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.
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