Our daughter Angela (not her real name), who's 15, showed us a Facebook message she received from her friend Lauren (not her real name), who's 15, it said basically that Lauren had been faking having cancer, and that it was just a scam to gain money. The Facebook private message was sent on Tuesday. Angela showed us it this morning, we didn't ask her about her social media, she told us directly. She showed us a message from Lauren's mum which basically equated to "ha ha, we scammed you!"

Angela doesn't use Facebook often, except to communicate with her cousins.

Lauren appeared in our local paper (a small local one) with an appeal to raise money for the cancer treatment.

We know Lauren in person. Lauren goes to the same school as Angela and they were friends since they were 12. We know Lauren's parents and thought they were nice people but now should we be wary of her?

Now our daughter is devastated, and isn't trusting of new people, she doesn't even want to go out to events with us, even though we've got a holiday to Spain booked in the next few weeks. Normally she looks forward to holidays... now she's dreading it. She said she's had nightmares and flashbacks about this since Tuesday.

Me and my husband are worried about this, what do we do next?

  • 30
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    – Stephie
    Jun 25, 2016 at 22:08
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    Possibly silly question #1 -- do you (now) know it's a scam, or did you just get a shocking message which may or may not be authentic and true?
    – user11971
    Jun 26, 2016 at 7:56
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    From your question it's not clear whether the only evidence of "the scam" is this Facebook message or whether this is now a well known fact that the police is investigating as fraud. Keep in mind that Facebook is not a reliable source of information. so first of all make absolutely sure that that family was trying to scam people.
    – Bakuriu
    Jun 26, 2016 at 8:02
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    Possibly silly question #2 -- the way you describe things sounds like Lauren was trying to reveal her parents duplicity to you, or even make a cry for help, but you and your daughter jumped straight to "Lauren betrayed us" and didn't think much past that. Can you clarify what feelings and reactions you and your daughter have and whom they are aimed at?
    – user11971
    Jun 26, 2016 at 8:04
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    First you should find out which parts of this story are true, which are lies...
    – PatrickT
    Jun 27, 2016 at 9:14

10 Answers 10


I'm from the UK too.

Call the parents and check the message was actually sent by them, it seems rather stupid that they would volunteer that information for no reason. I have had my Facebook hacked around four times usually by friends but once by a complete idiot who messaged all my family and friends some mean stuff.

If she has admitted it and you know it was a scam, you have an obligation tell the police as soon as possible for two major reasons;

  1. Lauren may keep on doing it creating more victims and more misery.
  2. It is important to show your daughter that people are held accountable for their crimes. It would send a powerful message if she sees Lauren getting away with it.
  • 37
    This is an important point. People who gain access to others' accounts will often do things like this as some sort of "prank" or to damage reputations. It's impossible to know the truth behind a posting to a web site without confirming it with some other form of communication.
    – barbecue
    Jun 26, 2016 at 20:13
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    That's right, a trickster would loose all the gain by admiting the fraud. @bedfordsh585kpl, be very cautious with messages from social media, because it is much more probable the message you've got is false and Laureen with her parens are actual victims, than Angela and you being tricked. Double check — and when you are sure what's going on, check once again. Talk to Laureen, talk to her parents. It is too sensitive issue, do not hurry to judge. You may be hurt, but if the FB message was faked, they will be hurt much, much harder.
    – CiaPan
    Jun 26, 2016 at 23:12
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    This is really important. Consider the age we live in, and the age at which children and teens start accessing technology. They aren't (generally) mature enough to know about "good security practices" when it comes to their online presence. It is plausible that Lauren simply left any of her 10 devices unlocked, and someone malicious sent that message; perhaps it was one of Lauren's "high school enemies". Communicate directly with the family. I really doubt that someone who scammed the public via newspaper would dare leak that information, because it's obviously illegal activity. Jun 27, 2016 at 15:09
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    Just wanna point that your account was most definitely not hacked. More likely, you gave access to it by not being careful. This opinion of mine is reinforced by the fact you admit it was always people who knew you who gained access. It is no excuse for those that abused your incompetence though. Jun 28, 2016 at 12:35
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    @Crowley That definition is already based on misunderstanding of the original meaning. And it clearly is inaccurate as no one calls accessing unlocked computer - or a car - hacking. 'Hacking' in this context is used by clueless users because they think the task actually was not easy or would not admit so. Jun 28, 2016 at 14:15

Give it time; time helps a lot. It's only been a few days, and this is quite a shock, especially to your daughter who probably worried for her friend's health/life. She's experienced a profound betrayal. It will be deeply disturbing for a while, but the intensity will fade with time.

