The Perfect Scam

Victorias Victories

It appears that a family in Jackson, Mississippi has pulled off the perfect scam. Victoria Wilcher, 3, was mauled by her grandfather’s dogs, and needs extensive plastic surgery. A website, Victoria’s Victories, was put up the family to raise funds for her care, and really got a boost after the girl’s grandmother, Kelly Mullins, claimed that the child had been asked to leave a local Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise because, they were told, Victoria’s scarred face was upsetting patrons. The story went viral on the web, and more than $135,000 poured in from outraged and sympathetic Americans, including $30,000 from a frightened KFC.

Mission accomplished. Now it appears that a full-fledged hoax is unraveling. KFC, looking for someone to fire, can’t find any record of Victoria on surveillance footage for the day and time she was supposedly ejected. The girl’s grandmother and her aunt who runs the website can’t get their stories straight, citing varying dates and fingering various KFC stores, including one that has been shut down for months. The investigation is ongoing, but no confirming witnesses have come forward, and nobody can verify the socking tale of the cruelly-shunned little girl, who has already suffered so much.

Perfect! Since the object of the hoax is blameless, and the objective can be rationalized, and because the victim is just a mean old corporation that sells deadly fast food, the ends–getting money to repair a little girl’s damaged face–will certainly be regarded by many and perhaps most as justifying the means—lies, slander, libel, disparagement, and fraud.

The ends are not justified in this case, however, for the ends go far beyond Victoria, and they are far from good. This incident will make genuinely generous and kind people cynical and distrusting, so the true stories of future victims of hardship will be less likely to trigger a charitable response.  KFC’s business and reputation as a family-friendly restaurant has been harmed, with likely damage to the company and those who invest in it, including other, more honest grandmothers and aunts. The hoax removes charitable funds from worthy causes that are not using lies to spark sympathy: these charities are also victims of Victoria’s family’s deception.Worst of all, this incident will spawn similar scams, because it worked. Nobody will want to be perceived as punishing a scarred child for the misguided but well-intentioned actions of the crooks who love her. Even KFC has announced that its $30,000 contribution will be honored.

Calling a company like KFC chicken is, well, redundant, so instead let me call it cowardly and irresponsible. The company has an ethical obligation to take back its essentially extorted contribution,  as must every single individual who gave to Victoria’s fund, not because her plight isn’t genuine, but because the fake outrage created by her caretakers to promote sympathy must not be permitted to succeed. The donors should all take the money back and give every penny in Victoria’s name to legitimate charities that did not lie and did not cheat, because if Victoria’s family gets to keep its fraudulently gained lucre—and who can say, with confidence, that this crooked gang will allow all the cash to go to its intended, innocent beneficiary?—there will be more and more such scams exploiting the 24 hour news cycle, the blogosphere, social media and their insatiable appetite for human interest stories, until even the most generous of us is jaded and suspicious, and says, “Enough. You take care of your loved ones, and I’ll take care of mine. I can’t sort out the genuinely needy from the liars.”

Meanwhile, however, the marks, suckers and exploiters can’t help themselves. Now a Las Vegas plastic surgeon, seeing a route to instant saint status and the kind of advertising money can’t buy, is offering to do Victoria’s facial reconstruction gratis. This alone will allow Victoria’s family to conclude that their national hoax was a virtuous thing, since it was all for Victoria, and because “it all worked out for the best.” After all, would you rather see that $30,000 in the filthy, stuffed pockets of KFC executives, or being used to restore a beautiful child’s face? Shame? Remorse? These con artists will be taking bows, appearing on TV, being applauded as doing what they had to do for a wounded child…all because so many of us, like our government,  don’t have the courage, integrity or common sense to insist on upholding legal and ethical standards when children are involved.

One more thing…if this was a hoax, local prosecutors should have the courage to put the perpetrators in jail.

They won’t, of course.

Because this is the perfect scam.

________________________________

Pointer: Special Thanks to Alexander Cheezem, who provided copious links and background for this story.

Sources: WSMVThe Blaze, ExaminerCnn, KTLADoubtful News, Clarion Ledger 1, 2, CBS, Google Cache

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts, and seek written permission when appropriate. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work or property was used in any way without proper attribution, credit or permission, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at jamproethics@verizon.net.

 

43 thoughts on “The Perfect Scam

  1. I’d sue them, anyway. That was extortion. It risked the reputation of the company and the livelihoods of those who had been falsely accused. Everybody sympathizes with the little girl, but her parents deserve nothing but the back of our collective hand and KFC deserves justice.

