Sick baby hoax
A sick baby hoax is a confidence trick where a person claims, often on a website, that they have an ill child and are struggling to pay for its medical expenses. Some versions of the hoax ask people to make a monetary donation directly, while others simply encourage people to share the story.
Professional beggars have been exploiting sick children since ancient times. The success of such scams relies on a particular compassion in people towards children. When a child is sick, this particularly touches people's hearts. An early example of this kind of hoax online is the "sick child chain letter", an email making the claim that "with every name that this [letter] is sent to, the American Cancer Society will donate 3 cents per name to her treatment".
Social media, such as Facebook, facilitate the following form of this scam. A photo of a sick child is posted online, commonly without knowledge of the relatives, accompanied by a heart-touching story and sometimes a request for donations, which are simply collected by the scammer. Often these photos become viral, so it becomes close to impossible to take them down. Since Facebook has been slow to address the problem efficiently (relying on user takedown requests and reports only), several scam- and hoax-combatting websites have worked together to raise the awareness of social media providers regarding this issue.
It was observed that these may often be a mischievous modification of the true story of one Craig Shergold, a child with brain cancer, whose efforts were to enter the Guinness Book of Records for receiving most get-well greeting cards.
A variation of this scam is the "sick parent" hoax, where an individual will enter a church, charity or other organization and claim they do not have the money for a bus ticket to see their sick or dying parent. An often-flimsy story is usually accompanied by emotional language. They will then ask for cash, saying that such institutions have an obligation to help those in need.
- Patricia M. Wallace, "The Internet in the workplace: how new technology is transforming work", 2004, ISBN 0-521-80931-2, p. 103
- Grieving mother distraught after con-men set up Facebook site asking for donations to help fund heart transplant for her dead toddler daughter
- Facebook hoax: this child's got a cancer
- Anti-scam websites beg Facebook to remove sick baby hoaxes
- Internet's Chain Of Foolery