A couple weeks ago, a truly amazing story started making the rounds on Facebook: an Alabama family claimed that they were asked to leave a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant due to their child’s appearance. But as the story has developed, we’ve seen that it’s not really the sad story it’s been make out to be, but rather a case of corporate extortion.

On a Facebook page created just for the incident, the family of three year old Victoria Wilcher stated that a manager of a KFC restaurant in Jackson, MS came over and asked the family to leave the restaurant. They were asked to leave, they claim, because Victoria’s face, which had been scarred in a recent dog attack, was scaring customers.

KFC Scary

KFC’s Response to the Incident

Upon the learning of the Facebook page and crusade against the chain, KFC immediately scrambled and came up with not only a heartfelt apology posted on Victoria’s Facebook page, but a $30,000 donation to the young girl’s family to assist with her mounting medical bills.

Please accept our sincere apologies while we try to investigate this incident,” the statement said, while asking that details about the encounter be sent to a provided email address. “We have zero tolerance for any kind of disrespectful behavior by our team members.

Considering the potential for reputation disaster, it was a smart move for KFC to immediately make the donation and offer to throw a picnic for Victoria’s family and friends without investigating the event for proof that it actually happened. After all, there was serious public outrage against turning away a poor little girl who suffered a pit bull attack. The fast food chain clearly felt terribly about then situation, and they should be commended for their swift action to make things right.

KFC’s Investigation Reveals Questions

While KFC didn’t hesitate to reach out and help Victoria and her family, they did take the time to investigate before terminating employees. KFC elected to hire a private firm to look into the circumstances surrounding this appalling situation. Notably, when the family received word that the incident was being looked at, they began to use Facebook once more to ridicule KFC, admonishing them for not believing the story. Meanwhile, KFC states that they were simply trying to understand where things went terribly wrong from a managerial standpoint, and regardless of the conclusion, they wanted the family to keep the $30,000 donation to Victoria’s medical bills.

When the investigation completed, the private firm determined that the entire story was a most likely a con.  The family claimed that they were asked to leave the KFC on May 15th, almost one month before the Facebook page was created. There are also two different KFC locations in Jackson, and the security camera footage was examined at each location for that day in May. Investigators never once spotted the family entering either restaurant. Further, family statements did not check out with store records:

I ordered a sweet tea and mashed potatoes and gravy. I sat down at the table and started feeding her and the lady came over and said that we would have to leave, because we were disturbing other customers, that Victoria’s face was disturbing other customers.

When the stores’ computers where checked, that combination of items in an order was not found in the system of either of the locations.

Lastly, on Victoria’s page, the family initially said the incident took place at the KFC located at the corner of State and High street in Jackson. A member of the family posted the below:

Thank you for your support for Victoria. If you would like to file a complaint its the KFC on State Street in Jackson MS.

That particular location is no longer in operation and has been closed for over five years.

Shutting Down the Hoax

With all of the national attention, the family has not only received $30,000 from KFC, but over $140,000 in additional donations. But even as the findings of the investigation came out, the family continued to stick to their story. That has now changed.

I promise its not a hoax. … The article circling the web calling this a hoax is untrue. The article it self say the investigation is not complete. It is not over until KFC releases a statement. The media outlet running this story is not connected with KFC. The family has not asked for anything, a attorney is handling all the media publicity for the family pro bono.

It appears that within the last 48 hours, the family has begun to come to the realization that their hoax to raise money is over. Both the Victoria’s Victories Facebook page and the donation page have been taken down. But KFC has allowed the family to keep the money, regardless of the investigative findings.

Did KFC do the Right Thing?

We constantly preach that companies should be monitoring social media 24×7, and being available to interact with customers quickly is paramount in our digital age. We also discuss how important reputation is for business, especially in a competitive vertical such as fast food. A story of discrimination against a three year old girl who went through a tragedy could erupt into a boycott movement that would cost the chain millions of dollars. KFC’s swift reaction was a smart move, but an even smarter move was waiting to investigate before hastily cleaning out all of the managers working in their Jackson, MS locations.

Unfortunately, it seems that while KFC played it smart, they also played right into the hands of a new type of scammer. With the trend of large corporations acting so quickly to social media outcry, scammers now know that corporate giants will jump to make the public happy, practically at any cost. We now live in a world where people can completely fabricate stories and receive something in return just to quell the situation. In other words: extortion.

But even though they’ve been had, the KFC corporate team is likely to think this is the best $30,000 they could have ever spent on advertising.  They were quick to apologize and meet their customers’ needs, and in the end, came out of this looking like a superbly run company with true compassion, even though they were never in the wrong.