A Texas mom was arrested after allegedly inventing a cancer diagnosis for her daughter and convincing the child and strangers that the diagnosis was real so she could scam people out of money.
Juanita Garcia, 46, milked the fake tear-jerker by holding fundraisers and telling strangers and acquaintances that she was raising money to pay for the 7-year-old's treatments, the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office wrote in a Dec. 10 media release. Garcia even allegedly told donors her daughter "had months to live," police noted.
Garcia shaved her daughter's head, and she also convinced her daughter that the diagnosis was real, according to KGBT.
The mother worked the scam in person and online, using social media to rally supporters, police said. It wasn't until Hidalgo County investigators and Child Protective Services stepped in that the scam fell apart.
"Through the course of the investigation, Investigators discovered that seven year old child had been medically evaluated, and no illness had been found," the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office wrote in the media release. "During questioning, Garcia admitted to investigators that her daughter had never been diagnosed with cancer, and that she had obtained monetary donations from various persons. "
Garcia was arrested on Dec. 9 and charged with exploitation of a child, a felony. She was arraigned in front of a county court judge and sent to the local jail, where she remains held on $10,000 bail.
Police said they did not know how much money Garcia scammed with the cancer story, but an investigation is ongoing. In the meantime, Hidalgo County police said well-meaning donors should use "good common sense" before they part with their money, making sure fundraisers are legitimate and asking basic questions.
“We don't want to discourage people to participate in those fundraisers, but we do want them to be cautious,” Sgt. J.P. Rodriguez told KGBT.
There are no statistics available on people who fake cancer for financial gain, but cases frequently make the headlines. In August, former Miss Pennsylvania U.S. International Brandi Lee Weaver-Gates, 23, faked cancer and raised more than $14,000 from just one fundraiser among many, according to NBC News. Police said the beauty queen shaved her head several times and even visited a local hospital, making her family wait for hours while they thought she was receiving cancer treatments.
In September, Hali Etie, a singer in a Pennsylvania hardcore band, allegedly faked cervical cancer and received help from local organizations to hold fundraisers before she was exposed, according to the Daily Mail.