You could have knocked me over with a feather (if I didn't weigh as much as a linebacker, that is). I have discovered that some of what appears on chain letters is accurate.

I'm sure your mailbox (and now, your e-mail trough) have been blessed with these announcements of supposed good fortune. All you have to do, chain letters say, is to mail some number of bucks (never many) to the top name on the list and a copy of the letter to six of your best buddies. Because pyramids work the way they work, you'll soon be richer than Croesus, or at least Bill Gates.

The problem: Chain letters are illegal. To send them through the mail risks a stiff fine and a serious jail term.

Lots of people scoff at this prohibition. They think chain letters are just harmless amusement. They actually believe that money will come pouring in. They even encourage their kids to take part in chain letters.

I always tell parents who are teetering on the fence that chain letters have one virtue for the younger generation: They prove that you can't trust everything you read.

Anyway, I use many high-tech tools to ply my trade. But when it comes to chain letters, I go low-tech -- straight to the trash can.

For nearly 20 years, I have offered to slam dunk any chain letter that any reader has received. Hundreds of readers have taken me up on the offer.

Most fear a case of the creeps if they do the dunking themselves, because many chain letters warn that various horrors will befall anyone who breaks the chain. That sort of nonsense doesn't trouble me in the least. In fact, it feels rather good to dunk these letters. NBA fantasies, ya know.

Back in April, a reader in Waldorf mailed me what appeared to be a typical chain letter. Whoever sent it to her did not identify himself (as usual).

The text was strictly dreamsville -- some guy was on unemployment, and low on luck. But he followed through on this chain letter, and a year later, wouldn't you know, he had enough cash to buy a new Cadillac.

My reader was less impressed. She asked me to investigate. I did so in a way that I had always intended.

At the bottom of the letter were names and addresses of the next six people who were in line to receive payoffs. All had common surnames like Simpson and Easter. All lived on streets with white-bread names like Broadway and Meadow Lane. None of the six lived in the same state as any of the others.

Fiction, I sniffed.

Just the same, I asked researcher Lynn Ryzewicz to check the existence of these people and their addresses. She batted five for six. There really is an Emmanuel Commeh living on Broadway in Yonkers, N.Y. There really is a Louis Mowry living on Cresswell Road in Shreveport, La.

The only one of the six Lynn couldn't locate was an E. Simpson, of Godfrey, Ill. Perhaps he bought a new Cadillac for cash and headed off into the sunset.

In any case, none of this makes chain letters legal, and none of it changes my view that you'd do better to bet on the ponies. But if you insist on believing that your personal tooth fairy is waiting in the wings, this column may buttress your faith.

For those who would rather go the slam dunk route, my mailbox and trash can remain open. My address is Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.

Adele Gevirtz, of Bethesda, says her story deserves the Weenie of the Year Award. As mad as she still is, she might want to go for Weenie of the Century.

A few months back, Adele took her 1993 Buick in for service to a dealership near her home -- Fitzgerald Buick, on Rockville Pike. When she went to pick it up, she discovered that about 20 much-beloved cassette tapes had been stolen.

Adele is a "Broadway fanatic," she says, so all the heisted tapes were sound tracks for famous shows. She says she still can't believe some thief would be that interested in hearing Ethel Merman sing "Gypsy." Obviously, however, one was.

Adele realizes she should have removed the tapes from the car if they were that precious to her. Still, she bemoans a world where not even little things are safe from theft. And she double-bemoans her treatment by Fitzgerald. "Not one employee . . . apologized to me," Adele said.

Brian Page, assistant manager at Fitzgerald, said he does not recall the incident. But he said theft is virtually unheard of at Fitzgerald because service employees are trained to lock a car's doors after the car has been worked on.

Of course, Adele's tapes could have gone bye-bye before her car was serviced or during service. But Brian said that wouldn't pay in the long run. "Without the customers, none of us have a job here," he pointed out.

If you can't, don't or won't leave your tapes at home, you might check to see whether your glove compartment is locked and unlocked with a non-ignition key. If so, lock up your tapes and leave only the ignition key. As Ethel Merman might say, everything will be coming up roses.