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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Pennsylvania

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Woman Formerly of Harleysville, PA, Indicted on Fraud Charges for “GoFundMe” Cancer Scheme

After allegedly lying about having cancer in order to scam money, the defendant left for Australia

PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced that Vanessa O’Rourke, 32, formerly of Harleysville, PA, and last known to be residing in Queensland, Australia, was charged by Indictment with wire fraud in connection with falsely stating that she had cancer in order to solicit donations, including on gofundme.com. The Indictment was previously under seal and was unsealed earlier today.

The Indictment alleges that from approximately October 2015 through July 2016, O’Rourke falsely represented to others that she had a terminal form of brain cancer known as “Glioblastoma.” The defendant also allegedly lied about needing to raise money to travel to Australia to receive experimental cancer treatments. Based on these and other allegedly false representations, more than 140 people donated a total of $11,740 to O’Rourke’s fundraising campaign through gofundme.com, a legitimate online fundraising platform. The Indictment also alleges that while O’Rourke did travel to Australia, she did not receive any cancer treatment while she was there and instead used the donated money for personal expenses, including a variety of leisure activities.

“The allegations in this case are nauseating,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “O’Rourke is charged with preying upon the kindness and generosity of good people who wished to help those in need. As alleged, there was no need here – only lies, greed and callous manipulation.”

“Misleading people about a significant medical diagnosis in order to take advantage of their kind hearts and open wallets is reprehensible,” said Michael J. Driscoll, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “As alleged, Vanessa O’Rourke scammed friends and family alike, convincing them to donate money toward her supposed medical care. Instead, those funds supported her lifestyle and leisure. When someone commits such financial fraud, the FBI and our law enforcement partners will work to hold them accountable.”

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Towamencin Township Police Department, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kevin Jayne.

An indictment, information, or criminal complaint is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Topic(s): 
Financial Fraud
Contact: 
UNITED STATES ATTORNEY’S OFFICE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA Suite 1250, 615 Chestnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19106 JENNIFER CRANDALL Media Contact 215-861-8300 If you have not done so already, follow @USAO_EDPA and @USAttyMcSwain on Twitter to get the most up-to-date information about big cases and community news.
Updated September 8, 2020