Protect yourself from hoaxes that pull on heartstrings

3-year-old Victoria Wilcher
3-year-old Victoria Wilcher
Teryn Applegate (Source: Harrison County Sheriff's Office)
Teryn Applegate (Source: Harrison County Sheriff's Office)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Her face grabbed headlines and hearts around the world after the family of 3-year-old Victoria Wilcher said she was asked to leave a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Jackson, Mississippi because scars she got when a dog bit her were disturbing other customers. Now, it appears it could be a hoax.

A newspaper, The Laurel Leader-Call, reports that no video reviewed by the company shows Victoria, or her grandmother who claimed to have been with her, even in a KFC on the day that the incident happened.

If it was a hoax, it was a lucrative one. More than $135,000 have been raised for Victoria's recovery.

It's just the latest tug on the heartstrings to open purse strings. We wanted to know the best questions to protect yourself to ensure you're not taken for a ride.

If Victoria's story doesn't get to you, maybe a mother of three in Corydon, Indiana with a terminal brain tumor or a 12-year-old Bardstown, Kentucky boy with cancer will. Police now say there was no cancer in either Kentuckiana case. Both the Corydon mother, Teryn Applegate, and the mother of the Bardstown boy, Nancye Beth Avis, face theft charges.

"If it's not a registered charity or organization, if you can't tell if they're really real or not, it is a judgment call," said Reanna Smith-Hamblin, VP of Communications for the Louisville Better Business Bureau. "It's up to you."

Smith-Hamblin said crowd funding sites -- like and -- have made it easier for us all to raise money for causes near and dear to our hearts, but not necessarily easier to check out the causes.

"It doesn't matter who you are, what you're doing. There's not a whole lot of vetting involved in crowd funding either," she said. "It's your job to do your homework to make sure what you're donating to is a legitimate thing."

When it's an individual cause, not an established charity, that's hard to do.

"If you want to help your neighbor's neighbor's friend's daughter's something-or-other, it's up to you," Smith-Hamblin said.

She said to ask questions and then use one simple rule when deciding to give money, "Don't think here (heart) think here (head)."

She also said to keep in mind that if you donate to an individual, not an established charity, it's not tax-deductible.

Crowd funding sites often have explainers on them, so Smith-Hamblin says read the fine print.

If you are dealing with a charity that has been set up as a 501c3, call the Better Business Bureau. Smith-Hamblin said if they don't have information on the charity, they will try to get it.

As for Victoria, the dog bite victim, her family posted on its Facebook page that it was not a hoax and are asking the public to reserve judgment until KFC's investigation is finished.

A restaurant chain spokesperson told the Associated Press an internal investigation can't find any proof that the family was turned away, an outside investigator is still looking into it.

Tuesday KFC released the following statement:

"Like the rest of America, the KFC family has been moved by the story of Victoria's injuries and recovery. After the alleged incident was reported to us, two investigations took place, including one by an independent investigator. Neither revealed any evidence that the incident occurred and we consider the investigation closed. We are honoring our commitment to make a $30,000 donation to assist with Victoria's medical bills. We hope everyone keeps Victoria in their thoughts and prayers. She will certainly be in ours."

Copyright 2014 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.