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Word of mouth led to interviews, which led to more donations, which led to Bosnak's eliminating her debt in five months. In all, she received more than $13,000 from strangers. She has since written a book about the experience.
With so many cyberbeggars shouting from so many cyber-street corners, it only makes sense that someone started a business to lump a bunch of them together.
In 2002, two guys from Gainesville launched www.cyberbeg.com, charging people five bucks to add their stories to a list of hundreds of others. The Spartan Web site has changed little in four years, other than it now costs $15 every six months to keep your message online. (CyberBeg reps originally agreed to an e-mail interview but did not reply to the questions.)
According to their site, "Cyberbeg.com offers people hope. The site provides a way for financially unfortunate people to connect with those who may donate. Some may compare it to a lottery or the classifieds, but we like to think of it as a site dedicated to helping people."
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the site's creators sought to trademark the term "cyberbeg" in 2003, defining it as the "service of providing for panhandling or begging on the web/Internet." The filing was listed as "abandoned" as of 2004.
Another Florida-based site, www.millionairehelp, charges a minimum of $10 for six months. The site claims to "target millionaires" who are just itching to plop down money for your new Benz or boobs. You can even become a millionaire yourself, in as little as 15 minutes. The site lists the ten richest people in the world, as if they were regular readers.
Ericka Boussarhane, who identified herself as the site's CEO and president, says she reaches the rich via ads placed on message boards and in publications preferred by millionaires. This includes www.millionaire.com, publishers of magazines with such titles as Millionaire Yachts, Millionaire Aircraftand Millionaire Watches.
Speaking from a day-care center she runs in Florida, Boussarhane says, "People of means can help people in need."
No one appears to be helping people with poor typing skills, however, because the site is riddled with typos that presumably fly under the radar of the filthy rich. And until a Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter pointed it out in a recent story, Boussarhane was charging $35 for six months and $99 for a year.
"If you're on the Internet begging for help, chances are you're not sitting around with a lot of money," he says from Detroit, where he works as an "IT guy."
Besides offering free listings, Donohue also tries to weed out scammers -- mostly people who post with offers to donate money; sort of along the lines of the Nigerian scam.
"The problem is that a lot of people on there looking for help, they're not in a good position to make good decisions," he says. "If you're on there and your house is about to be foreclosed in two weeks and some guy says, ÔWell, here, cash this check and you keep $1,000 and send $9,000 on'...people are more likely to fall for it. That's the biggest problem, is that there's a lot of desperate people on that site...It's probably the biggest moral issue of the thing: Are you really helping people, or are you just helping the scammers find people?"
Although Hickey told the Press he wasn't familiar with cyberbegging, he poked around online and shared some thoughts in an e-mail. His initial concern was the potential for fraud, and he suggested an alternative method.
"Linking cyberbegging into a Friendster-type social network might be a more effective approach as it would allow people to search out chains of relationship and verify the facts of the situation with mutual friends (or mutual cyber-friends)," he wrote. "...There would be no 'shame' in letting your friends know that you need money for this unexpected expense, and friend networks would allow people to verify the facts of the case."
While scams may abound, success is definitely a rarity.
In his three years running the site, Donohue hasn't seen any major success stories. Most cyberbeggars are chronically behind; even if they get a few hundred bucks one month, they'll still be behind the next. Unlike Tew, they don't have a brilliant gimmick; and unlike Bosnak, most cyberbeggars just don't have a plan.
But one thing's for sure: If your plan involves fake boobs, you're almost guaranteed success.
Women seeking breast implants make up a huge portion of the cyberbegging population. Some have even formed unions of sorts, including www.myfreeimplants.com, which allows benefactors to pick from a list of scantily clad women in order to "help the girl of your dreams get the body of her dreams." Paid members can chart their adoptee's progress via blogs.
Jason Grunstra, 28, launched the site last year. It's free for women, but men have to pay around $1.80 for each e-mail they send. The women make a buck off each e-mail; Grunstra and PayPal take the balance. So far, about 700 women and 2,000 men have joined. Grunstra, who lives in L.A., says he keeps each woman's money in a bank account until they reach their target, and he keeps the interest.