There are two basic types of chain letters. Both give me a big fat pain.

One type calls itself a "prayer." It promises good luck to those who make 20 copies of a copy of a fifth cousin of a copy amd mail them to 20 who will each, in turn, be ordered to mail out 20 copies.

The "prayer" also warns of dire consequences for those who break the chain. So many examples of bad luck are listed that superstitous people are scared out of their wits. Most of us may think we are free of superstiton, but few really are.

I have long maintained a free Break-the-chain Service. If you are afraid to break a chain, you can send it to me and I'll break it for you.

Does this mark me as a man who is not superstitous? It does not. I, too have my superstitons, e.g.: I believe any time I get a chance to go to bed early, somebody will call at 2 a.m. and say, "I know you stay up all night, so I didn't think you'd mind my calling at this hour." It never fails.

The second basic type of chain letter asks for money. This type is becoming steadily bolder. The $1,000 pyramid schemes that are now so popular are nothing more than logical extensions of $50 and $100 chain letters.

A letter received recently by Walter Miles Jr., the glass man, says: "Title 18, Section 1302, 1341 of the U.S. postal lottery and fruad laws state that chain letters asking for money and promising a substantial return to the remitter, which is dependent upon the activities of THOSE WHO FOLLOW in the chain are NON-MAILABLE. This process does not fit into this category."

The recipient is reassured that the mailer knows about postal laws and regulations and can claim that his scheme does not violate them.

He is told he can earn "BIG, BIG, LEGITIMATE MONEY FOR BUSINESS." (if this were an oral radio commercial rather than a written message, the capital letters would be replaced by an announcer who shouts at you.)

"I have run these promotional letters five times in the past year," says the letter. "The first time I received $50,000 cash; the other four times, almost $72,000 each time."

How does it work? You send $5 to the top name on the list and another $25 to a Chicago firm for 50 mailing list names and 50 copies of four "valuable, money-making reports" -- 1-page reports on "How to Make Big Money in Your Sapre Time," "Finders Fee Opportunities," "How to Get Rich Enjoying Yourself" and "Getting Loans, Leases, Mortgages & Credit -- Fast." You will then mail out 50 letters soliciting buyers for these 1-page reports, and the money will come rolling in faster than you can count it.

I always thought Walter Miles was a good businessman, but for some reason he forwarded this golden opportunity to me instead of sending in his own $30. He must really like me. TWO UPDATES

Con men continue to reap a golden harvest by tricking people into revealing their credit card numbers. Then the crooks charge merchandise to the accounts of their victims.

Washington Post staff writers Karlyn Barker did an excellent report on this scam, but apparently people read and forget, alas! The Cheating continues.

If somebody phones to "verify" your credit card number, or to find out whether your card's numbers match the winning digits needed for a big prize, or to tell you that you've won a free vacation, don't fall for the ruse. Do NOT give out your credit card number to an unknown caller.

Also of current interest: Jeanne Blazer of Gaithersburg has a report on her encounter with the gigantic! stupendous! colossal! new! improved! "$100,000" Dr. Pepper give-away.

Jeanne, too, found a 10 of spades in her ad. She took it to a store that had a Dr. Pepper display and learned she had won a 50-cent-off coupon on a six-pack of Dr. Pepper.

Then she learned that the store would not honor her "winner." The small print says she must mail it to Maple Plains, Minn., together with a "proof of Purchase."

Jeanne wans't behind the door when brains were handed out. Aware that 15-cents in postage would eat up 30 percent of her "winnings," she dropped her "winner" into the trash.

P.S.: The small print says that even if you have a ticket that has supposedly won one of the major prizes, there may be others extant, and a drawing will be held to see who gets the money. Duplicate prizes will not be awarded.

I've heard about overbooking airline reservations and hotel rooms, but this is my first encounter with the possibilty that more winning tickets may have been circulated in a "give-away" than there will be prizes to redeem them. Oh, dear!

If I seem to become more cynical with each passing year, I hope you will understand why.There is not, as the saying goes, " a sucker born every minute." There are two.

They marry. And they multiply, much as chain letters do.