my coworker lied about having a terminal illness — and we donated money to her

A reader writes:

A few years back, I had a coworker, “Jane,” who told everyone she was suffering from a terminal illness. She missed a lot of work, but HR and the managers were really kind to her in making sure they accommodated her needs (she was getting treatments and also experienced pain/fatigue from her illness, so usually was working two days a week on average).

One of the office support staff set up a GoFundMe account to help Jane’s family afford a trip abroad, because that was something she had expressed a desire to do before she died. We all contributed large sums. I had left the office by this time, but am still close with some of the folks there, and even those of us who weren’t working there gave to this cause. It was fully funded (upwards of $15,000), and the money was used for the intended vacation.

Jane later left the job because she was having too much trouble with the workload she still had. Understandable with the illness she had told us about.

A couple months after she left, a friend of hers called the office and said she was calling to ask if Jane had contacted them. According to the caller, Jane was never really sick, at least not the way she told everyone. She had been going through some sort of mental health issue and had consciously lied to everyone about what was going on. She had never gotten the treatments she claimed to be going through and had never suffered the symptoms she claimed to have. She had purposefully written blog posts about dealing with her terminal illness she never had, and had taken her family on a trip abroad using money that we had all donated with the intent of helping a friend/coworker to have a memorable final trip with family. This friend of hers was a sponsor of sorts trying to help get her back on track by apologizing to people she had wronged.

This whole thing has made me skeptical of others, which is not in my nature, and makes me feel horrible. I know others in the office have felt the same way, and that at least one person feels as though their faith has been shaken (they shared a religious affiliation with the “sick” coworker).

Jane has applied to jobs in the area and is using the HR person from my former office as a reference, which feels wrong. I keep seeing this person pop up as a suggested LinkedIn or Facebook connection, and every time I just want to send her a message and ask how her trip was and if she intends to pay us back (some of us, even at low wages, gave upwards of $500, and I know that the boss gave somewhere around $1,000). Should I reach out and let her know how her actions affected those around her? Or should I let it go and accept we got scammed?

Well, I think you’ve got to be careful about what you know for sure here.

You know someone in this situation lied. It sounds like it’s Jane, but there’s at least an outside chance that it could be the person who called you. That seems unlikely — what would she have to gain? — but I’d be wary of being absolutely certain Jane lied based on the word of one person you don’t know.

Rather than a “coworker definitely lied about being sick” situation, I think you have an “ugh, we now have sickening information that, if true, is deeply upsetting” situation.

Is there someone in the office who could contact Jane to express concern? Someone who was close to her, or perhaps the HR person she’s still in touch with about references? That person could tell her about the phone call to the office, say people are concerned, and ask what’s going on. On the off chance that the caller wasn’t legit, Jane needs to know someone is muddying her name like that. And on the better chance the caller was legit, it’s a way to broach the conversation with Jane and ask what’s going on. (It’s also completely reasonable for the HR person to need more information before she can continue acting as a reference.)

Of course, there’s no guarantee you’re going to get the truth from Jane. The caller could have been legit and Jane might still insist they aren’t.

Beyond that … I understand the impulse to contact her and ask if she intends to pay you back. If you find out for sure that she lied, you certainly can. I doubt you’re going to see that money, but you’re certainly entitled to take a stand over it (including reporting her for fraud if you choose to). You can also file for a refund with GoFundMe, which now says it will refund donations obtained under false pretenses.

I’m sorry this happened.

{ 585 comments… read them below }

  1. Mediamaven*

    If this is true it goes beyond a breach of ethics, it’s actually illegal and people go to jail for it. If you can confirm it’s true I would call the police.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Yup. I don’t understand why anyone would jeopardize their actual freedom for stupid stunts like this – then they’ll need to create a GoFundMe to raise the bail money, smh.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        It sounds like she has mental illness. When you have a mental illness you do not think logically. It wasn’t a stunt she needs help.

        1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          Both things can be true. She can be suffering from mental illness and in need of help and sympathy but also be someone who deliberately stole a large sum of money from her coworkers with a pretty complicated scam.

          1. MsSolo*

            True, but you wouldn’t frame it as a ‘stupid stunt’, since the cost/benefit analysis can work differently when your brain is working differently.

              1. Dahlia*

                A large percentage of people killed by police are disabled. That’s maybe not something to suggest so cavalierly.

                1. AnnaBananna*

                  I didn’t take it as cavalier. But more of a ‘that’s not your job, it’s the Justice System’s job’, which it is.

                2. Disabled Person*

                  So what, we can’t call the cops on disabled people who break the law? That’s going to make disabled people like myself real popular, I’m sure. It will really cause everyone else to view us as equals. Just a lovely idea.

                3. Dahlia*

                  Don’t put words in my mouth, thanks.

                  Just as we should think through whether we should actually call the police on people of colour, so too we should think through whether to call the police on disabled people. What proof is there that Jane did anything wrong?

                4. selena81*

                  It’s not suggested cavalierly (like those idiots who call the police because a kid stole some candy from its grandmother).
                  It’s suggested as the police doing their job. And i would thank you not to undermine the position of either the police or disabled people by implying that mental illness gives you a free pass to do whatever the hell you like.

          2. tinybutfierce*

            This. As someone with a couple of different MI diagnoses, it can certainly be a reason for weird or bad behavior, but it’s not an excuse. Being ill doesn’t give you carte blanche to mistreat people.

            1. LibrarianLady*

              YUP. I struggle with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, dysthymia, and have gone through some dark bouts with deep depression, but never have I ever perpetrated FRAUD on my friends, family, or coworkers. Mental illness is not a get out of jail free card, literally or figuratively.

