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I Watched My Friend Dying on Facebook. But It Was All a GoFundMe Scam.

How a group of friends ended up donating over $100,000 to a sick friend — who was perfectly fine

Sarah Treleaven
Published in
23 min readOct 21, 2020

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Several winters ago, I watched as my old classmate Cindy was publicly dying on the internet.

I did this on Facebook, where her wisecracking, self-deprecating tone suddenly gave way to a somber third-person announcement that Cindy had been secretly battling chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), a little-known neurological disorder with wide-ranging symptoms.

Cindy and I were not friends, exactly. We were acquaintances who had known each other in middle and high school in suburban Ontario. But we reconnected on Facebook in 2014, when she sent me a friend request shortly before the news of her illness broke. (OneZero is anonymizing Cindy out of respect for her family’s privacy.)

I probably hadn’t thought of Cindy in about 15 years, but I had an affectionate recollection. I also had a vague awareness of her family dysfunction when we were growing up, but she was always both funny and quick to laugh. I remember a slapstick need for attention tainted by a darker undertone — the proverbial clown crying on the inside. Scrolling through her pre-CIDP Facebook posts, I felt a sense of relief that she appeared happy — going to weddings, attending “girls’ nights,” finding work in childcare, and fawning over her apple-cheeked nephew.

Before her illness was announced, Cindy had been a chronic oversharer. She made jokes about her struggles with weight loss and her inability to nail down a boyfriend, and she invited all of her Facebook friends to her upcoming wedding, where she planned to marry a bag of Jalapeno & Cheddar Doritos. She also posted about temporarily abandoning waxing to grow an impressively robust mustache to fundraise for “Movember.”

But after the CIDP announcement, she disappeared from her own Facebook feed as close advocates took over and started posting on her behalf. They also added a new group page — Help Save Cindy’s Life — to update Cindy’s friends on the fine details of her failing health. She had built a tight-knit community, and now they were rallying.

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Sarah Treleaven
OneZero
Writer for

Writer and podcast host/producer in Nova Scotia