    • Heh. It’s also interesting that they took down both websites, which I presume they would not do if they weren’t outed as ongoing scams. My hatred for this kind of thing knows no bounds.

  2. As I said yesterday about anonymously perpetrating a hoax on the internet; it is easy to do. This validates my rationale to investigate every call to action before I draw conclusions or act presumptively.

    Jack, you made an excellent point that this type of “ends justify the means” action hurts the truly deserving of assistance. It is the perfect scam because no matter how the benefactor reacts to the learning of the hoax, he or she has no good alternatives except prosecution of the adults that instigated the hoax.

    Even prosecution will affect the child in question negatively. My suggestion would be to use the funds now for the medical reconstruction and require the adults to treble damages in restitution for perpetrating the fraud. If I had contributed, I would be OK with that solution.

  3. Leave alone the irreparable damage awaiting the child who is being raised in that ethics free family. Regardless of the exceptions you see, most people inherent, with only minor changes, the values of those who rear them. That little girl has more to worry about than physical scars…

    Her little face may be repaired, but in 20 years? What’s her soul gonna be?

    • I thought about that, Tex. When you stop to think about it, this was actually a case of child exploitation by her own parents. They used their child’s celebrity moment to enrich themselves. Parents capable of that are capable of doing it again… and worse. I’ve seen too much of that in Hollywood. It’s not just their province anymore, it seems.

    • Her little face may be repaired, but in 20 years? What’s her soul gonna be?
      ***********
      When she is old enough to fully understand, she is going to start hating their stinking guts.
      I do hope CPS takes her before then.

      • There’s an ethics balance I haven’t figured out yet. Certainly, in some cases, the removal of a child from their birth family is a no-brainer. I have yet to meditate fully on it though. There is a cost to a Community policy of breaking up families. How big is that cost? It is pretty big, if you ask me, cost to the family, cost to the community, cost even to the child being removed.

        I don’t know how often that cost outweighs the cost of leaving a child in certain conditions though. I’m not sure where on the sliding scale this should land. Somewhere near the balance point, you have parents, who aren’t the best parents in the world, but barring occasional lapses aren’t easy to differentiate from parents who barely managing to figure it out. At that balance point we have to decide, is it better to err on the side of leaving a child in a much less than ideal situation to maintain the family or err on the side of breaking up barely ideal family to get a child out of questionable circumstances?

        I know my answer and it probably isn’t popular. But I simply don’t trust the State to decide whose parenting values are better past the blatantly unarguable values.

        In this families case? As corrupted as their ethics are and abusive of the community they are, although I can see an argument to remove that child from that family, I don’t see a compelling one. They should have repercussions for their abuse of the community, but those wouldn’t consist of the loss of their child. Certainly repercussions for exposing the child to the danger of the dogs needs addressing, but does that rise to child removal or dog removal?

  4. Just to point out a relevant detail: The surgeon’s offer was made *before* the whole thing came out as a scam.

    I also disagree with you somewhat regarding KFC’s decision to honor their commitment — but don’t really see the point in arguing it here. I see your reasoning, and don’t so much disagree outright as have a somewhat different set of priorities in this case, ethically speaking.

    (For the record, my recommended course of action would be to honor the commitment — with conditions of supervision/oversight, perhaps — and simultaneously prosecute the scam to the full extent of the law.)

    • I also disagree with you somewhat regarding KFC’s decision to honor their commitment — but don’t really see the point in arguing it here. I see your reasoning, and don’t so much disagree outright as have a somewhat different set of priorities in this case, ethically speaking.

      (For the record, my recommended course of action would be to honor the commitment — with conditions of supervision/oversight, perhaps — and simultaneously prosecute the scam to the full extent of the law.)
      ***********
      I also get Jack’s point but I think the right thing for KFC to do is honor its commitment to the child.
      She’s not the one who created the hoax and it is obvious she needs a lot of medical intervention.
      KFC suffered bad PR over this, so bad that some of its employees in the area were afraid to wear their uniforms out in public.
      If KFC rescinds the offer, it is going to mean more bad PR and it sounds like they are not exactly thriving in the area to begin with.

      • Well, yes, there is that. Rescinding would also cause some people to question the investigation and its results — which would be another issue.

        More broadly, there’s the fact that KFC made a rather generous promise to help one party (Victoria). The fact that their attention was brought to the case as a result of the lies of another party (the fraudulent relatives) is relevant, but not the primarily so. If the promise had been phrased as compensation for the fictitious incident, then I’d fully agree that the commitment was void… but it wasn’t.

