Taking advantage of the kindness of strangers

This story has received widespread coverage but I felt that I had to comment on it because these kinds of things infuriate me. Last year, I read the heartwarming story of a homeless man who gave his last $20 to a woman whose car had run out of gas. The woman and her boyfriend posted this story online and started a GoFundMe page to raise money for the homeless man and received over $400,000.

It now turns out that the whole story was a scam and that the couple and the homeless man conspired to concoct the entire scheme. The scam was only exposed when the homeless man complained that the couple had spent nearly all the money on themselves living the high life and gave him very little, providing support for the old saying that there is no honor among thieves.

Why this story angers me is that such behavior takes advantage of the good nature of people. People are often touched by such stories and want to help out and reward those whom they see as deserving of assistance. A homeless person who is willing to help someone else is seen as worthy of being helped.

But this kind of swindle, even if it is sometimes just a prank, breeds cynicism and will result in people being much less willing to assist the next worthy cause, even if that happens to be genuine, and that is what makes it so reprehensible.


  1. deepak shetty says

    I remember once in a train station a family had approached me saying they had been pick pocketed and needed money to get home and I gave them enough for their tickets and a month later the same person approached me again , repeating the same story and I said you already told me this last time.
    I remember thinking that these people are swindling those who would try to help them and the ones who dont give a damn about them get away. Whereas if you had to swindle , you should swindle those who dont care about you.

  2. jrkrideau says

    @ 1 deepak shetty
    I remember once in a train station a family had approached me saying they had been pick pocketed and needed money to get home and I gave them enough for their tickets and a month later the same person approached me again ,

    I had something similar happen in Ottawa. First rule of conmanship should be “remember who you conned before”.

  3. says

    Wait…the homeless man was in on it?!? I remember a few months back hearing about him complaining about not getting money, but that didn’t necessarily mean he was in on it.

    One thing I do remember is rolling my eyes at the f***ing morons that would give to a GoFundMe for this because there are good odds it’s a scam! If they want to “pay it forward,” give it to area homeless shelters or other charities that know what they’re doing. Oh, but then they wouldn’t be rewarding this one particular person, I suppose! (eye roll) This, I think, is another problem…we’re unwilling to fix systemic problems because we have these dumb notions of…what’s it called? The “just world fallacy“? So people can’t just donate to help all homeless people; they think they got to just donate to the one so that he gets “justice”? I guess I don’t really know what goes on in other people’s heads, but, as you may be able to tell, I’m a bit annoyed at what it seems a lot of people think about charity. Surely I find too much focus on individuals than the whole.

  4. jrkrideau says

    I give money to people on the street. Not necessarily totally broke people but who need money. The last time I gave money to a GoFundMe appeal was a history expert who needed some funding for travel expenses. Went well.

    Clearly I am suspicious/cynical. I also worked in a provincial correctional facility for a couple of years.

  5. lanir says

    I mostly don’t consider anything I give online or in person to be all that big a deal. I don’t give much to people unless there’s some sort of vetting going on (like when a writer has an injury and others in the business promote their appeal for help, or when a store asks if I’ll donate a dollar to help homeless pets or something).

    The biggest difference I think I make is when I find someone who needs help and I give them a place to stay, food, that sort of thing. Or teaching friends how to get into my field and use computers at a much higher level than most people are able to do. When giving money I either give small donations to vetted causes or (when I can afford it) bigger donations to larger causes like MSF or Planned Parenthood or political campaigns that vow to actually fix some of the underlying causes of all this misery.

    This approach isn’t perfect and I’ve absolutely been taken for a ride before. And I know I’ve passed on good causes (but mostly due to lack of funds at the time). But if you want to make a meaningful difference in the world I don’t think you can insist on never getting bit by grifters. You just try to make it not that profitable for them, which encourages them to do something else.

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