The e-mail looks like a scam: “I have to come up with big-time cash,” writes Max Stephenson. The 18-year-old is headed for New York University, he explains, but his mom is on disability, his dad works three jobs, and all his grants and loans only cover half of the school’s $50,000 annual tab. So to cover the gap, he’s hoping 10,000 friends of friends of friends will each put $2.50 in the mail or send the money via PayPal. “If you’re worried I am one of those internet rip-off artists, call NYU’s admissions office at 212.998.4500,” his e-mail continues, “and ask for someone in international admissions — they handled my admissions as I was recruited to play ice hockey for Russia and spent last year there.”
The thing is, his plea is legit. And two weeks after Stephenson sent his e-mail to 300 of his friends and his parents’ business contacts — and asked them to forward it to anyone they could think of — he says he has already received close to $6,000 from more than 2,000 people. Only a dozen or so e-mail recipients have written to him asking if he’s a swindler. “Everybody’s been really nice about it,” he says. “As nice as I guess you can be to somebody you suspect to be scamming you. It hasn’t been, ‘Oh, you dirty bleep-bleep-bleep,’ but, ‘Don’t try to scam people.’ No curse words or anything.”
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