Don’t get scammed
One of Calgary’s most wanted, Kristopher Nicholas Cook, 28, was arrested in Victoria B.C. on Sept. 11 on two counts of fraud over $5,000. Cook held a fundraiser at Calgary nightclub Broken City in July, 2011 to raise money for his cancer treatments. It came to light shortly after that Cook had lied about having cancer. Through a variety of social media sites – a Tumblr blog, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter – acquaintances of Cook’s began to piece together the story.
While despicable, it’s certainly not the first time someone has pretended to have an illness for their own financial gain.
In 2010, 23-year-old Ashley Kirilow of Burlington, Ont. faked cancer through an online fundraising campaign. She was sent to Disneyland and made thousands of dollars before being caught. Wikipedia lists 12 additional high-profile cancer scams.
The most notable case, Shona Holmes, claimed to have a life-threatening brain tumor that was not operated on by the Canadian healthcare system in a timely manner. Holmes went on to sue the Ontario provincial government, testify before US Congress, and appear in Republican ads seeking to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act in the United States. The American clinic that treated Holmes insists that she had a cyst that would have eventually caused her to go blind, but as she refuses to release her medical records, this has yet to be independently confirmed.
Obviously, most of the fault lies with the people who perpetrate these schemes. However, some blame can be put on those who didn’t bother to look into the cases a little deeper.
After Holmes had her first televised appearance and began to publish opinion editorials in American papers, notable Canadians such as Jack Layton as well as doctors and neurosurgeons began to speak up. Holmes refused to release paperwork showing her medical records.
In Cook’s case, friends were giving Cook money, driving him to and from “medical appointments”, and doing his work for him – all without hearing the names of his doctors, seeing medication he was taking, or even being allowed to accompany him inside at the hospital. Although it might be harsh to expect a friend to verify these things, Cook had a history of theft and lies – being fired for shoplifting from the Rocket on 17th ave., saying he was Jewish (he is not), and saying that his sister had died of cancer (Cook never had a sister). Suspicions only began to be raised after Cook was frequently partying and abusing drugs and alcohol late into the night after supposed radiation treatments, and when he came home with a new Macbook Pro the night after the fundraiser.
It’s important to be wary of unsubstantiated claims people make, especially in Cook’s case when he didn’t have a single person backing up his story.
If Broken City had asked for one medical document before agreeing to host a fundraiser, perhaps a few hundred people wouldn’t have been duped out of their money. Although it crosses into victim-blaming, it’s important to have self-awareness and to question things. If you wouldn’t believe a guy on the street who asks for twenty bucks to get a bus ticket back home, or a Nigerian prince who emails you with a “very good business proposition”, why would you believe someone who says, “Hey, I’ve got cancer, help me out with some cash”?
As most students already know, it’s important to check your sources.