Whatever else this is, it's also an opportunity to talk to your daughter about how there are people in the world who hold different values than you do, but reassure her that most people are decent and trustworthy. Lauren is only one person; an important person, but still only one of many. Take your vacation and take some opportunities to point out the goodness you see in others.

Lauren goes to the same school as Angela and they were friends since they were 12. We know Lauren's parents and thought they were nice people but now should we be wary of her?

Of course you should. She and her parents are people with an unethical worldview. They are dishonest and they are taking advantage of the goodness of other people. It's hard enough to form trusting relationships when people play by the same rules; how can you trust people who completely disregard a value you hold highly? But wariness (implying wisdom) does not necessarily mean turning your back on Lauren.

It might help your daughter to have a talk with "Lauren" to find out if she was coerced by her parents into doing this, which is a real possibility (since her parents know she doesn't have cancer yet allowed this to go on.) If she was coerced, it might help your daughter to know that initially at any rate, this was not Lauren's idea. Lauren may well be a victim here of a kind of parental abuse. She will pay a very high price when the truth comes out, and your daughter needs to decide for herself (with some help) if she will want to stay friends with Lauren or whether the relationship is broken beyond repair. (Some of this might depend on whether Lauren comes out with the truth.)

If there's a school counselor she can talk with about this, encourage her to do so. If the parties involved in the scam are trying still to keep it a secret, the counselor should be bound by the nature of her relationship with your daughter to keep it a secret if your daughter doesn't want to expose her friend.

You haven't asked what you should do with this information. If it was only given to your daughter, it puts you all in a tough spot.

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    Really good answer, agreed to all points, especially talking with Lauren first.
    – ave
    Jun 26, 2016 at 13:55
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    Also, just to mention it, there is actually a psychiatric disorder where people invent an illness, either for themselves (Munchausen syndrome ), or for someone else ("Imposed on Another", or formerly "Munchausen by proxy"). Obviously, we cannot diagnose over the Internet, but this is something to keep in mind.
    – sleske
    Jun 27, 2016 at 9:13

Angela got message from her friend via Facebook with "Ha, Ha, I've scammed you." Who guarantees to you that the message is true and the cancer was all made up?

Calm down. What do (did) you think about them? What do (did) Angela think about them?

Who will profit from such message? If the cancer was faked; why confess when there is no doubt against you? If it was not; why be dishonest?

From that point of view, the message was faked and Angela was not meant to be humiliated — she was chosen as a tool to humiliate Laureen. And it is quite probable that Angela is not the only one who got the message. In that scenario there is no time to waste waiting.

I suggest meeting Laureen's parents and discuss it and get sure whether the message is fake or not. "Hey Tom, Angela got this message, are you sure your account wasn't hacked?" You can also prepare evidence of such statement (medical report). Then talk to Angela and explain what has happened and why. Give her a time and support her.

In both cases try to bring to the end — a scam or slander was commited.

Maybe, Laureen and her parents are the ones who need the help. If they are target of slander, try to support them — all three of you. It looks like Laureen was (meant to be) Angela's best friend; if you prove Laureen is trustworthy, the nightmares should fade away and she will learn to double-check information.


Assuming everything you've been told is true, it's an example of a "cancer fraud" scam. It's a crime and it's more common than most people realise.

Like all alleged crimes, it's the job of the police to establish if it's true. They can do things you can't, like check actual hospital records. If it turns out it was a malicious prank (maybe someone hacked both Lauren and her parent's Facebook accounts?), it'll be very easy for the police to confirm that Lauren really did have cancer, then judge if it's worth investigating the slander/hacking.

Scambusters have a page on it. I recommend reading the whole page, here's an excert:

How this type of cancer fraud works

In many instances, people fake cancer, allowing friends and family to raise funds to support medical treatments that never happen. Communities rally around the thieves.

