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Bill Gates ribbed by hoax e-mail circular

Why buy products from Bill Gates when you can just send your money to him?

This is the gist of a chain-letter hoax that appeared to start Tuesday. Claiming to be from the office of the chief executive of Microsoft Corp., the letter explains that the recipient qualified for a $1,000 prize.

Just send in a credit card number and its expiration date.

"This hoax is quite well done," said Rob Rosenberger, the Webmaster of the Computer Virus Myths Web site. "The first part of the letter sounds almost believable - well, only to those people not yet (justifiably) skeptical about Internet chain letters."

Read the fine print, though, and it becomes clear that the letter is a joke. Under the title of "Legal Disclaimer," the spoof says the money compensates for an embedded executable virus program, or EEVP, that has been transferred to the reader's hard drive. The $1,000 is parceled out this way: $257 to cover the user's loss of data, $43 for time and anguish, $93 for pain and suffering, and $9 or $10 for a couple of stiff drinks. Oh, and $597 to buy a mythical future product from Microsoft to prevent a recurrence of this event.

The hoax comes at the end of what has been a quiet year, according to Rosenberger.

"There was a brief flurry in June when two previous hoaxes combined," he said, "but other than that, there has not been much activity."