Also known as cyber begging or Internet panhandling, Internet begging is the strategy of asking strangers for money using electronic means. There are web sites established for the express purpose of allowing individuals to participate in this process of electronic begging, usually with some limitations on what type of begging may take place. These sites, known as cause websites, often focus on providing people who are going through a period of short-term financial distress to seek help in paying bills after a severe illness or making ends meet after the loss of a job.
One of the earliest examples of Internet begging occurred with the advent of online classifieds and bulletin board web sites. These sites made it possible to anonymously place an ad asking for financial help, using an email address as the contact means. As use of the Internet continued to grow, many Internet service providers and some search engines began to offer free one page websites that could be used for any purpose, including Internet begging. In exchange for allowing the provider to display ads on a portion of the page, the end user could share his or her circumstances with a larger audience, ask for help, and provide some means of contact so the help could be extended.
Over time, many non-profit organizations took the basic idea of Internet begging and adapted the practice to aid in their fundraising activities. This often involves setting up a multi-page web site that allows visitors to learn more about what the non-profit does, who benefits from the funds received, and how much is needed to keep the organization working and providing services to its target audience. As technology began to allow the ability to accept donations online, many non-profits included this option on their web sites, along with more traditional methods such as mailing a donation to a specific snail mail address.
While many people think of Internet begging as relating to people who are too lazy to earn money for their needs, the method is often used by people who have legitimate needs that they currently are unable to meet, no matter how hard they try. For example, a couple may set up a begging site because of mounting hospital bills related an ongoing health issue suffered by one of their children. People who have experienced a job loss and need financial help to tide them through as they look for a new job may utilize this online solicitation process.
When coming across an ad or a web site where Internet begging is taking place, it is often difficult to determine if the need is legitimate. If the solicitation is connected with a reputable charity or similar type of organization, there is a good chance that donations do actually go to meet the need expressed. Because of the high incidence of scam artists using online begging as a means of preying on the sympathies of anyone who may read their hard luck stories, it is very important to take steps to verify the claims made before making a donation. In addition, only make donations when the site is secure, or when the individual asking for help makes use of a third party payment acceptance service that does not reveal debit or credit card information to the recipient.