E-Mail Tax Hoax Fools Experts

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An Internet hoax saying the government may tack a 5 cent surcharge onto every e-mail delivered in the United States and would give the money to the U.S. Postal Service has spread like wildfire over the Internet and has fooled even titans in the industry.

Barry Allen, CEO of management consultancy International FieldWorks, Glendale, CA, for example, received the e-mail last month from an attorney friend in Orange County, CA. Allen said he sent it to 1,500 people on his e-mail list after hearing idealab founder Bill Gross warn 1,200 people attending this month's CalTech Internet Entrepreneurs program about the situation. idealab, also based in Glendale, is a well-known incubator for starting and growing Internet businesses, including goTo.com, eToys and Free-PC.

Allen said the hoax was not challenged by anyone at the CalTech event, although idealab spokesman Jack M. Beroff denies that Gross made the comment.

The e-mail says that under bill 602P, the government will charge Internet service providers who would then charge consumers. It also says that Rep. Tony Schnell suggested a $20-$40 per month surcharge on all Internet service above and beyond the government's proposed e-mail charges and that the effort was started because e-mail is costing the USPS almost $230 million in revenue each year.

The e-mail goes on to say that attorney Richard Stepp of Berger, Stepp and Gorman, Vienna, VA, is working without pay to prevent this legislation from becoming law and suggests sending the e-mail on to "all Americans on your list and [to] tell your friends and relatives."

In reality, there is no legislation, Schnell or Stepp. The USPS has denounced the rumor. The Washingtonian, which was cited as writing an editorial supporting the legislation, said the e-mail is false. A similar message began circulating in April saying Canadian officials were about to enact the same legislation. Moreover, the hoax is featured prominently on the Department of Energy's Computer Incident Advisory Capability Web site (ciac.llnl.gov/ciac/CIACHoaxes.html), which is a culmination of hoax and chain letter Web pages, allowing viewers to check to see whether an e-mail is questionable.

Why then is this e-mail spreading so rapidly?

For Allen, it was because he knew the postal service "is not getting the revenue it would like, combined with the fact that Congress is looking for ways to increase revenue from Internet resources. In addition, the wording, including the reasoning and logic caught me."

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