A Michigan court sentenced a woman for defrauding more than 400 people after lying about having stage 4 breast cancer. Candace Streng of Brighton, Michigan started the scam in 2015. Streng told friends and family via Facebook that she had stage 4 breast cancer. In 2017, she posted that new treatments for her cancer were available, but insurance would not cover the procedures. Friends and family set up a GoFundMe and held a benefit for her. The fundraising efforts lead to Streng receiving more than $37,000.
According to court records, prosecutors say Streng updated her friends and family via Facebook that she had breast cancer in 2015. Throughout several years, she continued to share details about her journey with cancer.
However, prosecutors say, Streng didn’t have cancer. Streng admitted to the court she committed the crime to get attention from her friends and family.
Then in early 2017, Streng changed her plot to garner more attention. She let her friends know doctors told her about new treatments for cancer. Unfortunately, her insurance would not cover the necessary therapies. Compelled and sympathetic to Streng’s plight, friends set up a GoFundMe account for her.
Through the GoFundMe friends and strangers donated more than $31,000.00 to Streng for the cancer treatments. Then in June of 2o17, her friends held her a benefit at a local restaurant. The benefit raised $6,000.00 which fundraisers believed would pay for her treatments.
Local media published articles about Streng. Friends believed Streng was dying, and her chemo drugs would cost over $6,000.00 every 21 days. She told them all of her treatments were exhausted. Streng worked as a nanny during this time, and several of the mom’s in her playgroup helped raise money for her.
There is little information about how the scam unraveled. One report suggested that Streng told a friend that she lied about having cancer. Eventually, the GoFundMe account was reported for fraud. Police got involved with the investigation. Through the investigation, police determined the entire story Streng told was untrue.
Then in January 2018, Police notified the local media that the GoFundMe account associated with Candace Streng was fake. Police worked with GoFundMe to refund all the donors that paid for the fake treatments.
GoFundMe released a statement following Streng’s arrest:
“Our platform is backed by the GoFundMe Guarantee, which means that in the rare case that GoFundMe, law enforcement or a user finds donations are misused, donors are fully protected and will get their money back. Additionally, it’s important to remember that misuse is extremely rare on our platform.
Campaigns with misuse make up less than one-tenth of one percent of all campaigns. With that said, there are unfortunate and rare instances where people create campaigns with the intention to take advantage of others’ generosity. In the small handful of cases where misuse occurs, GoFundMe takes action to resolve the issue. In this case, the user has been banned, and we are working with law enforcement officials to ensure donors are refunded.”
Then in April, police arrested Streng for the crimes. After her arrest, she denied that she lied about having cancer. When the GoFundMe account was shut down by police, Streng reached out to friends to ask them to donate money to her via PayPal.
Livingston County Circuit Court charged Streng with using false pretenses to obtain between $20,000 and $50,000, a crime punishable by a maximum of 15 years. In September, Streng pled guilty to the charge.Streng’s sentencing for the crime was last week. She pleaded for leniency from the judge, and she felt her time behind bars since April was sufficient for crimes. Streng has paid back around $19,000 to her victims thus far.
She said she feels remorseful for her crimes. At her sentencing, she blamed depression and anxiety for her inability to make friends. Streng admitted that she enjoyed the attention she got during the time she lied about having cancer. Only now, she said, does she realize she could have just been herself and made friends.
Several of her victims spoke at the sentencing. Despite their anger, one of her victims, Sarah Bees didn’t think prison was an appropriate sentence for her crime. Bees felt that Streng needed extensive mental health counseling.
Unfortunately, the judge did not agree. He believed that her crime was too extensive to get a slap on the wrist. He sentenced her to 28 months to 15 years in prison for the crime. The judge did say he believes Streng can reform herself due to her age, and he feels hopeful for her future.
For now, Streng will get credit for the days she has served in county jail toward her sentence.
GoFundMe fraud is not common, but the digital platform lends itself to criminals taking advantage of the platform. To avoid scams on GoFundMe, avoid giving money to people you do not know on the site. If you do suspect a fraudulent account, report the account to GoFundme for review.
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