Consumers Affairs Takes Action Over Self-Proclaimed Charity Fundraiser
7 May 2016 at 9:03 am
Consumer Affairs Victoria (CVA) is preparing to take legal action against controversial fake cancer survivor and self-proclaimed fundraiser Belle Gibson over false cancer claims made in her top-selling book and for allegedly defrauding charities.
CVA said the move followed an in-depth investigation into alleged contraventions of Australian Consumer Law.
“The alleged contraventions relate to false claims by Ms Gibson and her company concerning her diagnosis with terminal brain cancer, her rejection of conventional cancer treatments in favour of natural remedies, and the donation of proceeds to various charities,” CVA said in a statement.
Consumer Affairs Victoria Director Simon Cohen has applied for leave to commence proceedings against Gibson’s company, Inkerman Road Nominees Pty Ltd (in liquidation), in the Federal Court of Australia. CVA said leave was required because the company was in liquidation.
Cohen said the publishers of Gibson’s controversial book The Whole Pantry, Penguin Australia,
had agreed to an enforceable undertaking acknowledging that it had not required Gibson to substantiate her claims prior to the book’s publication.
“Included in the terms of the enforceable undertaking is that Penguin will make a $30,000 donation to the Victorian Consumer Law Fund,” Cohen said.
“Penguin must also enhance its compliance, education and training program with a specific focus on ensuring all claims about medical conditions are substantiated, and that statements about natural therapies are accompanied by a prominent warning notice.
“This is an important step in ensuring that consumers receive only verified information and are not deceived, particularly where serious matters of health and medical treatment are concerned.”
In March 2015 CVA said it was investigating the self proclaimed charity fundraiser who became a social media sensation through claims she was beating cancer and a range of other life-threatening illnesses through nutrition and holistic medicine.
At the time the consumer watchdog said it was “making inquiries with Ms Gibson and her associated companies as to the nature of any fundraising appeals that may have occurred, including details of beneficiaries and net proceeds given”.
In her book, Gibson wrote that “a large part of everything earned” is donated to various causes.
Melbourne-based charity One Girl, which runs education programs in Sierra Leone, was promoted as one of the fundraiser’s beneficiaries but it said repeated attempts to contact The Whole Pantry about the promised donation more than a year after the event had been unsuccessful.
“In late 2013 The Whole Pantry advised One Girl that they would be fundraising on our behalf in an online fundraising event,” One Girl CEO, Chantelle Baxter said.
“In early 2015 One Girl approached Belle Gibson from The Whole Pantry to enquire about when a donation would be made to One Girl and how much was raised from the fundraising event.”
Baxter confirmed to Pro Bono Australia News that Gibson had donated $1,000 following questions from Fairfax Media.