        As things stand, it’s somewhat complicated. There are arguments — valid ones — both for and against withdrawing the offer.

        But in this case? KFC is honoring its obligations to its franchisees, protecting interests that it’s obligated to (corporations aren’t unified wholes, and each part has obligations to the others), and helping out a (pretty much) innocent child.

        • What *I* think KFC should do right now is take the parents to court to get the money back.

          Then (and only then), upon getting it back, donate that same amount toward the girl’s medical needs.

          –Dwayne

          • That would be a pretty acceptable solution by me if it wasn’t for two things:

            1) Court proceedings take time, and that would lead to substantial bad PR in the interim (along with several other problems). While this may be a non-ethical consideration from KFC’s standpoint, it is not one from the standpoint of the decision-makers within KFC, who are obligated to protect the company’s interests.

            2) The conduct was criminal, and should be treated as such. Civil proceedings are a poor substitute.

        • Maybe in a bittersweet way if they lose custody of the kid due to the whole “felony charges” thing, but perhaps. As I said, my ideal course of action would be to honor the promise to the child… *AND* to prosecute the family to the fullest extent of the law.

  5. Also, this child was attacked by three pit bulls out of a pack of ten that her dirtbag grandfather was “keeping”.
    They tore the door off of the family trailer to get to the little girl.
    Naturally, they were just like other pit bulls: never shown any aggression, loved kids, gentle, nanny dog and so on.
    If it was up to me, every adult involved in the situation would be sitting in jail.

    • I’ll believe they were really pit bulls when I see some photos. As I’ve written here before, the media is notoriously careless at identifying dog breeds. The real issue is that it was a dog pack. 10 dogs is not a group of pets, and are not likely to be socialized.

    • I half want to make a jab at Pit Bulls to see at which internal pressure level Jack’s head is.

      (see…I tried to use a non-ending preposition… just awkward)

      • “I half want to make a jab at Pit Bulls to see at which internal pressure level Jack’s head is.

        (see…I tried to use a non-ending preposition… just awkward)”

        I half want to make a jab at Pit Bulls to determine the internal pressure level of Jack’s head.

        (I’m not a “know it all”…that took me about an hour) 🙂

      • Your awkward version only ended up that way because you’re not yet practised in that approach. It’s as if you’d always used a spork and were only just getting used to forks and spoons, and so you were using them the same way. By way of examples, here’s a straightforward adaptation of your version that’s a bit less clumsy, and then a reworking that goes further back and is even less clumsy:-

        I half want to make a jab at Pit Bulls to see the internal pressure level at which Jack’s head is.

        I half want to make a jab at Pit Bulls so I can see the internal pressure level of Jack’s head.

        Basically, the awkwardness came from still trying to get a structure that came from ending with a preposition, only without actually ending with a preposition. It’s better not to be encapsulating your thoughts within that framework in the first place, even before embodying them in words.

        And I got to those in less time than it took to type the above, without looking at other comments until this paragraph. It’s not a matter of being a know it all but of prior practice.

              • Out of curiosity, just how can you learn the lesson provided by something you don’t take in? I grant you, you may well get the same elsewhere, but that’s just precisely why I qualified “[w]on’t learn” with “from it”. It’s no assumption but rather a conclusion – if you don’t listen you won’t be told, and so on. Around here, it’s why I so often find it necessary to be brutal in telling people things, since otherwise they often don’t realise they were even missing anything.

                  • I made no such assumption. As readers (not including you yourself, by your own admission) can find out by reading and thinking through the advice I gave, what I wrote was sound advice. I knew that from prior experience (which I also mentioned there), so it was no assumption.

                    I do not understand your hostility amounting to wilful ignorance, where I would understand hostility accompanied by an open mind; you always seem to react as if I were coming from a position of prejudice and misinformation, yet you never once consider whether your own position might be mistaken or whether you can learn from others’ errors or different values, instead construing (for example) a description of things the U.S.A. has done wrong not as an analogy relevant to the topic at hand but as reflex anti-Americanism that is warrant for tuning everything out – which it would not be even if that were the case rather than a conclusion drawn from history, a history that allows credit for the U.S.A. where it is due but also condemnation where that is due. And you react similarly in almost all discussions, whatever references come up, even ones not covered by that example.

                    • “And you react similarly in almost all discussions with you, whatever references come up, even ones not covered by that example.”

                      You earned it.

