Cancer fraudsters outed

Like the Earl of Shaftesbury, the man who coined the idea of the “Noble Savage”, I’m generally pretty confident that the people are born “good.” When I hear a story about a woman like Ashley Anne Kirilow, I wonder what powerful forces must have warped her into one of the most villainous types of people in the world: those that prey on the generosity and good-will of others.

In August, Kirilow’s gig was up. For several months, she had faked cancer in order to receive donations for her impending wedding. It began when she found a lump in her breast. After a mammogram, it was determined that the lump was benign, however, Kirilow not only began telling people that she had breast cancer, but that she also had brain cancer and stomach cancer.

She shaved her head, plucked out her eyebrows and held benefit concerts for her imaginary charity, Change for a Cure, which various other reports claim “raised” up to $20,000. Not only was she stealing from strangers who donated money to her cause, but her friends and family as well, who truly believed that she was dying of cancer.

While she claims to have only received around $5,000 in donations, she has since rightfully turned herself in and is being charged with six counts of fraud. If convicted, Kirilow faces up to 15 years in prison.

Shockingly enough, cancer has become a gravy train scam for several other women in recent months. Three other women have since been revealed to have done exactly the same thing. A woman from New York, Jessica Vega, claimed that she was battling terminal leukemia so that she too could pay for her wedding. Dina Leone from Baltimore claimed, after the truth about her “illness” was revealed in June, that her husband had “forced” her to pretend she had cancer. Among those victimized by her crime were two young people whose parents had died of cancer. And on November 9, yet another Ontario native, Jessica Leeder, admitted to fraudulently receiving donations over the Internet for an imaginary illness.

The crimes that these women committed were bolstered in large part by the Internet. All four of these women advertised their supposed ill will over social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Before the Internet became popular, money was more likely to be donated to larger organizations such as the Red Cross or the Canadian Cancer Society. However, the Internet enables people to not only donate to more specific causes, but to specific people as well. Most would not even question donating money towards the cause of someone for whom they feel great sympathy, especially if the person in question is someone they know.

With the holiday season approaching, these crimes put all donations to charity under suspicion, putting what we previously believed to be great gifts in perspective. Are we really providing a goat to a South American village in need? Or are we paying off some 21-year-old socialite’s credit card bill? It will be interesting to see how the news stories about women like Ashley Anne Kirilow affect donations to charities as gifts or simply acts of kindness this year.

What is even more disconcerting is how these individual cases of selfishness will affect people who are legitimately sick with life threatening illnesses. There are many women who are, as a result of asking for help over social networking sites, receiving treatment that they would be unable to afford otherwise, especially with the price of health care in the United States. Sometimes donations that would not be received if it were not for the Internet are the difference between life and death. It has to be wondered how many lives are going to be lost as a result of scepticism that these woman too are “faking it.”

It is disgusting how many women are committing this crime and getting away with it. However, while they are clearly mentally disturbed, they don’t deserve our sympathy. I was shocked at the amount of sympathy Ashley Kirilow is receiving over the Internet, with a poster on one forum calling her a “poor girl,” after Kirilow’s claims that she had a terrible childhood. Even more people refer to Kirilow’s actions as “a cry for help.” Really, no one becomes a bad person overnight – like getting good grades, being a bad enough person to think about defrauding someone takes practice – millions of bad personal decisions that she had made, led her to this fate.

Thankfully, in all cases these people were caught and punished. Hopefully, the publicity of these cases will be a call for similar fraudsters to immediately stop what they are doing and realize the severity of their actions.

//Katie Shore, Writer

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com