Woman Fraudulently Accepted Thousands, Showing the Need for More Watchdog Websites
It is an ideal that most small towns aspire to, welcoming strangers and helping out new friends. But in this case, that small town charm opened the door for a scam. According to an interesting write up on statnews.com, a newcomer with two children announced that she was suffering from cancer, that the treatments were expensive, and she only 18 months to live. Her new home rallied around her, holding benefits and asking for donations, only to discover the illness had been a scam. The article says a woman with a watchdog website, gofraudme.com makes discoveries like this all too often; unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident.
A Small Town Rallies
Statnews.com says that Greenburgh, NY is a small town of fewer than 5,000 people.
Neighbors all know one another and when a mother of two boys at Ardsley High School told the football coach she had cancer, the news spread. The author notes that Shivonie Deokaran and her family were new to the area, but that didn’t stop the school’s coach and booster club from jumping into action. Rob Wooten, President of the Booster Club and Rick Thompson, the local deputy fire chief came up with a plan to help Deokaran.
The team of school and town ‘celebrities’ set up a GoFundMe page for Deokaran. According to the article, it quickly raised over $10,000. Then a good old-fashioned spaghetti dinner, organized together by the school and town, raised another $16,000 for the mother of two.
The generosity did not stop there, even after the Go Fund Me page and the dinner, checks continued to arrive for the stricken mother. It was so much money that Rob Wooton told the author that they broke the donations into small amounts so Deokaran would not be impacted by the taxes.
An Alarming Tip
Wooten tells statnews.com that months after the money had been raised he got an email that put him in a tough position. The email claimed he was being scammed by Deokaran. He says that the email claimed Deokaran and her boyfriend, Nikhlesh Parekh, had two children from a previous relationship. The tipster said that he was the person caring now for the children. The emails contained all kinds of accusations, but the most alarming was that her cancer was a lie to get money.
Wooten carefully confronted Deokaren, according to statnews.com. Her reaction was one of shock, but also one of suspicion. She claimed her doctor, who could prove her illness, had been killed in Nepal. It was then Wooten knew it was a fraud.
After he left her house the article says he went to the police and made a formal complaint. Not long after, Deokaren abruptly moved to Florida.
Scams Are Common
One other example highlighted in the article is that of a Nevada woman was arrested on allegations that she’d pretended her son had leukemia. She even held a memorial service for him while he was alive and healthy. Typically, these types of fraud only net small amounts of money, according to the article.
In this case, Deokaran was investigated by the FBI and discovered her entire story was a lie. She is facing charges for the fraud and according to the article, “acknowledged … that she did not have leukemia during the period when the fundraising solicitations were made, and that she had ‘made a mistake’ she wishes she could take back.”
According to the article, hundreds of people had been defrauded in this one case alone. From those who donated to the GoFundMe page to those who bought the spaghetti dinner. This is the type of fraud that keeps Adrienne Gonzalez up at night. She set up a watchdog website called, gofraudme.com. She tells the author of the article she relies on tips to do her work. She claims the need for more people like her grows every year.
Gonzalez tells statnews.com that she tracks all kinds of crowdfunding fraud, from fake funeral fundraisers to campaigns for fake pets. She said accusations of cancer fraud are becoming more common, and are the trickiest to investigate. Not only are their medical privacy laws to contend with but also the fact that the accuser could be wrong. If a person truly does have cancer and are falsely accused of scamming an entire community, the consequences are hurtful, to say the least.
Jeffrey A. Newman represents whistleblowers.