                    • Eh? How does that even make sense? As I pointed out, I can understand you becoming hostile – which someone could conceivably “earn” towards himself – but how on earth can anyone earn someone else’s desire to remain ignorant himself on top of that?

                      Look at what you just claimed. You claimed that I earned, not just your hostility, but your wish to remain without understanding. Isn’t that at best cutting off your nose to spite your face (if I am truly worthy of your views), and at worst preserving an immunity towards finding out that things are otherwise than your previous ideas led you to suppose, denial to prevent cognitive dissonance?

                    • I’m not addressing your gish gallop bordering on strawman about desires to remain ignorant. I have no need to defend that as I don’t seek ignorance and you know it, asshole. If you had something edifying to say (which you didn’t and typically don’t) then it might be useful to educate someone. Since that isn’t the case, then ignoring you doesn’t contribute to ignorance. Duh.

                      Now, back on the subject. I ignore you, this sidebar excepting, because you are special type of ass.

  6. A couple of other folks have already alluded to this, but it may be worth saying again:

    I had been following this case before it was revealed as a hoax and it dawned on me that there was/is a whole other level of un-ethicality here:

    How screwed up are we that we get totally outraged over someone being kicked out of a restaurant, but could hardly care less that same person got their face ripped off by a pack of dogs?

    Note I am not saying that the type of discrimination indicated is OK… it isn’t. BUT that type of discrimination (if there had been any) is the minor issue compared to the agony that little girl went thru both during and after that attack.

    • I agree. I had a close friend growing up who had been bitten in the face by a dog. She got a living reminder of it every time she looked in the mirror or someone said, “How did you get that scar?” Bad parenting and bad dog owners is the real ethics fail. The hoax is just the cherry on top of the scarred sundae.

  7. This is a depressing story. Why KFC didn’t investigate the matter before coughing up $30,000 is remarkable. I don’t think the Colonel would have had the knee jerk reaction some Dilbert type corporate manager showed at KFC.

    • With the societal vilification of “mean ole greedy fat pocket” companies pretty much being the expect reaction from the emotion-driven community these days, knowing that any action that doesn’t appear to care, KFC made the only logical decision to protect itself, even if actual caring wasn’t part of their formula.

  8. Companies that have to deal with serving the public are at the mercy of both their employees and the public. It must be terrifying to open up a business every day wondering what fresh new hell you’ll be put through before the day is over. The wonder is that people keep doing it.

  9. And that’s the problem: the public. Had KFC pulled their $30k contribution, even in sure knowledge that the expulsion was a scam, the public would have gone crazy. A big, wealthy, international company, taking money back from that adorable, horribly scarred little girl with the missing eye? No, the best that KFC can do is to widely publicize that it WAS a scam, and every sordid detail of it, and that they are continuing to give the money, because they care about little girls, so that ethical KFC fans will continue to eat at their restaurant and unethical people will be so afraid of the publicity that they don’t try to pull a similar stunt. It’s a no-win for KFC.

    • Pretty much this. KFC is in a rather dramatic ethics catch-22… but has behaved extraordinarily well throughout. Hell, just to throw out one example — on hearing the accusations, they not only launched an internal investigation, but hired external, independent investigators to find out as much as possible. That’s… really notable as damned near proof of sincerity.

      If it weren’t for the fact that I hate their food, I’d be feeling a lot more inclined to visit my local KFC just for that.

  10. PS: Loved the grammar lesson – at least the beginning of it. Lost interest once the insults started (why?), but yes, it is awkward not to end sentences in prepositions. As it is to say “not to end” instead of “to not end”. Just takes practice. Very much enjoyed the Yoda note! Thanks for the grin!

    • I understand that “grammarian” nit-picking is an unethical debate tactic: Rather than confront the substance of the post, the nit-pick tries to invalidate it by finding minor spelling / grammatical mistakes. This is exacerbated by the fact that many people post using smart-phones or other devices that try to correct spelling and grammar but often fail to do so correctly.

      Conversation goes like this:
      – 1st person says “Democrat’s are unethical for not calling out the IRS for there abuses!”.

      – Nitpick says “WRONG! That would be DEMOCRATS without the apostrophe. By the way, that would be “THEY’RE abuses, you low info Fox viewer! Don’t you know the difference between THERE and THEY’RE!? Long live Lois Lerner and the IRS you troglodyte!”.

      – 3rd person says “No, that would be THEIR you lefty butt munch.”.

      – and so forth.

      See, it is ultimately a mug’s game as NO ONE has perfect spelling or grammar. You set a standard like that, expect to get flamed when you don’t live up to it.

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