Reports have documented that cancer fraud thieves have raised as much as $40,000 and spent as little as 3 days in jail for their crimes!

Unfortunately, if you’re questioning the validity of a cancer victim’s claims, it’s difficult to ask a cancer victim to ‘prove it.’ After all, that seems quite heartless.

Additionally, the police are finding that it isn’t difficult for cancer fraud thieves to forge documentation that proves their claim.

They advise:

If you’ve already donated and have since discovered that you’ve been a victim of cancer fraud, contact your local police. Many of these cases are successfully prosecuted. Visit our charity fraud page for more information.

The important point: if this is true, it's a criminal offence. Other people have suggested that you should sleuth up and investigate if it's true: but that's the police's job. Collect as much evidence as you can, including talking to friends who might be in the same position as you, take it to the police, and then it's up to them to find out what really happened.

There have been several examples of cancer fraud cases his in the UK press in recent years. As usual it's the extreme cases that get reported on where victims lost large sums of money. Here's one, here's another. Often the lies get out of hand and escalate, large sums of money change hands, and victims are traumatised by the betrayal of trust as much as the financial loss. Here's a very extreme example of how the lies can escalate when people feel they're getting away with it, and how elaborate they can become in the most extreme cases.

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    Indeed. Police should get involved in any case, either to proceed against those that faked cancer, or against those who broke into their Facebook account.
    – Ángel
    Jun 27, 2016 at 22:41

All the answers and comments have addressed almost every possible angle, so I wanted to focus on this:

Now our daughter is devastated, and isn't trusting of new people, she doesn't even want to go out to events with us, even though we've got a holiday to Spain booked in the next few weeks. Normally she looks forward to holidays... now she's dreading it. She said she's had nightmares and flashbacks about this since Tuesday.

I have to say that this sounds pathological to me; maybe you should consult with a doctor/therapist? I'm not saying that one shouldn't feel bad for being used (I consider myself particularly sensitive at that) but "not going to events" and "dreading a holiday" sound completely disproportionate. Just a couple of days ago I had to deal with my teenage daughter being scammed off $500 when she tried to sell her camera; of course she felt bad about it, but these are not life-changing events (as having real cancer is).

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    Good point. But I think it is step two after finding out where the truth lies.
    – Crowley
    Jun 29, 2016 at 8:14

Welcome to se.

There are many possibilities behind the scene..

Lauren might have a different reason behind this, it being a legit or not is totally based on her ethics, and if course Angela shouldn't get ideas that it's ok to do this.

Misunderstanding between friends happen all the time, communication would solve 80% and the other 20% might not be worth sorting it out. If Angela thinks there might be a different reason, Lauren a good friend and she wouldn't hide such a thing from Angela, she can always talk to Lauren and ask her why she would do such a thing and explain couple of consequences. If Angela thinks it's not worth poking her nose, stay away.

If I were Angela's parent I, would explain the above and add the following advice World is not always fair and honest all the time, Angela shouldn't be sensitive and deprive herself when such back sets. It happens all the in real world. Leasson lernt, move on.. Yes its hard to digest the fact that your best friend is doing this to the world, agreed. But that's not the end of the world. And there are going to plenty of other friends she will/can always make. In the flip side: if you keep judging people, you can't love them

PS: I'm no expert in parenting/cancer/facebook 😎

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    "it being a legit or not is totally based on her ethics" What? No. Lying about having cancer to scam your friends out of money is definitely not 'legit' regardless of your ethics or lack thereof. There's a reason that this is illegal in most jurisdictions.
    – reirab
    Jun 27, 2016 at 19:07
  • Ha ha ha yes, but remember- teenage kids! Reminds me of my teenage time, I've cheated a friend that I have some interesting drug in my pocket and with a blink of an eye he went to my teacher.. Blew up like crazy and it almost went to cops.. ha ha no regrets for both me and my friend today, it only makes me smile at how silly we were when we were kids and we don't care if its legal/legit/ethical its all a passing stage.. And I'm sure Angela and Lauren will laugh at it one day.. Jun 27, 2016 at 19:31
  • @AnandRockzz Well, this seems to me to be Cyanid&Happiness-style prank. I will find you and I will wear purple shirt.
    – Crowley
    Jun 28, 2016 at 19:24

