Money for Nothing

Hopeful beggars shake their virtual cups online

McNeely, who says she was just diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and can't work outside the home, collects a disability check. And while she runs a few other online businesses, she says those hardly make money.

Ironically, one of those businesses is, where McNeely offers her services as a psychic and healer.

"Claudia is a Medical Intuitive and can psychically 'see' problems in your physical body and help you to release them," the site boasts. She's certified in hypnotherapy, Reiki, Wicca, "candle magick" and "bio energetic synchronization."

Al Cameron
Al Cameron

She also sells cock rings, anal toys, dildos and dongs, vibrators and strap-ons. That's on

Unfortunately, none of these endeavors has helped Samantha, injured in utero in a car crash. Severe brain damage resulted in cerebral palsy, profound retardation and seizures. She's on continuous oxygen and is fed through a tube. She has a shunt in her head to drain the fluid pushing down on her brain. And at least four times a day, she has to hang off a table to drain fluid from her lungs. She wasn't supposed to live past age eight.

McNeely credits Samantha's longevity to her healing skills.

"She's alive today because of what I do," she says from Gilmer. "Even her doctor said that. She would've already died if it weren't for the healing work that I do with her."

She said she's made only a few hundred from HelpSamanthaLive, but she's confident that she will be able to work one day and make enough money for more health care. She'd like Samantha to have 20 hours of nursing care a day.

"I would like to get off the disability and make money, and I'm still trying, you know," she says. "It's going to get there one of these days."

"I don't know where you go to a million-dollar college, but that immediately...started the knockoff," freelance technology reporter Christopher Null says of The Million Dollar Homepage. "That is the most recent incarnation of this phenomenon."

It gave juice to a trend that, in 2003, Null thought had run out of steam.

In a story for Wired, Null wrote, "In tracking down the second generation of panhandlers, few of Wired News' requests for comment were returned; most bounced because the e-mail addresses listed have gone defunct as their sites have been abandoned."

The story, appropriately enough, was called "Buck Stops for Web Panhandlers."

But speaking to the Press, Null says, "As with anything on the Web, nothing is ever dead. I mean, people will knock off a trend until...the Internet collapses."

He adds, "It's the same concept as the lottery. The chances are slim, but the potential payoff is theoretically huge. There's also almost no effort to put up a Web page and ask for money."

If Tew can make a million for selling (basically) nothing, maybe Chastain can find a lousy $3,000 to nurse a beloved car back to health. And maybe McNeely can get enough to make Samantha a little more comfortable.

And even though everyone who holds a coin to a scratch-off ticket or plucks numbers out of the air for Powerball knows they probably aren't likely to win, it's just too tempting.

"People love to get free stuff," Null says. "You can't argue with human nature, I guess."

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