Rosemary Newell faced one of the most heartbreaking situations a parent could ever imagine: her 7-month-old daughter was terminally ill with brain cancer, and eventually passed away from the disease. In an effort to rally support, she created a Facebook page for her daughter that gathered more than 20,000 likes and many kind strangers offering their encouragement. However, the page also led to a devastating Facebook scam.
On Rosemary’s Facebook page, a woman named Dawn Phaneuf offered to set up an online fundraiser to help pay for the child’s funeral costs. Phaneuf said she would crochet baby outfits and sell them, donating 75 percent of her profits to Rosemary. However, Rosemary became suspicious when Phaneuf kept dodging her questions about the money, and she reached out to her supporters who had placed orders with the woman. She discovered that none of them had received the outfits they’d ordered.
Once the scam was uncovered, Rosemary advised all of her supporters to file a complaint with PayPal, the service that handled the “donations.” (For her part, Phaneuf claims she was hacked and had nothing to do with the scam.)
It’s truly awful, but scams like this one are nothing new. They’re designed to profit from people’s natural tendency to want to help—and to take advantage of those who need the help most.
“It’s getting a family at their weakest moment,” Rosemary said. “When someone offers you help, the first thing you think of is not, ‘Is someone scamming us?’ It makes you feel like total crap. Because in a way I felt responsible, because I put this out there and basically led them all to her.”