Beware ‘professional ‘ beggars.
He who is generous will be blessed, For he gives some of his food to the poor. Proverbs 22:9
The United States of America is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, and more charitable donations per capita flow from the US than from other nations. As a country we are blessed with both the largest percentages of Christians and millionaires. These two groups donate more money to charities than any other according to numerous reports. Because of this abundance of wealth, there are numerous scam artists who prey upon the charity and good will of the generous by flipping the script to take advantage.
Earlier this year, you may have heard this heartwarming story in the national news media about this poor woman who was trying to make it home, but her car broke down when it ran out of gas on I-95 outside of Philly. A homeless vet gave her $20, enabling her to get the much needed petrol for her car. In gratitude, her and her boyfriend befriended the man and set up an online GoFundMe donation account to help this wonderful homeless veteran. As the story went viral, donations poured in and the account grew to more than $400,000. A wonderful story.
Except that’s all it was, a story. The entire account was a fiction, and all three parties were involved in the scam. The vet was indeed homeless, but the couple Mark D’Amico and Kate McClure, conspired with homeless man Johnny Bobbitt and solicited his help as the face of their campaign. The plan backfired when the amounts received from good-hearted donors spiraled out of control. Greed over the size of the split of the ill-gotten gains is what ultimately undid the trio. Bobbit felt all the money belonged to him, as he was really homeless. Mastermind Mark D’Amico believed Bobbit was only entitled to a portion of the money, so Johnny Bobbitt got a lawyer and sued. As a result of the legal action and the resulting media attention on the high-profile case, the elaborate plot unraveled and all three were jailed and charged with theft by deception. GoFundMe has agreed to refund the donations collected.
“There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”
The Naked City was a TV crime drama broadcast from 1959-1963 and based on a 1948 film of the same name. Each episode ended with the iconic line about the eight million stories, a reference to the location, set in New York City, and implying that everyone has a story to tell. As I stated before, the USA is the land of plenty, and we do have homeless and poor, but no one staves in this country except by choice, or by malice. There has never been a famine our country, but there are many stupid people who make bad decisions and then want to blame others for their misfortune, or at least make them feel bad. It reminds me of a biblical account of a famine in ancient Samaria found in the second book of Kings.
2 Kings 6:26-30
26 As the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried to him, “Help me, my lord the king!”
27 The king replied, “If the Lord does not help you, where can I get help for you? From the threshing floor? From the winepress?” 28 Then he asked her, “What’s the matter?”
She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him today, and tomorrow we’ll eat my son.’ 29 So we cooked my son and ate him. The next day I said to her, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him,’ but she had hidden him.”
30 When the king heard the woman’s words, he tore his robes. As he went along the wall, the people looked, and they saw that, under his robes, he had sackcloth on his body.
That’s a pretty terrible tale, but it points out poor decision skills, taking advantage of both stupidity and of wealth, and while you feel sympathetic for the victims there are some people that just can’t be helped. It’s not totally clear exactly what type of help the woman is soliciting, but it is implied that she is seeking justice against the woman who scammed her.
Jesus said we will always have the poor among us. I’m not into the so-called ‘Prosperity Gospel’ which preaches that God wants us to be rich and successful, because by becoming wealthy we are in a much better position to help others. There is some truth in this logic, but remember that even the Devil can quote scripture and twist it’s meaning to suit his purposes. There’s a scam out there for every legitimate cause, and they prey upon your sympathy. A ‘church by mail’ called Saint Mathews Churches of Tulsa OK is one such scam that sends out mailings splattered with scriptures and religious iconography promising great blessings in return for ‘seed offerings’. Some televangelists also fall into this category.
Sometimes it’s hard to separate ‘the wheat from the chaff’. Sometimes it’s impossible, so don’t feel bad if you gave in error to a fake one. Live and learn, and move on. Good people want to help others, and every organization needs SOME funding for its own overhead. Some organizations are just ‘squeaky wheels’ that exist to cry for donations while little of the funds reach their intended targets. I’m a firm believer in supporting LOCAL organizations. The best nation-wide charities like The Salvation Army https://www.salvationarmyusa.org or Toys For Tots https://www.toysfortots.org can get by on a minimal razor-thin operating budget and have LOCAL offices that cater to the LOCAL community.
If you have any concerns about a charity, you can see how they rank up to similar charities by using the https://www.charitynavigator.org/ website. Charity Navigator is the largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities in the United States providing data on 1.8 million nonprofits.
This doesn’t mean that every need has an accredited 501-c charity that exists to back it. Sometimes, legitimate needs do ‘pop-up’ unexpectedly, due to tragedy or stupidity, or both. Many of these hard luck cases turn to GoFundMe.com There are many true needs out there that need to be met, but like the couple and the vet who scammed over $400,000 some of these ‘needs’ might be fake. Whenever you donate money, never donate more than you can afford to, never feel bad if you have to say ‘no’, and never, ever, EVER donate money if you feel like you are being FORCED to give. Extortion is just as illegal as theft by deception. I have heard of people who used GoFundMe to raise funds for funerals, medical expenses, and because they lost their home in a fire. I once even donated money to a homeless Superman impersonator who had been mugged, had his teeth knocked out, and was robbed of his cape and super-suit. I have also heard of people who used GoFundME because they felt they were entitled to lots of money for their upcoming birthday, or who needed rent money because ‘they just didn’t have it’. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes people are just stupid and make bad decisions. All things come from God and you are the steward of the riches He has bestowed upon you. How you choose to distribute from your bounty is a matter of your heart, and only God can judge you because He knows the truth behind ever human heart. As always, I wish you success and happiness.