Dangers of Chain Letter Scams

The chain letter formula has existed since at least the 19th century. In recent decades, they have gained new life through the reach of Internet and become quite common. You have at any point in time probably received a message on a social network or in your email inbox that promises you money or good luck if you forward it, and unspecified bad luck if you don’t.

Sometimes, they promise to make you money fast or “increase your luck”. People still fall on it due to the many variations. No matter the context, they all want you to keep the chain. And do it fast.

No, you don’t need to reply to that message.

What you don’t see is the potential scams behind chain letters. Senders will go to a great extent to prevent you from ignoring the message. After you get into the game, they may even steal your accounts and information.

Don’t worry about the risks. Once you understand how the scheme works, it’s extremely easy to avoid.

Exposing The Chain Letter Scam

Exposing the chain letter scam

All chain letters have a purpose, whether it is to make money, commit fraud, or create a trend. The sender aims to reach as many people as possible with no target in particular.

As we’ll show later, the message follows a pattern designed to make others engage. They promise you a reward for keeping the chain.

The reality is, these schemes have little or no benefits for the receiver. The moment you interact, you may be at risk of phishing attempts as well. And if you do get a reward, it only is because someone is making money off someone.

Each letter tries to sell you a story and a reason to share it with others. Many include fake testimonials to “show” how they reward their members and/or punish those who ignore them. Don’t expect anything good from these letters. The best you can do is ignore them regardless of the warnings. You are only at risk if you reply.

Why Are Chain Letters So Widespread?

Why are chain letters so widespread

How can we make it grow exponentially?

  • We send it to as many people as possible.
  • We send it to them multiple times.
  • We use all the channels available.

When done right, a chain can become viral, reaching millions in a matter of days. Here are four ways senders spam their chain letters.

Cold Chain Calling

Remember, chain letters try to get something from you. If it’s not information, then it’s money. Phone calls may not be the go-to format for most letters, but they are frequent in pyramid schemes.

Let’s say a sales rep phones you for a “unique business opportunity.” He talks about how you could make money selling, well, nothing. All you need to do is follow their method religiously.

If you want to participate, the salesman tells you to give them money and refer to others.

Cold Chain Emails

You usually don’t get chain emails unless your inbox is cluttered with junk email. However, some scammers manage to get through the spam filters and get into your main inbox. You can recognize with these three patterns or similar variations:

  • The headline suggests urgent attention.
  • The sender uses emotions to make the email copy more convincing. They often tell unusual stories to incite fear or greed.
  • The body of the email always includes either a link or a call-to-action.

Thankfully, you have little to worry about due to advances of todays email spam filters. When sending massive emails, the message is more likely to bounce back, go to spam or not deliver. And if they do get delivered to your inbox anyway, avoid opening any unexpected email. If nothing else, it is tracked and recorded as being open the moment you actually open it.

Text Messages

The senders follow the same style as in emails, including links and call-to-actions. But SMSs aren’t always free. The chain is more likely to continue if you only message people you know would be more probable to take action. The chain creator remarks this detail as well.

Text messages are a variation of chain letters. If the sender automates the chain, you’ll get the spam SMS on your phone again and again, until you open it or block them.

Social Media

Social media is a highly effective tool for any kind of marketers. Anybody has the chance to rise above the noise and share their message. If you are persistent enough, you can build a large community.

Once you have habitual followers, they tend to keep supporting you, not because of what you do, but because they know you. That’s why they are the favorite target for chain letter scammers.

The best way to reach more people is to convince the person that others follow. Plus, nobody makes money from affiliate and network marketing like influencers. If they are shaddy or unaware of the scam, they may share those chain letters and make some money in the process. But that’s highly unlikely to be the case for followers as well.

Anatomy Of A Chain Letter: 4 Steps To Create A Viral Message

Anatomy of a chain letter

In a chain letter, the sender uses a hook, a plot, and a call-to-action. Later, he can add case studies to contrast risk and rewards. What happens when you reply? And what if you don’t?

The Hook

For pyramid schemes, they use a bold claim to get your attention from the very first second. Others may incite compassion, telling you a sad story. If they don’t feel creative, they’ll tell you not to ignore the message directly and threaten you with something.

The Plot

How did you even get that message? This introduction explains how the sender is someone like you who received the message. He tells about how he got this message and what happened afterward.

In the message, they explain the who created the chain, what they did, and why it’s beneficial. They tell you how to earn unthinkable rewards for no risk.

If there’s no risk, you should get involved. Right?

The Call-To-Action

These senders tell you what to do and what happens when you don’t. They make the decision so clear that it’s unthinkable to say no.

You will only get the rewards if you follow the exact instructions and help others do the same. The problem is, this method is harder to control as the pyramid base gets bigger.

Case Studies

It’s easier to follow instructions once you relate to others. To “improve conversions,” scammers will fake testimonials to influence your decision.

Ironically, some of those cases could actually be true. But by the time the message gets to you, the chain no longer works. Each stage requires exponentially more people to convince, which is why new members are the ultimate losers.

Examples Of Chain Letters

Examples Of Chain Letters

You will find chain variations based on their purpose. No, not all of them try to take your money. Some may be data mining techniques to get your information and sell it to marketers.

And then the others may pose no actual financial danger to anyone, still they can be very annoying or act as a psychological stress factor for many individuals. These chain letters promise good luck or bad fortune and similar fate to you if you forward the email to X persons.

Pyramid Schemes

Pyramid schemes are temporary structures that generate wealth mostly to their creators and those high in the pyramid. They make more money as new members join the program, and thus they try to grow the base exponentially and fast.

But once this base is big enough — once new members get no benefits — the scheme unravels. You can convince ten, a hundred, a thousand people to follow your steps. But dozens of millions? That’s unrealistic. Yet, that’s what they tell new members to do.

At some point and inevitably, collapse of the pyramid will happen, because getting new members can not go on infinitely.

False Warnings

No, they won’t burn your house if you don’t forward the message. There is no such virus on the Internet. And an SMS won’t determine how “lucky” you are in love.

In chain letters, you can hear many stories, each of them with well-thought excuses — such as superstitions — to make you move forward. It’s better to worry more about knowing who is sending these messages rather than the message itself.

Who has time to read junk email these days?


People like giving money for a cause they believe in. Unfortunately, scammers can exploit that. Apart from resending, they may request some money or your credentials. They claim to support children in need, a charity, or other social causes.

There’s nothing wrong as long as there’s proof that what’s stated is real. Make sure it is, before you proceed with anything.

Urban Myths

Nowadays chain letters are quite well known worldwide, which has reduced their credibility. However, one can still make it work if it’s “timed” with a trend or an event.

A new company on the news? A lethal disease? A social media upcoming trend? No matter what comes out, fraudsters will use it for chain letters to convert better.

Wrapping Up

Chain scams are very easy to avoid. What stops people from ignoring them are emotions: curiosity, fear, greed, hope, love.

The scam works because they share personally relatable stories, whether real or fake. But here’s the hidden truth: what worked for others may not work for you!

Chain schemes are exponential. Each stage requires more work to develop, which also reduces rewards exponentially.

Despite the warnings, you may still feel compelled to try. If you do, try going in the contrary direction. Don’t grow the net; find out who was first until you reach the source. What you will find is what we’ve just covered in this guide.

The next time you get a chain letter, delete it. You could create your own chain email to warn others about the chain letter scam and tell them to share it to protect others. Could be funny.

Remember, chain letters use many formats to spread. Avoid sharing your credentials online, bulletproof your inbox, and educate to prevent yourself from future schemes.

Share it
Notify of

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments