Black Education / Schools : Cyber-begging???


Well-Known Member
Oct 25, 2005

His debt tests the kindness of strangers online

07:40 AM EST on Tuesday, November 27, 2007

By David Scharfenberg

Journal Staff Writer

“You just feel like you’re limited,” Joe Perez, a Web designer from Cranston, says. “It weighs [on] me 24 hours a day.”

The Providence Journal / Kathy Borchers

CRANSTON — Joe Perez lives with his mother.

He is 28 years old.

“Yup, 28,” he said, a touch embarrassed, in a recent interview. “Best pick-up line: ‘You want to go back to my mom’s?’ ”

But Perez, unlike some of his Generation X cohorts, is no slouch.

He has a job as a Web designer. He does plenty of freelancing on the side. And despite his less-than-ideal digs, he even has a girlfriend these days.

Perez’s problem isn’t laziness. It’s something far worse: student-loan debt. And plenty of it.

At last count, the former film student owed some $207,000.

So last month, Perez did what any Web-savvy twentysomething in his predicament might do: he launched his own Web site,, and began soliciting donations.

For himself.

Bold? Perhaps. Hopeless? Perhaps not.

Perez is but the latest entry in the growing field of “cyber-begging.”
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The phenomenon took off five years ago when Karyn Bosnak, a New Yorker with a taste for all things Gucci, launched — a shameless and clever plea for donations to pay off a $20,000 credit card bill.

A string of news stories helped Bosnak retire her debt, land a book deal and inspire legions of imitators.

Since then, cyber-beggars have raised cash for everything from breast implants to cancer treatments to car payments.

And now, online philanthropist can browse through a catalog of hard-luck tales on sites such as and

Experts say successful pleas combine the power of the personal appeal with humor, clever writing or a particularly heart-rending tale.

But increasingly savvy Internet users, wary of online fraud, make for a tough sell these days, according to Steve Jones, professor of communications at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

And Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, said the sheer volume of cyber-begging sites has made it difficult for individual appeals to break through.

“For every one of these that work, that get attention and go viral or semi-viral,” he said, “there are an almost infinite amount that don’t.”

In fact, in the rapidly changing world of the Internet, he said, e-panhandling is already bordering on passÉ.

That might explain why Perez has not exactly set the world on fire — at least not yet.

As of last night, he had raised precisely $110.50, according to a ticker on his home page.


Perez, who charts his growing problem on a large “debt clock” on his home page, acknowledges he could have planned better.

But he says his life shouldn’t be a financial shambles just because he went to college.


It is a warning about the perils of student debt, he says. It is a rallying cry against the “predatory practices” of the growing private student-loan industry. It is a call to action.

It is cyber-begging with a social conscience.

Perez posts other people’s tales of student-loan sorrow on his site.

He plans to launch a series of joesdebt-like sites for financially strapped graduates across the country.

And eventually, he envisions a giant “debt clock” recording the national burden of college borrowing.

Perez says he is simply tapping into a much larger anxiety over the cost of higher education.

And that anxiety undoubtedly exists.


Perez’s problem, for certain, is far worse than that of the typical college student.

But he is hoping his tale will resonate nonetheless.

As a senior at Coventry High School, Perez won a prestigious national award for high school filmmakers and earned a spot in the film program at The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif.

Perez didn’t qualify for much in the way of grants since his father, a toy designer with an up-and-down income, had just hit it big with a product called “Melanie’s Mall,” a small replica shopping center complete with miniature gold credit cards.

Facing tuition of nearly $30,000 per year, the considerable cost of food and rent in greater Los Angeles and the pricey prospect of developing a high-end reel of sample work for the post-college job search, Perez quickly maxed out his allotment of low-interest federal loans.

And like a growing number of undergraduates, he tapped the $17-billion private loan industry, which has lately attracted scrutiny from Congress for its high interest rates, direct-to-consumer marketing practices and questionable financial ties to college financial-aid offices.

After he graduated in 2003, Perez took a job with a tech firm and an internship at a special-effects company.

But the tech firm soon collapsed and heart trouble landed Perez in the hospital, uninsured, with some $100,000 in medical bills — wiping out the money he had borrowed to shoot his reel.

He looked for work for a while. But after a few months, he returned home to Rhode Island, his Hollywood dream deferred.

He was able to get rid of his remaining medical bills in bankruptcy proceedings, but his substantial student-loan debt lingers.

And these days, Perez said, he spends his time fending off calls from collection agencies and wondering if he will ever be able to buy a house or launch a film career.

“You just feel like you’re limited,” he said. “It weighs [on] me 24 hours a day.”

In the end, Perez said, he doesn’t expect his adventure in cyber-begging to rescue him from financial ruin.

But he can always hope, he said.

It would be nice, after all, to move out of his mom’s house.


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