In-debt shopper's website asks for $1 donations

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Girls just wanna have fun. As a transplanted Midwesterner in New York City, Karyn put over $20,000 worth of fun on her credit cards. But then the Brooklyn woman was laid off and spent four months looking for employment. Her creditors weren’t sympathetic. So, she did the only logical thing a 21st century girl could do: She put up a website and asked the good-hearted people in the world to bail her out.

“It only takes 20,000 one-dollar donations to clear up my debt,” she told the Business Journal in a telephone interview. Karyn is her real name; she won’t reveal her last name, nor her telephone number, address, or even a photograph of her needy face.

But she is sincere. “It’s not a scam,” she said. “I am still paying what I can on my bills, and everything I get from the website is going to retire my debt.”

She racked up the debt by making extravagant purchases: spent $500 for a handbag. Iced lattes at Starbucks twice a day. Real Gucci sunglasses, $400. Prada pumps (a bargain, purchased over the web). Only $7,000 went for facial products, professional hair coloring, manicures and pedicures.

“It was stupid,” Karyn now says of her credit card craziness.

But why should other people pay her bills? Because it gives them a chance to help someone out at no great expense to themselves, she said. It generates good karma, she added. And, if you help her, maybe someday she’ll help you, she suggested.

She, too, is making sacrifices so more of her income can go to retiring the obligation, she added. Gone is her Manhattan loft at nearly $2,000 a month. In Brooklyn, her rent is less than half that. The Prada pumps are gone too, sold over eBay, with the money going to a Discover card debt. The sunglasses were also sold on eBay. And she sold her spiffy leather designer passport folder.

“I planned to pay everything off,” she said of her extravagances. She had a good job, so it wasn’t unreasonable to expect she could repay her obligations. Then she lost her job as a television producer. She’s now freelancing while looking for a full-time job.

She came up with the idea after seeing a card posted at a grocery store asking for $7,000. She took the idea high-tech, and posted a request on a public bulletin board. The board’s manager took it off, saying it was inappropriate. Her roommate suggested the website.

Since her site, www.savekaryn.com, has been up, it has registered more than 70,000 hits, and donors have sent her about $1,600. She has picked up a few hundred more by using the Internet auction site eBay to sell the spoils of her splurges.

To keep people abreast of her efforts, Karyn publishes a regular update on her website. On Aug. 5, 2002, she posted the following: Greetings! Yikes what a week! First off, 92,518 people visited the site this week! Total hits since the site went up is over 200,000! Yowza! I didn’t think anyone would come to my site. I also got close to a million (exaggeration) e-mails. I’m trying to respond to all, but it’s near impossible.

Her story has been published in the New York Times, the New York Post, USA Today, in papers in China and elsewhere. A movie studio has contacted her about her story, and she said if that deal comes through, she’ll donate the first $20,000 to charity.