Web scam exploits tragic heart-op girl Zoe: Mum outraged as photo used on fake site
A GRIEVING mother has spoken of her outrage after discovering a picture of her tragic little girl being used in an internet scam.
Julie Chambers, 37, was distraught when she discovered a Jamaican fraudster had started using an image of her daughter Zoe, who died after a heart transplant when she was just two years old.
The fake internet site attracted more than 170,000 views and it is thought hundreds of Americans were tricked into donating thousands of pounds to a fake charity.
Julie told the Mail: "My daughter died three years ago and some sick person has tried to hijack the memories to make some cash. It's disgusting.
CAR KEYS AND REMOTES "FREE REMOTE KEY FOB BATTERY" 01482 423414 ...View details
FOR ALL YOUR CAR KEY NEEDS CALL US NOW ON
SNAPPED KEYS, LOST KEYS, KEYS LOCKED IN VEHICLES,
WE ALSO REPAIR 90% OF ALL REMOTES AND KEYS, NO FIX NO CHARGE.
Terms: FREE REMOTE KEY FOB BATTERY ONE PER CUSTOMER
Contact: 01482 423414
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
"Part of me is upset, but mostly I'm really angry.
"I can't believe someone would do something like this. It's sickening."
The offender had been asking Facebook users to "share" a link, claiming that if 1,000 people do so, Zoe will get a free heart transplant.
Further links were placed in the captions, which directed users to a counterfeit donation page.
Donations were routed to the false charity bank account via PayPal.
Julie said: "Thankfully, all my friends have been on the case and we've really been pushing to get people to stop posting the links – but they have gone to more than 170,000 people so it's a really big job.
"I've tried getting help from Facebook but they have been useless. I've reported it to the police but they have said they cannot do anything as I have not been defrauded of any money.
"I was really worried for a time that people might think it was me behind the scam."
Zoe was born in December 2005 with a narrow valve in her heart which did not allow blood to pass through.
At four months she developed cardiomyopathy, which is swelling and enlargement of the heart.
She spent seven months in hospitals in Hull, Leeds and Newcastle.
Zoe suffered six cardiac arrests before being fast-tracked to the top of the European heart transplant list.
A donor was found within weeks.
She underwent a 10-hour operation at the Newcastle Freeman Hospital in June 2007.
Her parents celebrated the year anniversary of the transplant with family and friends.
Tragically, a month after the party, Zoe collapsed and died in her mother's arms at the family home after a suspected virus attacked her heart.
Julie, from St Nicholas Avenue, west Hull, said: "It would have been hard enough to handle if Zoe had been alive, but she isn't with us. She's dead and someone has used her picture to con people out of money. Thankfully, through a number of friends, the scam came back to me, so I started trying to find out what had happened.
"At first, I didn't understand why people would make donations because of the NHS, but when we realised it was being done in America it made more sense.
"It's a shame someone would do something like this."
After Julie began the online fight-back, staff at an Australian website www.hoax-slayer.com, began to help. Made up of four people from Australia, America and Warrington, they started investigating the scam before eventually getting the false donation pages taken down.
Steve Williamson, of Hoax Slayer, said: "Some people do bizarre things online just to get hits, others take things further and start to try to make money from it.
"Our enquiries showed a man in Jamaica was taking donations from Americans who, albeit with good intentions, were blindly sending cash to a cause which was false.
"The money went into bank accounts which are privately held – and of course we know it was not for a transplant for Zoe as sadly she is no longer with us."
Julie said: "The bloke picked the wrong people though because we have thousands of supporters who have got out there and are trying to make amends. The support has been staggering and I want to thank everyone who has helped."