Despicable GoFundMe scammers use dead child’s photo to raise money

Have you seen the tweets about Elle, a little girl who needs $200,000 for a lifesaving cancer treatment? Her GoFundMe campaign made it easy to send the desperate family a few bucks. But here’s the problem: Elle isn’t real.

The photo used on the campaign page was a photo of Elena Desserich, a little girl who died from brain cancer. The story used on the campaign page was the story of Ali, a teen with alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma. Is there anything more despicable than capitalizing on the suffering of real children and their grieving families?

The scumbags behind “Save Elle” are using bots on Twitter to send hundreds of retweets imploring people to help the little girl receive lifesaving cancer treatment.

fake tweets

When people began questioning the validity of Elle’s story, the user disabled comments on the page. Word continued to spread on Twitter as people retweeted the spam message without thinking. And who can blame them? Few things are as heartbreaking as a child with a serious illness. Compassion is exactly what these scammers are banking on. Before the fraudulent GoFundMe page was removed, it managed to raise over $800.

About 1 in 300 boys and 1 in 333 girls will be diagnosed with cancer before turning 20. Because of the nature of social media, many of us know someone with a child fighting cancer. It makes it all the more infuriating to see people unknowingly contributing funds to a fraudulent account of childhood cancer when very real families are struggling to make ends meet while facing an unspeakably difficult fight.

Samantha Campen is familiar with childhood cancer. When her friend’s son was diagnosed with cancer just shy of his first birthday, she set up fundraising efforts to help the family. To her, it’s particularly violating to see people abusing the trust and giving nature of others. “It boils down to this: the more these bogus sites pop up, the more skeptical people are going to be to reach out and help. And that hurts everyone, especially the kids in need. Personally, I can’t live like that. I’d rather assume the best and give when and where I can.”

Don’t turn your back on families in need, but do a little digging if you’re touched by a story and there’s an opportunity to offer support. Active social media accounts are a quick way to make sure you’re dealing with real people. Run a reverse image search if you’re suspicious about the origins of photos used to illustrate a child with cancer or another chronic illness.

These kinds of horrible violations shouldn’t harden your heart. Be aware that terrible people exist and want to prey on the goodness in others, but keep reaching out. The internet may have given scammers a tool, but it’s also given us a way to connect and support each other in incredible times of need.

More on childhood cancer

The day I was diagnosed with cancer… at 16
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is like nowhere else on earth
An NFL dad’s touching pep talk to his daughter