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Coming Down With a Bad Case of Fraud

Keyboard with a "donate now" button
By A.J. Firstman | Last updated on

A woman named Amanda Riley did something very stupid in 2012, then kept doing it for seven more years. She is currently serving a five-year sentence for one count of wire fraud—a sentence that may seem harsh until you learn about what exactly she did to earn it. This woman faked a very serious illness in order to get donations for her alleged treatments.

It’s hard to say why Riley falsified her diagnosis or why she chose to blog about her so-called journey over the course of seven years, though it isn’t hard to guess. Every American has heard of at least one GoFundMe page dedicated to raising money to pay for medical expenses, so Riley probably figured that she could use the pity and magnanimity of her fellow man to her advantage.  

The nuances of Riley’s motivations are a matter of debate. Her actions are not.

The Hodgkin's Hoax

In 2012, Riley decided it would be a good idea to fake a serious illness called Hodgkin’s lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer that can quickly spread through the body. It can be deadly if left unchecked (like most cancers), but the 5-year survival rate for patients who receive adequate and timely treatment can range from 83% to 95%, depending on how far the cancer has spread. The treatments are almost as aggressive as the cancer itself, and they don’t come cheap. The necessary chemo and radiotherapy can cost as much as $200,000 or more for the first year of treatment without insurance, according to the Lymphoma Research Foundation.

That figure should send chills down the spine of anyone who isn’t currently insured or who has ever fallen prey to the financial vampirism of the American healthcare system. Riley saw things a bit differently. Where most would see pain and financial ruin, Riley saw an opportunity.

Taking Advantage

Riley launched her campaign in 2012 with a personal blog called "Lymphoma Can Suck It," which focused on the so-called “facts” of her "diagnosis" and her "journey." She linked this blog to a "support page," complete with a "donate now" button. And that was just the start.

Riley’s little start-up to full-on fraud in short order. She forged medical documents and doctors notes. She announced that she had gone into remission before the "cancer" came back stronger and more serious than ever. Her deceit was so thorough that she even convinced her own family that she was actually suffering from cancer. She even went so far as to shave her head while she "underwent chemotherapy."  

All this could have been written off as a mentally unstable woman (who was also the principal of a private school) using unscrupulous methods to seek attention. But then Riley took it a step further: she started accepting donations.

The "donate now" button on Riley’s support page wasn’t just for show. Family, friends, and even members of her church clicked the button and poured their funds and well-wishes into a funnel that ended in Riley’s personal bank account. And then Riley went even further. She collected donations from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, a CrossFit fundraiser, raffles, sales, and eBay auctions—one of which involved an electric guitar signed by country musicians LeAnn Rimes and John Michael Montgomery.

By the time she was caught in 2019, Riley had collected some $105,513 from 349 different people and organizations. She didn’t spend a dime of it on cancer treatments—mostly because she didn’t have cancer—and instead put it toward personal expenses.

Riley’s journey started and ended without cancer, but not without a lot of other trouble. She unsurprisingly made everyone in her life very mad at her, lost her job as principal of the private school, and was forced to move her family to Texas.

Oh yeah—and she was charged with enough counts of fraud and wire fraud to earn a potential sentence of 20 years in prison.

After being made to repay every ill-gotten dollar to the victims of her scam, Riley’s sentence was reduced to five years in prison with three years of probation. Her lawyers successfully argued that she wasn’t necessarily a bad person, just someone who had gotten in too deep and kept digging, arguments that were supported by statements provided by her family.

Riley actually got off relatively lightly in the grand scheme of things. But you might want to be careful next time you're in a charitable mood.

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