Hoax chain-mail has become a permanent fixture in our mailboxes but while many of us dump them before reading them, one woman's personal contact details ended up as part of such an e-mail when she gave in to emotions and clicked the "forward" button.

About a month ago Simone Anastasi received a chain e-mail, purportedly signed by a seven-year-old girl, who claimed to be dying of cancer, asking her to simply forward her message to help raise funds for a life-saving operation.

Touched by the story of this sick child, who identified herself as Maltese, she figured she had nothing to lose by passing on the e-mail. Except she forgot that her e-mail account has a signature function, automatically displaying her contact details at the bottom of any message she sends.

Sure enough, some days later, Ms Anastasi started receiving dozens of phone calls and, each time, the person on the other end would ask for Amy Bruce - the seven-year-old cancer patient.

Ms Anastasi soon realised that her personal details - her address and home and mobile numbers - had automatically been inserted into this hoax chain e-mail when she forwarded it, giving the impression to recipients that she was the contact person for people who wanted to help.

So for the past four weeks she has been explaining to them that this is a hoax and she had nothing to do with Amy Bruce.

"I usually don't forward chain e-mails and simply ignore them. But this one was so very touching," she told The Times when contacted.

A quick Google search reveals that the Amy Bruce charity hoax has been around since at least 1999 - and the child has remained seven years old ever since.

The mail has now made its way to Malta where it has been specifically tailored to lure locals into falling for it. Its subject title states: "A Maltese child with cancer. Please help with a simple gesture."

Its content goes on to read: "Hi, my name is Amy Bruce. I am seven years old, and I have a large tumour on my brain and severe lung cancer. The doctors say I will die soon if this isn't fixed, and my family can't pay the bills."

In the mail the fictitious Amy goes on to explain how the Make A Wish Foundation, a real international non-profit organisation that grants wishes for children, agreed to donate seven cents for every time her message was forwarded.

The foundation's website www.wish.org, however, makes it clear that this is one of a series of hoax chain letters claiming to be associated with it and calls on people who receive it to stop forwarding it and pass on this message.

Unlike other hoax mails, the Amy Bruce chain letter never asked anyone to donate money, make deposits or provide credit card details or personal information.

"For those of you who send this along, I thank you so much," begs little imaginary Amy before ending the hoax with her signature. "But for those who don't send it, I will still pray for you. Please, if you are a kind person, have a heart. Please, please, please hit the forward button." That is now followed by Ms Anastasi's contact details.

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