Police claim woman faked illness for GoFundMe cash
A QUEENSLAND woman who blogged about her battle with terminal ovarian cancer - posting photographs of her shaved head, bandaged body, oxygen masks and other medical equipment - has been accused of faking the illness to raise $55,000.
Lucy Wieland, 27, fronted court yesterday charged with fraud after a Crime Stoppers call sparked a police probe into her fundraising campaign.
A GoFundMe page set up by Wieland's partner Bradley Congerton - titled "help me save her life"- pleaded for donations to fund a trip to Germany for expensive "alternative treatments". Fundraisers were held in her hometown of Townsville to help with "medical costs".
"Due to the aggressive nature of ovarian cancer, it has now metastasised and spread to her kidneys, liver, pancreas, bowel and stomach lining," the page, which has since been deleted, said.
"This has also added ongoing health issues and potential chronic illnesses, as well as decreasing Lucy's prognosis to a 12-month life expectancy."
Wieland wrote extensive blog posts about her illness, managed an Instagram account and even joined and contributed to online ovarian cancer support groups.
"My biggest fear is not that I will die within 12 months as they have stated - I am oddly at peace with that possibility - but that I could end up having to live like this for a prolonged period of time, finding myself in and out of remission. Like a really crappy yoyo diet that just never ends," she wrote in one post.
In another, she described how she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in March and by May had had to shut down her recently opened beauty salon because of her deteriorating health. By September, she was posting photographs of herself with a walking stick, saying she was too weak to walk unaided.
"I had unfortunately become infertile and whilst we attempted to retrieve eggs it was not successful," she wrote in another blog entry.
"The attempted procedure caused trauma to my body that led to an emergency surgery within 24 hours."
Wieland claimed to have had part of her kidney removed, as well as her left ovary, fallopian tube and a section of the cervix.
In another post she described severe memory loss as a result of chemotherapy treatment.
"I found myself staring at the fridge and the photos on it of myself with these people I couldn't remember," she wrote.
She discussed the topic with other cancer sufferers on a Facebook support group she'd joined.
"Hi Ladies," Wieland wrote in July. "Just wondering if anyone can share some tips and tricks to combat really bad memory issues as a result of chemo? I'm to the point of forgetting things like where I live."
Detectives will allege Wieland has not had ovarian cancer or the procedures she described. Police are investigating whether anyone else was involved in the deception.
"In the scheme of frauds, any opportunity that people have where they use an emotion-based method of getting funds from other people is always concerning," Townsville Detective Inspector Chris Lawson said.
GoFundMe told The Courier-Mail that all donors to Wieland's campaign would get their money back.
"In this case, the campaign was reported to our team, the user was banned, and all donors will be refunded," GoFundMe spokeswoman Rachel Hollis said.
"We are already working with local law enforcement to assist in the investigation."
Leading criminal lawyer Bill Potts said people defrauded had a legal recourse and could launch civil action. But he said the best thing people could do was report the fraud to police.
Wieland was granted bail to appear on December 13.
March - Claims she has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer
April 30 - Closes her Townsville beauty salon to "give myself and my health the very best chance"
June - Claims the disease has progressed to stage 4 ovarian cancer and she has less than a year to live
August 14 - A GoFundMe campaign is launched to "treat" the cancer which raises more than $50,000 in a matter of weeks
October 18 - Charged with fraud in relation to the fundraiser
- additional reporting Thomas Chamberlin, Chris Clarke