Things to learn for your daughter:

  1. If her best friend says she has cancer, be happy if you find out she is lying, because it's better than if she had said the truth.
  2. Any news that you hear, don't react rashly, take your time to find out what really happened, and why it happened, and react to it properly when you have thought about it.
  3. It's Ok to lock yourself into your room for half an hour and scream against the wall as long as you come out and feel better and calmer after it, and as long as only your mother or father hear it :-)
  4. If the girl was indeed lying, that's her problem, not yours.
  • I won't be happy about finding out that my (now ex-) betrayed me even if that *@! bastard will live long and prosper. The memories of living Laureen-liar will hurt until forgotten/forgiven; the memories of trustful Laureen will comfort until forgotten.
    – Crowley
    Jun 28, 2016 at 19:08
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    So you would want Laureen to die to make the daughter happy? You think a friend dying is comforting? You effectively demand that there should be a death sentence for lying.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 28, 2016 at 22:11
  • I wrote that I won't be happy for being betrayed. There is no information how I would feel if not. Memories of good friend are soothing (comforting) the hurts when he passed away, memories of traitor are hurting anytime you can see the traitor. If we take Angela's point of view literally ad absurdum, yes I demand death sentence for liars. You seem to have twisted mind - I like it! You took the most idiosycratic meaninig of my words and expanded it. Awesome!
    – Crowley
    Jun 29, 2016 at 8:04

This one is tricky.

Let me state that I am American, and while I don't see what that has to do with anything, out side of the legal stuff, it seems important to you, so, take that into consideration.

It's hard to tell where to start. I would start by explaining to my child that these things happen. That not all people are good, and that not all people are bad. Sometimes with think someone is our friend and they turn out to be a bad person. I would also stress that because a friend did a bad thing, that doesn't make them a bad person all the way around, and it doesn't make them not a friend. I would stress that a person can be a friend even if they do bad things or are a bad person, and that is one of the most complicated things about friendship. I would also stress that she (Angela) needs to think on it, and really decide if she want's to remain friends with someone that has such a different out look on things. I would try to stress, using other real world examples, that people's morality is often different and that while Angela thinks what happened is a bad thing her friend may not see it as a bad thing. I would stress that dealing with these types of complications are part of what it means to be an adult, and that she is becoming an adult.

That should address the "she did bad stuff" part of the problem. Next up is the betrayal. "My fiend has cancer" would really stress most of us. We would worry about them, and spend some time wondering about their future. I would try to explain that she (Angela) needs to really consider if she can trust her friend any more, and if not, how are they going to continue to be friends? I would tell Angela some stories from my past, where I had to deal with similar betrayal. The general idea is to let her know she is not alone in this and it happens to all of us. All of us had to deal with something like this (the loss of trust), and Angela needs to know that. She needs to know that it's not something she did or some fault of hers, but just part of being an adult.

Next up, I would (maybe you would not) stress that she needs to do the legal thing. Friend or not, she has a legal responsibility to report the information to the police. This will be stressful for her, but important. It will create a "break" of responsibility. A clear line of "Look, your my friend, but I can not support, and will not support you breaking the law and defrauding people." This will allow Angela, in time, to be able to say, "I did the right thing, even if she didn't." Everyone feels different about this part, and that's ok. You will have to decide what's right for your family. I believe in "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. (Edmund Burke)" but you may take a different approach. The important thing is that Angela feel that she is doing what is right, even though that may be against the friendship. This will be hard for her.

The last part if this is "She said she's had nightmares and flashbacks about this since Tuesday." That is pretty troubling. First you need to decide if that is a real thing or not. I doubt "flashbacks". That may be being over dramatic. Anyone that has real flashbacks because of something like this needs some help adjusting and it may be time to see a psychiatrist. Remember that flashbacks are a symptom of serious mental health issues. That being said, shes 14 and probably just doesn't know how to describe what she is feeling and has picked a word that she has seen on TV or in books. If you decide that she is having real flashbacks then do see a therapist. Nightmares would be much more understanding. We dream to learn. As this is the first time she has had to deal with this, it's normal that she have dreams about it, specially while she is trying to figure out what she should do and what it means.

