Using the Internet for panhandling

Most people have been short on cash at one time or another and at least been tempted to ask a relative or friend for money.

But the Internet is spawning a generation of cyberbeggers. They're asking millions of strangers who surf the Internet to get them out of their jams.

The trend started with SaveKaryn.com, a site devoted to helping an out-of-work television producer pay off $20,000 in debt.

It apparently worked. The site is full of fun content, including a guide to reading magazines, hair care, skin care and long-distance calling, all on the cheap. There's a big announcement on the home page that her $20,000 in debt is paid off. Another page features a request to stop sending her money.

Apparently she doesn't need it, because she's writing a book about her experience with the site and the people who gave.

Helpmeleavemyhusband.com's creator has asked for $12,000 for the tuition and daycare money she needs to divorce her man. She's raised $2,000 so far.

Other sites ask for money for breast implants or for help becoming a paramedic or other professional.

Any time someone has a hand out, it's appropriate to determine if their cause is legitimate before helping out.

The problem with the Internet is that it's nearly impossible for the average person to determine if the requests are genuine. Those who give say it's like paying for entertainment: You read the person's tale of woe, and then you donate a few dollars.

But consider:

Is it wise to reward someone you've never met who asks for a several-thousand-dollar handout? Certainly, it would be a better learning experience for such people to dig themselves out of their problems.

Better yet, make your donation to the United Way, which thorougly researches the euqests of thos in need.