At what point is someone a victim of a scam rather than just a sucker?
Lori Stilley of Delran, New Jersey, posted on Facebook that she had bladder cancer and no medical insurance in February of 2011. A couple of months later she noted that her condition had worsened. People started making donations.
They donated money. They donated meals. They even paid for her wedding.
But in November, when she posted that her condition was improving, those same folks started to get a bit suspicious.
And, according to local prosecutors, they had reason to be suspicious. Ms. Stilley is now facing felony charges of theft by deception.
But did she steal from her supporters of just separate fools from their money? Did she even commit a crime?
Are the car companies guilty of theft by deception when they advertise a car getting a certain number of miles per gallon when, under normal driving conditions, it doesn't even come close? And what if that car doesn't get you the pretty girl or what if that warranty doesn't actually cover anything for 100,000 miles?
And what of the countless other products advertised on television that never quite live up to the hype? The cleaner that doesn't clean as deeply as they told you? The knives that can't cut through shoe leather and then carve a turkey? The processed foods that lead to heart disease, hypertension and obesity?
What about professional sports teams, like the Houston Astros, who hold themselves out to be a major league team? Those folks sitting behind homeplate or down the first base line are paying a pretty price to see a club that would struggle in Triple-A ball.
What about your kid's school fundraiser? How much of that $16 you're shelling out for cookie dough is actually going to the school? What about the wrapping paper, the candy bars or whatever else they're peddling during the year?
How about that charity that spends more than half the money it raises on expenses? Were you deceived into believing that every penny went to support a good cause?
What Ms. Stilley allegedly did was, as our friends across the pond would say, not good cricket. But was it illegal? No one made anyone shell out their hard-earned money because of a posting on Facebook. Is it her fault that some folks are such suckers that they won't even bother to verify who they're giving the money to?
Presumably the folks that gave Ms. Stilley money did so because it made them feel better. It made them feel like they were helping out someone who needed the help. They received a psychic reward from voluntarily parting themselves from their money. Finding out Ms. Stilley didn't have cancer didn't cause them to lose that feeling - it just made them feel like suckers for handing their money away.
What Ms. Stilley did was low and she should be ashamed of herself. But should she really go to jail for it? I'm not so certain.