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From California to Cambridge: Chain Letter Offers Big Payoff

By Miriam F. Clark

A chain letter called "The Circle of Gold" which offers a $100,000 payoff based on the "trust, integrity and faith" of those who purchase it, has spread widely throughout Cambridge and is now circulating among Harvard students.

Jethro Pettit '82, who said he is the first Harvard student he knows of to buy the letter, bought a copy for $50 three weeks ago, and sold copies to two Harvard freshmen in the last two weeks. "It's really saturated the ranks in Cambridge," he said last week adding, "Everyone's trying to sell it to everybody else."

The letter contains a list of 12 names and addresses, and the letter instructs the buyer to send $50 to the person whose name is at the top of the list. He then makes two copies of the letter, and on those crosses out the name of the person to whom he has sent the money. He adds his own name to the bottom of the list, and then attempts to sell the copies he has made for $50 each.

The letter apparently originated in Marin County, California, Richard Schlueter, an inspector for the U.S. Postal Service in San Francisco said last week. He has received reports of it from the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, the Eastern Seaboard and Hawaii, he added.

Schlueter said the letter constitutes a violation of federal laws against mail fraud and mailing lottery material.

"We don't normally go after anybody who's on any list we obtain," he said, adding, "The main thing is to get it stopped as soon as possible so people don't lose money--the market is getting saturated."

Petit said it took him about two weeks to sell his letters. "Outside of Harvard, people are more likely to buy the letter," he said. "There's just something about the people here that makes them unwilling to buy it," he added.

Petit has not made any money on the letter yet, but he said a "friend of a friend" of his made $9000 from it.

Larry Peick, a Cambridge resident who bought the letter about a month ago, said last week he was told an MIT professor waited five weeks and has already made $2000.

Schlueter said he has seen nine copies of the letter, and not one of the same names appears on any of them. If the letters he has obtained are legitimate, then 36,000 people are already involved in the chain, he added.

"At this rate," Schuleter said, "the market consisting of the entire population of the U.S. will be saturated after 31 cycles." The letter must go through 12 cycles before a buyer wins any money.

Archie C. Epps III, dean of students said yesterday he had not heard about the letter.

The Last Fool

"It'as a form of the 'last fool' theory," Epps said, adding, "Everyone who buys it assumes they won't be the one to lose. It's a swindle and people should be warned."

Paula Gold, assistant to the attorney general for consumer affairs, said Friday the only calls she has received about the letter have been from reporters.

"People should be wary of these things, but we haven't received any complaints," she said.

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