Fake Cancer Survivor Belle Gibson Fined $410,000 For Charity Deception
28 September 2017 at 4:34 pm
Fake cancer survivor and self-proclaimed fundraiser Belle Gibson has been fined $410,000 for deceptive and misleading conduct, after she made false charitable donation claims from the sale of a successful cookbook and app.
Gibson made $420,000 after releasing The Whole Pantry cookbook and app, based on claims she cured cancer through alternative therapies and nutrition. She also made false claims about donating a large portion of her profits to charities.
Legal action against Gibson was launched in May last year by Consumer Affairs Victoria, who said she engaged in false and misleading conduct in 2013 and 2014, relating to her growing health empire and fundraising appeals.
Gibson’s fine related to numerous false donation claims by the wellness blogger, who promised $300,000 in donations but was found to make only three donations totalling $10,800.
She broke a promise to donate proceeds from the sale and launch of The Whole Pantry app, and also from a 2014 Mother’s Day event.
Federal Court Judge Debbie Mortimer said the “most serious” offence from Gibson, was false claims she would donate the money from one week’s app sales to the family of Joshua Schwarz, a boy with an inoperable brain tumour.
“Ms Gibson expressly compared the terrible circumstances of young Joshua to her own, asserting she had the same kind of tumour as he did; a statement which was completely false,” she said.
Mortimer said she would like to see Gibson’s fine to go towards a charitable cause.
“In that way, some good might still come for the vulnerable people, and the organisations supporting them, which were indirectly drawn into this unconscionable sequence of events,” she said.
Cancer Council Victoria said they welcomed the Federal Court’s decision. CEO Todd Harper, said the findings sent a strong message to those who thought about misleading the public into giving money to a fake cause.
“It is incredibly important that the general public has trust in charities and where their generously donated funds are being spent. I would encourage people do their research if there are any concerns around the legitimacy of a charity or a fundraiser,” he said.
“Eighty-seven Victorians are diagnosed with cancer every day and it is disappointing that these funds will not fulfil the intended goal of supporting them.
“Cancer Council welcomes Victoria’s new Health Complaints Act, which explicitly prohibits people offering health services from claiming that they are able to cure cancer or other terminal illnesses, and requires that any claims they make in relation to treating or alleviating the symptoms of cancer to be substantiated.”
Gibson was originally found guilty of these offences in March this year. At the time, director of not-for-profit law at Justice Connect, Sue Woodward, said these findings demonstrated that the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) was effective in prosecuting misleading and deceptive conduct by fraudulent charity fundraisers.
“The Federal Court’s finding [showed] that the nationwide ACL is well up to the task when it comes to prosecuting fundraising misbehaviour in the not-for-profit sector,” she said.
Gibson has two weeks to pay her fine, with the money going into the Victorian Consumer Law Fund.