New York, Jan. 20 (Reuters): Need to reduce 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 clicks in their cyberpails are starting to add up. Karyn Bosnak, for example, paid off $20,000 in credit card debt — accumulated from her life in New York — last November, after web strangers contributed more than $13,000 to her cause, according to her website (www.savekaryn.com).
Now that she has paid off her debt, Bosnak is passing the buck, and directing web surfers to other cyberbeggars such as an aspiring opera singer trying to pay for voice lessons and college loans (www.saveelaine.com). Along the way, Bosnak has parlayed her new-found fame into talk show appearances and a reported book deal.
Yahoo started a “begging” category with four sites in 1996. But the recent spike in activity and diversity of sites has led it to rename the category e-panhandling, said Michelle Heimburger, senior lead surfer for Yahoo.
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 was 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 one per cent of the web surfers out there sent me a dollar,” Schmidt said.
His site (sendeadollar.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 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, an electronic payment service 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 got 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 websites in the category include the Internet Squeegee Guy (www.website1.com/squeegee/), 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, www.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.