BEFORE YOU LIFT A FINGER TO HELP PRESS GOOGLE INSTEAD!

In between e-mail from work, family and friends and all that oh-so special junk e-mail that promises to shrink your waist, enlarge your bits and pieces and bulk up your bank account are the mass e-mail forwarded by people you know that toss your heart on a conveyor belt headed straight for the shredder.

?Find Evan Trembley? would fall under the latter category. It?s a mother?s plea for help finding her 15 year old son who has been missing for two weeks. ?I am asking you all, begging you to please forward this e-mail on to anyone and everyone you know, PLEASE.? She writes, ending the e-mail with a picture of Evan and the words, ?It only takes two seconds to forward this. If it was your child, you would want all the help you could get!!?

Of course we would. And really, what kind of person would refuse such a small request? All that is required of us is to lift a finger and hit the forward button. We look at the picture of Evan and our heart goes out to his mother. And we lift a finger to help.

Perhaps it was because my own two sons had recently left the nest and my empathy was in high gear, but I wanted to know more about this mother?s search for her missing child. Maybe Evan had already been found. I wanted the story to have a happy ending. So I typed ?Find Evan Trembley? into the Google search engine. And that?s when I learned that the whole thing was a hoax.

Apparently Evan created a fake Amber Alert for himself and put it on MySpace.com for a joke. He thought his ?friends would recognize it, get a laugh out of it and delete it? as he told reporters in his hometown of Wichita, Texas. Instead people who didn?t know Evan, or that it was a joke, started sending it to all their friends, who sent it to their friends, who sent it to their friends, until it wound up in my in-box. Of course the joke?s not funny, but when you?re 15 years old things often strike you as hilarious that won?t seem very amusing when you?re older. Trembley and his mother Tammy said they do not expect any criminal charges.

Another e-mail that frequents my in-box is about a little girl named Amy Bruce who is dying from both lung cancer as a result of second hand smoke and a brain tumor from repeated beatings. Doctors have said she will die soon since her family can?t afford to pay for medical care. The Make A Wish Foundation, however, has agreed to donate seven cents for every time the message is sent on. It ends with ?For those of you who send this along, I thank you so much, but for those who don?t send it, what goes around comes around. Have a Heart, please send this. Please, if you are a kind person, send this on.?

Despite the threatening undertones, who wouldn?t want to be a kind person? Who wouldn?t want to help save an abused, dying, seven year old little girl? Again, it?s all a hoax. Any e-mail claiming that a charity will pay so much money for every e-mail forwarded is bogus. The only way to track an e-mail would be to embed some kind of hidden code that would then be forwarded in HTML format. Not only would this break all kinds of privacy laws, but it would be a logistic nightmare to implement. Any ethical charity would never participate in this kind of thing. In fact, charities such as the Make A Wish Foundation are now being forced to spend precious time and resources responding to these false claims. The fact that these sorts of e-mail continue to circulate proves we are still very much a race of caring, compassionate individuals. I hope that doesn?t change. What I do hope changes is that before a person clicks ?forward to all? they take a minute to Google the subject of the e-mail first. And if it is a hoax, be sure to forward that information, along with any relevant links to help stop the e-mail from wasting time that could be better spent making the world a better place.

Shannon McKinnon is a syndicated columnist from the Peace River country. You can visit her online at www.shannonmckinnon.com