Unfortunately with nightmares, there's not much to do. Make sure she goes to bed happy. Amp up the new experiences so that she has more to process in her sleep. But remember that dreaming is a natural way for our minds to figure out stuff. Nightmares are just bad dreams. So this is not surprising. I would tell her, that it's normal. I would share with her a time that I had nightmares, and explain that there a natural way to figure out things. In the morning, I would try and talk to her about them, and more importantly how she feels about what happened in them. She is a teenager, so that may not work, but it's worth a try.

When it comes to hanging out with Laura, take a break. No matter what is decided about continuing the friendship, taking a break is not a bad idea. I would go with, internal to the family, "While you decide what you want to do about your friendship with Laura, we will just take a break from them. No harm in that. Friends take breaks at times." I would try to emphises that it's Angela's decision, and that you will support her either way. I would also stress that you have to make decisions as the parent, so there may be some new restrictions no matter what, but that you will support Angela's decision either way. You need to be careful not to turn this into "Wow I wish we could hang with Laura's parents but noooo you had to go and make x decision." While you may never actually do that, you need to make sure you don't come off like that. The idea is to support her decision regarding the continued friendship, but also make sure that Angela and the rest of your family are safe.

  • So you presume that Laureen and her parents made it all up for sure? If there are nightmares one can identify them as dreams, but when someone dreams reality...
    – Crowley
    Jun 29, 2016 at 8:23
  • On the first part: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Splitting_(psychology)#Melanie_Klein So the basics about people being good and bad should be acquired during early childhood.
    – dragi
    Jun 29, 2016 at 10:27
  • @Crowley, doesn't matter if it's real or not (the faking of cancer). Angela thinks it's real and is obviously reacting to it. As for dreams remember that dreams are how we process experiences. Sometimes there abstract but sometimes there just a "replay" of what happened. A lot of times they are odd variations on what happened.
    – coteyr
    Jun 29, 2016 at 11:00
  • @helleye, yes the basics about identifying a person as a good or bad person are formed really young. But having to deal with a "bad person" with who you have formed a lasting and real bond with is not something most of us deal with till our teenage years. Some not to adult hood.
    – coteyr
    Jun 29, 2016 at 11:04

Do you know if there was money involved and that the parents are soliciting money? Do not assume without the facts.

  • I know a friend who, on April Fool's Day, faked that she lost her arm in an accident. Let's just say she ended up having to grovel to her friends who had cried their eyes out, but by doing so trust and friendship was restored.

IN your case, be a leader, a friend, ask the parents about this. Since the mother was mentioned, asking the father first without mentioning his wife's comments would be advantageous. It is still possible [the parents] are unaware of this.

The newspaper clippings and social media are already incriminating, give them an opportunity to verify truth from fiction. You can judge from this encounter whether anything, let alone the police, should be involved.

If you wish your daughter's well-being, show her how to handle such grave situations where she is unsure whether to pursue a friendship or not. Friends make mistakes. Seeking counsel and asking questions can help clarify what she should do. Sometimes troubles arise to show us who our true friends are.

Right now your daughter needs your love and support, emotionally and intellectually, as to how to respond in love.

Not asking questions, internalizing without seeking counsel...from my own sad experience, only leaves bridges burned and regrets that linger for a lifetime.

  • If there is ever a time for her to learn to forgive and be willing to let go of friendships, now is the time. Life is way worse than this tragedy, and as deep as the wounds might be, not being an independent woman will be disastrous for her life...both in her future friendships and with her body.

There are 3 possibilities:

  • Your daughter's friend is a scumbag.
  • A scumbag hijacked your daughter's friend's account.
  • The message was faked by your daughter, in a grab for attention. Going forward, I'll assume you already looked into this possibility and ruled it out.

Focusing only on the first 2 possibilities, there's a very important lesson: People lie. People lie for money, for fun, for power, or out of boredom. Information shouldn't be trusted without questioning.

She needs to learn that, and 15 is already a rather old age to learn that. Your job is to also teach her that this doesn't mean she can't trust people. We all get cheated and scammed in various forms all the time, but we find a circle of friends who we trust, and forgive when they lie to us.

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