What Are The Chain Letters And Are They Really Illegal?

A chain letter is often a "get rich quick" scheme that promises 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. Read more in this article from the US Postal Inspection Service.
Many are illegal
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 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.

A bad investment
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 US Postal Service or US 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."PregnancyAndBaby.com

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How can MIT students change expectations so they don鈥檛 compete against each other? Should undergraduates feel like underachievers if they are taking only four classes? Can a grad student work a 95 schedule without feeling like they are slacking? Are certain majors <quote>less hardcore</quote> than others? Where does the faculty fit into the picture of student stress?

Questions like these and many more arose during last week鈥檚 discussion forum on student stress, called <quote>Under Pressure.</quote> The discussion, which was co-hosted by the chancellor鈥檚 office and The Tech, was held in 1-390 on Tuesday at 5 p.m. About 50 students attended.

Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD 鈥?0 set the stage for the forum by bringing up many of the issues that face students at MIT today. Grimson spoke of the <quote>Imposter Syndrome</quote> 鈥?how a student can feel like they don鈥檛 belong at MIT or were admitted by accident. He admitted that during grad school he felt like he spent most of his time feeling like someone was about to tap him on the shoulder, apologize, and tell him they accidentally put his application in the wrong pile. Grimson brought up that while pressure is a fundamental part of MIT 鈥?it can drive many students to perform better 鈥?it can also be extreme.

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In addition to statistics from the survey , Pourian shared a number of comments from the survey, ending with <quote>Don鈥檛 let learning get in the way of living.</quote>

Following Pourian was Sam Allen, the chair of the faculty. He spoke about how faculty could help relieve some student stress, elaborating on some rules that faculty must adhere to , and how students can interface with faculty to make their lives easier. Try to get close to professors you like, he advised, go to their office hours . Many faculty members love teaching, and mentoring students is often the favorite part of their job, he said. The faculty is there for students to interact with.

<quote>They aren鈥檛 malicious, just clueless,</quote> he laughed.


The central part of the forum, of course, was the discussion. After dinner from Bertucci鈥檚, the students in the room were invited to share their thoughts. In addition to Grimson and Allen, there were several administrators and deans. In attendance were David Randall, head of S3; Chris Colombo, dean for student life; Christine Ortiz, dean for graduate education; Blanche Staton, senior associate dean for graduate students; and a representative from Medical Health, among other administrators.

Most of the students present seemed to be upperclassmen, and there were many faces from the Undergraduate Association and the Graduate Student Council.

Students brought up a variety of issues. Many spoke of the competition at MIT 鈥?how it is easy to feel incompetent when you compare yourself to other students. This was particularly salient for graduate students who have to spend a lot of time in lab.

If one labmate works on Sunday, said a graduate student, everyone else in the lab feels obligated to go in as well. Grimson said he wished he could just ask faculty to declare <quote>lab holidays</quote> to avoid issues like this, but expressed that something like that would likely be impossible.

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Grimson pointed out a number of classes that don鈥檛 actually reflect the time they take. <quote>We forgot to add a zero to some of these classes,</quote> joked Grimson. 2.009, 6.005, 6.006, and a number of classes were accused of being guilty of this phenomenon.

<quote>All of Course 4!</quote> shouted one student when class numbers were being thrown around.

The discussion continued past 7 p.m. as students and faculty brainstormed ways to alleviate student stress at MIT.

Students who have more to contribute to the discussion should contact the chancellor.