This week, police arrested an Arizona man after he scammed people out of tens of thousands of dollars through charity fraud. He’s far from the only one to try getting rich by claiming to be sick.
49-year-old Christopher Wade Nelson told friends that he had pancreatic cancer. They gave him more than $30,000 to help cover medical bills. When it became clear that he couldn’t keep that scam going, he sent an email to the donors announcing that he’d committed suicide.
If that wasn’t sick enough, Nelson ran a similar scheme over the last two years in which he claimed to have ALS. Nelson used a motorized wheelchair, forged documents from the Mayo Clinic, and posted “inspirational” messages on Instagram to keep the donations rolling in.
After a months-long investigation, prosecutors charged Nelson with multiple felonies. He’ll face charges of fraud, aggravated identity theft, forgery, and witness tampering.
Nelson’s crimes are just the most recent in a long history of faking illnesses and injuries to scam the kindhearted. The beggar pretending to be injured to get more coins in his cup is practically a cliche.
One of the most famous crime cases involving faked illness has to be that of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blanchard, dramatized in Hulu’s The Act. Dee Dee convinced the world that her daughter was profoundly disabled and ill. At least until Gypsy Rose and her boyfriend killed Dee Dee.
There’s debate about whether Dee Dee Blanchard was a grifter or suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy. However, she still scammed money for her daughter’s fraudulent treatments.
When something bad happens to someone else, most of us want to help. Sending some money is one of the easiest ways to pitch in. Unfortunately, scammers know that.
Following every major disaster, fake charities, relief funds, and donation pages pop up across the internet. The FBI recommends only giving to established charities you already know and trust. They also warn to look out for “copycat names,” which trick you into thinking that the organization is legitimate.
Crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe have strict terms and conditions to deter fraud. But if a scammer is determined enough, can ignore those terms and do it anyway.
You are more likely to be able to retrieve your money from a fake crowdfunding campaign than giving on social media, however. It’s becoming more common for scammers to target Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with requests for instant money transfers. If you give through Venmo or Paypal, it could be very challenging to get your money back later.