Why “Make $250,000.00 in weeks” Chain Letter is Crap


Chain Letter
image ©Bon Crowder

Unless you are living a secret life, have all your mail forwarded to a virtual assistant or have refused to jump on the postal service bandwagon, you have gotten a chain letter.

I recently received one with the title, “Make $250,000.00 in weeks: As seen on Oprah and 20/20.” If you live outside of the U.S., I’d bet money that you have your own version of this chain letter going around.

Here is a quick summary of the one I got:

  1. Send $1 to six people listed.
  2. Take off first person’s name and address.
  3. Put your name and address in the last spot.
  4. Make copies and send the letter to 200 people.
  5. Get $1 from 15 of those 200 people who will play the game.
  6. Get $1 from 15 out of every 200 people that get the letter (from the other people in the 6-man list).
  7. Make over $800,000 from these $1 contributions.

The financial math is correct, the problem is in the mailing list numbers.

The letter states that to find 200 people you can order a mailing list. The companies it lists “do not overuse their lists.”

Really? The numbers say differently:

  • Person #1 buys 200 names.
  • From those, 15 people also buy 200 names. Now 200 + 3000 names have been purchased.
  • From those 3000 people, 225 people each buy 200 names. That’s 15 people from the 15 original people. We now have 200 + 3000 + 45,000 names sold.
  • Next are 3,375 people (15*225) that need to buy 200 names. 200 + 3000 + 45,000 + 675,000 = 723,200 names sold

So far this is only for four people – there are six names on the list on the letter I got!

  • Round 5: Now 50,625 people need 200 names each! Okay, that is 10,125,000 names that are sold for this round. Our total is now 200 + 3000, + 45,000 + 675,000 + 10,125,000 = 10,848,200

One last time to cover everyone on the list of six:

  • Round 6: 759,375 people need names. Their purchase totals 151,875,000, bringing our running total to 162,723,200 unique names that have been purchased.

Assume this chain letter went at least one more level (a pretty fair assumption).

  • Round 7: 11,290,625 people are in the game of purchasing names. That is 2,275,125,000 people, bringing the total to 2,440,848,200.

Every person has received the letter 10 times!

Letters in a post office box in a US post offi...
Image via Wikipedia

There are about 230,000,000 adults in the U.S. This means that every grown up has received the letter 10 times. (2,440,848,200 total names sold divided by 230,000,000 people in the US is 10.6 letters to each adult). I have received the letter twice in the last six months. I have asked around – many people I know have received it a few times, but no one has gotten it more than three times in the last year.

If 15 out of every 200 people have done this, we all would have gotten 10 letters. We haven’t. Thus, the claim that 15 out of every 200 people will do this is crap.

Furthermore, if Willie Lampkin III, who sent the most recent letter to me, had received 10 of these letters, I’m sure he would have been more inclined to ignore them.

NEW YORK - MAY 12:  People use mail services a...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The real winners are the USPS and the mailing list companies.

If the numbers were correct (and we were all getting 10 of these letters), the USPS would have sold postage stamps to the tune of $1,073,973,208. That’s a billion dollars in postage! A billion dollars isn’t chump change for any organization.

As for the mailing list companies: 200 names cost $58. That’s about 29 cents per name. Thats over $700,000,000 for those folks!

So don’t respond to chain letters!

The numbers don’t lie. You might have been able to make a gazillion dollars, if you were the first person do do this back in 1972. You can’t now.

Not to mention that you have just sent your home address to 200 strangers! If even one of these people is a blogger, you might be in trouble.

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*No spreadsheets were injured in the writing of this blog post.

2 Responses to Why “Make $250,000.00 in weeks” Chain Letter is Crap
  1. Kathi Crawford
    September 21, 2010 | 8:00 am

    Thank you, Bon, for doing the math. I was always curious about how anyone could really make money on this. I just wonder if the USPS and mailing list companies know how lucky they are!!

    • Idearella
      September 22, 2010 | 9:05 am

      I would venture to bet that it is the mailing list companies that started it!

      Glad you like the post, Kathi!

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