact, are merely padding the wallets of the people who were first on the list…and who probably sent the chain letter in the first place.