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Credible endorsements are a very effective marketing tool, especially in cyberspace. However, the principle of ‘caveat emptor (let the buyer beware)’ should still be the main criteria for making the decision to purchase. The simple reason for this is that some alleged endorsements may not be what they seem.

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internet scams, chain letter, internet chain letter, Oprah, As Seen on Oprah, Teenager Makes $71,000 Mailing Simple Letter, Cyberiter

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It seems the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval has been replaced by Oprah Winfrey when it comes to a validation of credibility …

Having said that, if I’m not mistaken, all the former ever meant was that the product or service in question paid to advertise in Good Housekeeping magazine.

Still, in the vast anonymity of the cybermarket, a claim of credibility is vital to those who wish to convince us to send them money. Via her phenomenonally successful syndicated television show, Ms Winfrey’s excellence at accurately portraying causes, incidents and situations has earned her a lofty mantle as the Anointess of Authenticity.

We can even see this phenomenon at work on the Longer Life Group’s website that hosts my column, as there are products advertised which espouse her name. That’s fine, of course, as it’s easy for us to discern that the claims of these products are real in that respect (eg- Bob Greene really is her personal trainer). They are, no doubt, good products. If I ever feel the need to lose ten pounds in thirty days, I’ll give them a try.

However, in the wild world of cyber-commerce, it seems that some salesmen decided to take a shortcut in this process. They figured it was good enough to merely claim their product was featured on Oprah.

As you’ve maneuvered through the spam and detritus of cyberspace, it’s odds-on you’ve seen this headline:

‘As Seen On Oprah! Teenager Makes $71,000 by Mailing a Simple Letter!’

The sales pitch relates the tale of a kid who diligently sent God-knows-how-many chain letters and wound up with a closetful of $10 bills, or something like that. The pitch goes on to state that this story was also featured on an American newsmagazine, 20/20, and featured in the Wall Street Journal. However, those outlets are merely there for support. It’s Oprah that gives this story ‘legs,’ as they say in the movie business.

The object of the exercise is to induce you to buy into the chain by sending money to one or more of the names on a five-deep list, then removing the top name and adding your name to the bottom, so you can take your turn at collecting all that cash. You’re surely aware of the drill.

In theory, this works to an exponential level. Then again, in theory, so does communism in mass society.

Need I say more?

From my research, it’s false. Untrue. Never happened.

I went straight to the source and posed the question to the staff of Oprah, asking if any teenager ever appeared on the show and told how his chain letter made him $71,000 or more. Here’s the e-mail I received:

“Date: 10 Oct 09:04

“Dear Viewer,

“We don’t find any Oprah Show that talked about anyone making a fortune on a chain letter. References to chain letters include the cabbage soup diet, Mrs. Fields cookies and the Angel Network.”

“Thank you,

“Oprah Tapes and Transcripts”

While I do admit a temptation to start a chain letter in hopes of receiving sackfuls of Mrs Fields’ cookies by associating it with a real e-mail from Oprah’s staff — after which I would click on that ad featuring Bob Greene so I could buy his weight-loss program — my common sense tells me that it just wouldn’t work.

Still, the purpose of making such claims is to attempt to override your common sense, to get you to think that if Oprah gave credence to the story, then perhaps there is something to it. So, when the ‘target’ amount they want you to pay is set at the price of a couple of beers or a handful of lottery tickets, the hook is well and truly baited.

What a logical way for you to lose a few bucks! And you will. Whether you send out letters or e-mail, you will lose your money and look silly to your recipients while doing it. Again, we’ll discuss that next time.

For now, suffice it to say that as far as this story goes, I’m convinced that Oprah never aired it. The only reference we’ll confirm is that Aretha Franklin sang it.

‘Chain of Fools.’