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Lawmakers swamped with e-mail hoax letters

June 30, 2001 

It's scary. Thousands are worried about it. But it's just not true.

The lie being perpetuated in e-mail warnings nationwide is that Congress aims to tax e-mail communication.

The lie goes like this: A proposed bill, 602P, would enact a 5-cent federal levy per e-mail to help bail out the U.S. Postal Service.

No matter that "602P" never existed. It continues to rile Kansans enough for them to contact their representatives in Washington.

Marc Wilson, communications director for 3rd District Congressman Dennis Moore, the Lenexa Democrat whose district includes Lawrence, said Moore's office had received about 5,000 letters, e-mails or phone calls concerning the bogus bill.

The calls started in early 1999 and peaked that year. But the letters continue to come in, he said.

"I think it's because of the nature of e-mail," Wilson said. "A message, whether it is right or wrong, keeps making the rounds without a lot of people checking into it."

In an attempt to quell rumors about the hoax, a link was put on the opening page of Moore's web site, and the congressman even wrote an op-ed piece about it.

Interest in 602P has been higher than that for most legitimate issues, Wilson said. Moore has only received about 2,500 calls or letters concerning prescription drug benefits for seniors, 1,800 concerning Social Security and Medicare; 1,500 for health care issues and 500 regarding education, Wilson said.

"It actually is a very high-interest issue," Wilson said. "It's not every issue that you get 5,000 letters about."

It's the same at 2nd District Congressman Jim Ryun's office, where the Jefferson County Republican has received hundreds of letters, press secretary Chad Hayward said.

"It's not hitting our office the way it was at one time," he said. "But we still get letters on this issue."

Sen. Sam Brownback's office received about 300 letters fretting about the phony bill, a spokesman said. Brownback responds to each with a letter advising the bill is a hoax. The latest response went out Thursday.

Panic over the bogus brill did produce some real legislation. Congressman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) introduced a bill in 1999 known as the Internet Access Charge Prohibition Act.

By 2000, the act passed, prohibiting the Federal Communications Commission from imposing a fee based on the time spent online.

But the e-mail warning about purported Bill 602P still circulates.

Wilson said he thought people tended to trust chain e-mails because they usually come from friends.

"You definitely need to look at anything you receive with a discerning eye," he said. "Because there are many, many things that you can receive through e-mail that just simply aren't true."

By Matt Merkel-Hess, Copyright © 2001, the Lawrence Journal-World

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