Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Recession Breeds Increase in Cyber-Begging

ATLANTA, Ga.-- One post reads, "I was injured when a roadside bomb went off in Iraq. I need to save $13,000 for all four surgeries." An anonymous mother writes, "We fell behind on our house. We are now losing it and desperately need help." 

They are among thousands of online posts asking for money. Their stories stretch across the internet and into your pocket. It's the rise of "cyber-begging" or "digital panhandling". 

Begslist, Cyberbeg, and DonateMoney2me, are among the three million listings on Google under "internet begging". Most of the sites are linked to PayPal accounts. 

As the number of beggars and donations grow, so do concerns about where the money is really going.
Most sites have warnings like this one posted on Begslist: "we cannot guarantee that any beggar is legitimate and make no claim that they are."
"People have the best of intentions to help a good cause or a person in need," United Way of Atlanta's Donna Buchanan says. Established non-profits have an extensive vetting process. Without it, there's no way to filter people who are sharing their heart-breaking stories from those who are making them up.
"Our vetting process includes volunteers from the community. We make sure the people we work with, the non-profits, are accountable for their money," Buchanan says. 

Some of the cyber-begging sites are advertisement-based and free, but others charge up to $34.95 to set up a site and up to $9.95 in monthly fees. 

The numbers of postings grow every day. There are no solid numbers on how much people are giving. DonateMoney2Me.com claims they've raised more than $23,000. That success is not universal. 

One Snellville woman posted her story that included her husband's near-fatal wreck, extensive medical bills and recent flood damage. She included a P.O. Box where people could send donations. We tracked her down via e-mail and she said "this did not work for me in the least." 

To protect the identity of the online beggars, there is no personal information included in their postings. The only way to contact them is through the e-mail address connected with their PayPal Accounts. 11Alive contacted more than a dozen people that mentioned metro-Atlanta in their post. None wanted to participate in this story. 

What do you think about cyber-begging? Would you ask? Would you give? We want to hear from you. Post your comments below.

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