E-panhandling: Will beg online for cash
NEW YORK (Reuters) — Need to pay down credit card debt? Desperate for money for music lessons? Simply tired of working and too embarrassed to stand on the corner with a tin cup? Try "cyberbegging." For some, the clinks in their cyberpails are starting to add up.
Yahoo started a "begging" category with four sites in 1996. But the recent spike in activity and diversity of sites, last month led Yahoo to rename the category e-panhandling, said Michelle Heimburger, senior lead surfer for Yahoo, a sort of new economy equivalent of Manhattan's storied Bowery.
There are now 51 sites in the category, ranging from some shamelessly looking for cash to others seeking financial assistance for loans or medical treatments, Heimburger said.
Rich Schmidt, a freelance music marketer, who is one of the first cyberbeggars, wants little more than an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman ... and, of course, cash.
"To me, the Internet is creative anarchy. I just wanted to make my mark. I thought, what if 1% of the Web surfers out there sent me a dollar," Schmidt said. "That was the impetus for the idea."
His site, SendMeADollar.com, has raised more than $4,800 since it was set up about three years ago. Schmidt reviews other cyberbeggars on his site and allows people to post a short message or an ad for a donation.
When Schmidt first started, he asked Web surfers to send him a dollar in the mail, but he soon switched over to PayPal, which makes it easy to collect money on the Internet.
"I get a lot of e-mail from people who really have hardships and are asking for advice. If they think they are going to get rich doing it, they aren't," Schmidt said. "My goal was to be a guest on the David Letterman show, having gotten hundreds of thousands of dollars. Who knows? I may still get there."
In the short-term, though, Schmidt said he is going to start selling banner ads on his site to help finance a new mini-van for his family.
Other Web sites in that category include the Internet Squeegee Guy, who "will wash the inside of your monitor screen for spare change."
Penny Hawkins hopes to get enough money to finish nursing school so she can divorce her husband, she says. So far, she has received more than $1,500 through her Web site, HelpMeLeaveMyHusband.com.
Along with e-mailed donations, she said she got a healthy dose of feedback.
"As far as the crazier responses, I would have to say that they are usually dedicated to the religious fanatics that want to save me and/or my marriage," Hawkins said.
A compelling site, HelpLeahGetPregnant.com, was started by a young Seattle couple seeking emotional and financial support as they tried to start a family and pay off an in-vitro fertilization bill of more than $12,000.
But Princess Natalie of Westwood, Ohio, may not elicit much compassion.
On her Web site, she says people should donate money because imagining a world where "someone as talented as me was forced to work" would be a scary thought and "it could ruin her manicure."
Still, according to the site, she has collected $1,473, a toe ring, a phone card, books, and some death threats.
Ed from Dallas is looking to buy a Hummer with Web donations.
So, why exactly would anyone want to donate their own hard-earned money to a cyberbeggar?
"I think when people come to the site they think, 'I wish I'd thought of it' and, in the spirit of that, people give a dollar," Schmidt said.
With the success of the e-panhandling sites comes the inevitable backlash of parodies, including "Don't Save Karyn." The site's creators, Bob and Ben, say they too are e-panhandlers, and are not pretending to be anything else. If anyone has an extra dollar, they promise "to waste your money in inventive and creative ways" rather than "use it to pay any bills or help starving children in Africa."