Six babies is a lot of babies. Especially at one time. If you knew a husband and wife who just had six babies, and they asked for help, you might say yes.
But would you first make them prove the babies exist?
No, because it's not common decency. But that trait is disappearing fast in this country. It's clearly gone from a conniving Missouri couple named Sarah and Kris Everson, who tried to pull off a six-headed fraud.
Telling a local newspaper reporter that their babies were in critical condition in an unnamed hospital, the Eversons laid out a story that was as rich in detail as it was in deception. They had names and weights for the six kids, they talked about their looks, their lips, their hair, they had fake sonograms, they even posed for photos holding up six tiny outfits.
Sarah Everson reportedly wept when she spoke of her inability to hold the tiny, delicate infants. "I don't like being away from them," she told an Associated Press reporter, who said she broke into tears.
Not surprisingly, people in their community rallied to help. A realtor tried to raise money for a new home. A Web site was established. An address was given to receive gift cards or money.
Only one problem: There were no babies.
The whole thing was a fraud.
Now, this is not the first time people have tried to bilk money from strangers. Snake oil salesman did it many years ago. Unscrupulous preachers have done it forever. The Internet is chock full of phony pleas for financial help. But what makes the Eversons' case notable is the extent of their charade, and how well they knew to use the media.
They claimed the secrecy was for the protection of the infants. They had a photo ready of a pregnant-looking Sarah. They had a nursery room. They even spoke of how difficult it had been for Sarah to sleep with six babies inside her.
"You see programs on TV with people who have multiples," Kris Everson told a reporter from the Independence (Mo.) Examiner. "You never expect it to end up happening to you."
Unless, of course, you fake it happening to you. I'm not surprised the guy mentioned TV. I'm guessing this couple had seen enough TV news reports on multiple-birth parents to know how it works. You act surprised, but happy. You get on a morning show. You talk about how you'll love the kids all the same. Sometimes, you even drag religion into it.
"If G-d was going to let it happen," Sarah Everson told the Examiner, "I was going to be able to get through it."
Wow. She was good.
Now, I don't know this Missouri couple. But I wasn't surprised at their hoax. We have created a society where fame is a drug, where attention can mean money, and where everybody wants a piece. Just as men once rushed west to dip pans in rivers, so do people now race to the spotlight, looking for gold.
People see Hurricane Katrina stories, they see the outpouring of generosity, and some say, "How do I get me some of that?"
They see human-interest features, tragedy turned into bestsellers, and they say, "I want mine."
You wonder how dumb or conniving the Eversons had to be to think they could pull this off without ever producing any babies. But their sick plan isn't the worst part.
The worst part is that people who were willing to pitch in authorities said the couple already had collected $3,500 before their hoax was revealed may be less inclined to do so next time around.
And that's a shame. After all, the response to the sentence "I need help" should never have to be "Prove it."