It’s heartwarming just how many good samaritans there are in the world. Genuine crowdsourced campaigns and successful online activism have, in recent years, proven that even in a place as sprawling and diverse as the world wide web, a sense of cooperation and community can prevail.
When we log on to our chosen social media platform and read posts telling of a sick child or a person in need, our hearts go out to them. If we have the financial ability to help, we just might. If we don’t have the financial means, we might share the cause with our friends, hopeful that perhaps others might be able to chip in and help out. It’s in this way, the most heart-wrenching stories become ‘viral’ in no time, meaning millions of people hear about the cause, and typically raise large sums of money in the process. It’s great for those people who truly need the help, and a lot of people have found incredible support from anonymous strangers online.
Of course, as with any positive social advancements, there’s a dark side to this community, which emerges when well-intentioned internet users blithely assume that others are just as honest as they are. Most people would never dream of lying about something serious and sensitive to raise thousands of dollars to line their own pockets. After all, that would be wrong; immoral and likely illegal. People use sites like GoFundMe and Kickstarter to make it easier to create innovative products or to help people truly in need and arguably, 99% of the time, honest people are behind these campaigns. It’s the darker 1% that causes the problems. The following five shocking cases represent that small group of truly heinous people, scammers who prey on people’s better natures, and who have threatened to ruin the crowdsourced confidence of the trusting, well-intentioned masses.
5. Save Toby
Holding a human being ransom and demanding payment for them to live is, of course, illegal. But that isn’t the case with animals, especially animals that many people consider to be food. In 2005, a few anonymous jokesters set up a site titled Save Toby under the premise that they’d eat a pet rabbit if they didn’t get at least $50,000 in donations.
It’s said that the website owner found the rabbit outside his home and he nursed it back to health. He assumed the rabbit would die anyway, and when it didn’t, he could no longer afford the animal’s care. Instead of doing the sane, responsible thing and giving the rabbit away or to a rescue, he decided to threaten the general public, telling everybody that he would eat the adorable little bunny if he couldn’t raise the questionably large sum of $50,000 to care for him.
The site even boasted recipes that he was considering for the bunny, and stated that Toby would die on June 30th, 2005 if he didn’t raise the money. If his terms weren’t met, he promised to take the bunny to the butcher and have them slaughter the furry little guy. Of course, animal lovers were outraged, and the site owners received death threats and hate mail – but it’s said they made more than $24,000 with their charade. People tried to get the site taken down, but the host, GoDaddy.com, insisted that it was perfectly legal to eat rabbit and so the site stayed online. When the deadline for Toby’s life passed, they initially extended it. And eventually, the owner of bored.com bought out the website, thus saving Toby’s life. Assuming Toby was ever in danger in the first place. Who really knows?
4. Ozarowski Cancer Scam
Thanks to a caring online community it’s easier than ever to appeal for help with practically anything. If you’re struggling with medical bills, for example, you can put together a GoFundMe campaign and people can contribute a few critical dollars to help out. But of course, a few con artists have done their best to exploit the system, some in more shocking ways than others. In fact, there have been a disturbing number of reports of shameless tricksters jumping on the faked illness bandwagon just to raise money.
In 2013, Brittany Ozarowski made headlines after she was prosecuted for scamming her local community out of thousands of dollars. She told them it was going toward her cancer treatments, which they believed because of her fragile and sickly appearance. The truth, however, was that the money was going to feed her heroin addiction.
Given how many people actually need help with medical bills and cancer treatment, it’s a shame that a few bad apples can spoil it for everyone. Don’t assume that everyone who asks for help is a fraud, but be careful of what some people are calling Munchausen by Internet (MBI), a modern twist on an old psychiatric disorder.
3. Waitress Lied About Being Stiffed on a Tip
The story is one that quickly went viral: Dayna Morales, waitress at the Gallop Asian Bistro in New Jersey, shared a photo of a receipt where she claimed she was stiffed a tip because she was a lesbian. The note explained, “I’m sorry but I cannot tip because I do not agree with your lifestyle.” People were rightfully indignant on the waitress’s behalf, and because of the incident, they sent her at least $3,000 in donations. However, the story began to unravel when the couple shared a copy of the receipt. Not only was there no note about not agreeing with her lifestyle, there was also an $18 tip on the bill which totaled just under $100. After the hoax was revealed, some donors said their money was returned to them, while Dayna said she planned to donate the rest to Wounded Warriors. However, it has never been confirmed that the money was donated.
Morales reportedly has a history of lying. Even her co-workers didn’t believe the story from the moment it broke. She lies and cheats so often, Morales even fell into another category included on this list – she once pretended to have cancer.
2. Little Girl ‘Was Asked to Leave KFC’
In the most recent hoax to hit the internet, it’s said that Victoria Wilcher, a 3-year old girl who was severely injured after a dog attack, was kicked out of a KFC restaurant for “scaring the other diners.” Victoria was attacked by her family’s pit bulls, has lost her right eye and suffers from facial paralysis from the attack. Of course, who wouldn’t be outraged over a story that featured a sweet, beautiful little girl being bullied for her injuries? People were disgusted and the story blew up online. So much so that KFC has had people threatening employees and even throwing food and drinks in their faces. The family was also able to raise more than $135,000 in donations which are said to be going toward little Victoria’s medical care.
But the story the family recounted to the media simply doesn’t add up. For one thing, the KFC the grandma originally mentioned has been closed or years. After the discrepancies in the story began trickling out, Victoria’s aunt came out to say that it actually happened at a different location, one nearby the hospital Victoria went for treatment. However, when checking the security footage from that day (for both the location they mentioned and another one nearby), no one matching Victoria’s description entered the restaurant. Not only that, no orders were taken for the mashed potatoes and iced tea that the grandmother claimed they ordered.
But the good news is that Victoria is getting money for her care. KFC has said that regardless of how the investigation plays out, they will donate $30,000 to help pay for her medical bills.
1. “Liking” Memes on Facebook
Facebook is riddled with inane memes saying “click like if you hate cancer” or “click like and share if you love Jesus.” While obnoxious and annoying, most people think these sorts of things are harmless. But in fact, by liking, sharing, and supporting the page that shared the image, not only are you doing no real good (no, you liking a photo really won’t make a child’s cancer go away and no, companies won’t donate money for every share an image has), you’re actually helping pad the pocketbooks of scammers in the process.
Facebook “likes” equal advertising money for many pages, and while many of these pages promote items you might actually be interested in supporting – businesses or charities for a worthy cause – many aren’t what you think they are. Scammers prey on people’s desire to help, but this ‘slacktivism’ helps no one but the scammers themselves. All of your clicks are converted into traffic for their Facebook page, which increases their ad revenue.
Not only that, Facebook fan pages are often bought and sold, and having more likes increases the asking price. For instance, a Facebook fan page followed by 500,000 hamburger lovers was recently put up for sale for $5,000.
So yes, while you really, really want to send a prayer to that starving child in the photograph, clicking “like” on that image doesn’t send them food – but it does pad the wallets of people who prey on your slacktivism.