Bill Gates Wants to Share His Fortune With You-Fiction!
Summary of the eRumor:
According to this message, Microsoft founder Bill Gates wants to make sure that his Internet Explorer browser remains on top. So, Microsoft and AOL are doing an “email beta test.” If you forward their email to your friends over the next two weeks, you’ll get money in the mail.
Forwarded emails claiming that Microsoft and AOL are offering Internet Explorer users cash for forwarding beta test emails to their contacts started out as a joke among friends more than 20 years ago — and they continue to dupe readers today.
The earliest versions of these forwarded emails dates back to 1997. Microsoft has since deployed a forwarded email tracking tool that’s standard in all versions of Microsoft Office Outlook. Microsoft never offered cash for beta testing the tool.
Over the last 20 years, the Microsoft-AOL forwarding beta test emails hoax has become one of the most widely circulated rumors we’ve ever encountered. It’s even spawned similar hoaxes like the AOL-Intel hoax and the Disneyland-Microsoft hoax, just to name a few.
As it turns out, the hoax began pretty innocently. Wired reporter Jonathan Keats dove deep into the issue back in 2014 and tracked down the beta test email’s original sender. A University of Iowa student named Bryan Mack sent the email as a joke in 1997:
Bryan Mack was no longer a student by the time I came calling. He’d graduated in 2001 and had taken a job programming databases at the Colorado School of Mines. He’s a regular guy. He answers his own phone. “I wasn’t trying to trick people,” he told me. “It was just a joke between a couple friends.” Then he described how the joke got a little out of hand.
It all started on November 18, 1997, when the guy sitting beside him in the computer lab received a get-rich-quick email, one of the first examples of spam that either of them had seen. “I can come up with something better than that,” Mack boasted. Three minutes later, Bill Gates’ email-tracing program was born. Mack thought it was funny enough to send to a friend at Loras College in Dubuque, with “bill gates here” in the subject line. It made the guy laugh, so he passed it on.
Within days, the message was being read by strangers. A few wrote Mack, asking about their money. Whatever, he thought. Then he went home for Thanksgiving break. “When I got back to school, my account was locked up. There was like a gigabyte of mail, thousands upon thousands of messages.” He set up a filter to block the onslaught. But two weeks later, someone forwarded him a new version. His name was no longer in the header. It came from [email protected] and offered $1,000 and a complimentary copy of Windows 98. Then he got another, signed by Walt Disney Jr., that promised $5,000 and a free vacation. “I started getting scared,” he says. “I thought maybe I was going to get in trouble for fraud.” But Bryan Mack had already been forgotten. He went on with his studies in computer science. He occasionally played phone pranks on friends’ parents, posing as a manager from Goody Tree Service, saying they’d ordered a spruce.
Twenty years later, the email beta test hoax has become one of the most widely circulated in the history of the internet, but the email is nothing more than a hoax among friends.