A Pennsylvania woman told sympathetic donors on Facebook and the fundraising platform GoFundMe that she was struggling to deal with the costs of treatment for a rare cancer — but authorities say it was all an elaborate lie.
Jessica Cornell Smith, 32, of Uwchlan Township in Chester County was arrested this week and charged with theft by deception-false impression and receiving stolen property, according to NBC10 in Philadelphia.
Smith managed to raise over $10,000 through her fundraisers meant to offset costs for a rare form of colon cancer, Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer (HNPCC). However, friends of Smith said they started to notice irregularities with her fundraisers fairly quickly.
"She was very vague about her diagnosis and treatment and really suggestive photos, like a selfie on the bathroom floor, 'about to give up on life but also please donate to my GoFundMe,'" Terri Coleman, Smith’s high school friend, told NBC10.
“This is a disturbing situation where she preyed upon the good nature of other people,” Chester County’s First Assistant Attorney Michael Noone said, according to CBS Philly. "She took advantage of other people’s generosity by lying about having cancer."
Police had a break in the case when Smith's husband went to authorities with his concerns about his wife, telling police he had no medical or insurance records showing that his wife, who was covered under his insurance, had been treated for cancer and directly accusing her of committing fraud.
He also told police that he had overheard his wife on the phone with her employer pretending to be a nurse at Penn Medicine, calling to say she needed time off from work because she was recovering from cancer treatment.
Authorities also believe that she lied about the death of her father to get off work on another occasion, CBS Philly reports.
Smith's father is alive and lives in the same township as her, according to officials.
Strangely enough, while the investigation was ongoing Smith herself filed a report with police — claiming she was being harassed by people who believed she was faking her cancer. She provided police with documents claiming to show proof of her chemotherapy treatments.
Police say a review of these documents showed they were fraudulent, and other records obtained by police showed no treatment history at Penn as Smith had claimed, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
A spokesperson for GoFundMe said it was cooperating with law enforcement and working to return all donations. It’s not clear whether the money she received through her separate Facebook page will be returned.
Smith was arraigned and is currently out on bail. She is scheduled to return for a preliminary hearing next week.
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