            2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

              Agreed, I have a couple of mental health conditions (I personally don’t define it as “mental illness” the same way I don’t use words like “suffer” about it, but it could be) and have definitely done some stupid and irrational stuff in my time… including lying about stuff actually (but not to the extent of committing fraud… if that’s what happened! … more like exaggerating problems in my personal life and so on) but I would expect to be fully taken to account if I’d somehow committed some illegal act due to a ‘mental health’ condition — as the alternative is… I can’t remember the wording for it, but being recognised as “not in control of one’s own actions so others have to forcefully intervene” … which isn’t the case. I was out in the world, perhaps in a dysfunctional way, but by being free in the world and not “taken into control by others” I’d still have to take responsibility for my own actions.

          3. Jennifer Juniper*

            Mentally ill person here. We are just as responsible for our actions as everyone else, with some rare exceptions in the case of psychosis.

            And lots of people don’t think logically for perfectly normal reasons, like stress, fatigue, hunger, and paying attention to garbage on the internet.

        2. Yorick*

          That really depends. It could have been due to mental health symptoms, but maybe not. Don’t forget that most people with mental illnesses don’t defraud their friends.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            This. And also, my comment was speaking generally about people who defraud folks through GoFundMe and not necessarily about Jane. We don’t have enough info to know whether she’s lying or mentally ill or whatever.

          2. JoJo*

            But she’s not the one who set up the GoFundMe account. OP says it was someone on the office’s support staff.

            Honestly, it sounds like one real possibility is that the woman lied about to the office about having a terminal illness (a choice that in itself might be due to poor judgement/inability to reason logically stemming in part from her mental illness) to get the time off she needed to address her mental health issues.

            And that it spiraled out of control from there, with the one lie needing another and then someone in the office setting up a $15,000 GoFundMe target for her Make a Wish type of final vacation.

            1. Leslie Knope*

              That’s a good point, JoJo. It sounds like the lie became a monster of its own sort, and the more it was fed the bigger it got. OP may never know the whole story…

            2. Tidewater 4-1009*

              Jane could have declined the GoFundMe and asked the person who made it to take it down. Carrying on with the lie and profiting from it was unethical.

              1. User 483*

                People trying to force their generosity onto you can be very difficult to dissuade. It can quickly turn into “but I want to do this for you” and “you are worth it so you have to allow this help” and all kinds of things basically arguing that you need to accept their charity so they can feel like a nice person.

                I’m not fully excusing the ill person. I’m just saying that I can understand why she could feel stuck in that situation. Especially if she wasn’t feeling well and if it seemed to make the donor feel like a good person to be able to help.

                1. Wing Leader*

                  Yeah, I agree. Not to defend Jane if she really did deceive everyone, but turning down generosity is tricky and difficult. Most people will assume you’re just being proud or modest and will push to give it to you anyway, no matter how many times you say no.

                2. Melanie*

                  Yeah.. but you could accept the money and save it for a rainy day, donate it to a charity. She TOOK HER FAMILY ON VACATION.

                3. Avasarala*

                  I agree with Melanie. The solution was to refuse the money, and if Jane had to accept it, to use it towards her treatments for her actual illness. Not a goddamn vacation.

                4. selena81*

                  I think it’s very possible that when she started lying it was about relatively small things (i can’t come to work because i have a headache) and then it spiraled out of control (i also can’t come tomorrow because it is a really severe headache, doctor says it might be something serious)

                  But it’s only an explanation, no an excuse.
                  If this is indeed how it went down she still defrauded these coworkers and deserves to get sued (i doubt GoFundMe actually has the resources to issue full refunds so that’ll have to come out of her pockets), but understanding the spiral will help her own mental health treatment.

        3. Aquawoman*

          Maybe she has a mental illness and maybe it influenced her actions. But more likely, she either doesn’t have a mental illness or her mental illness has nothing to do with her actions and she’s using it for cover, to the detriment of all the people with mental illnesses who never engage in massive fraud.

            1. jiminy_cricket*

              Not only is some of what you said patently untrue, but it is harmful in the sense that it perpetuates stigma. Please reconsider the next time you think about making blanket statements about “people with personality disorders.” There are 10 personality disorders in the DSM, they are distinct from one another so cannot be lumped together as you have done. Second, none of them list “no conscience” as a criteria for diagnosis.

              If you’re specifically suggesting this person has antisocial personality disorder, which it seems like you might be based on the comment about moral compass, we simply do not have enough information to determine that. And here is a nice article about why it’s dangerous and unethical to armchair diagnose people on the internet:

              1. Candi*

                I’m too late to see what sounds like an awful comment.

                I did, however, take a quarter of Gen Psych and another of Abnormal Psych. Including the antisocial disorders.

                That taught me enough that a lot of people with such conditions do (usually) understand legal and ethical right and wrong -their problems include: a short-term vision of the future, when they consider it at all, are emotionally immature, have a self-centered mentality, desire maximum gain for minimum effort, and a tendency to want to gratify their desires quickly.

                The class and book also admitted the study pool is severely skewed, since most people who are diagnosed with it are people with criminal records, where seeing a therapist and being diagnosed might well be a part of their sentence, in or out of prison.

                It’s enough to say, “I wonder if they’ve seen a therapist about their behavior and what the therapist would say” when I read something like this. It’s NOT and will never, ever be enough to even think about diagnosing someone -even in person! That’s a whole triple-leveling up in education and experience.

                1. Wintermute*

                  The most charitable interpretation of what happened was they heard the true statement that there are tons of people that walk around with low-level personality disorders every day and are unlikely to seek treatment because they don’t see anything wrong with themselves. Their neighbors and people interact with them never know and just think they’re an asshole when in reality they have mild intermittent explosive personality disorder, or think they’re tend to have high-drama relationships when they really have mild borderline personality disorder, think they’re “picky, demanding and controlling” when it’s actually a mild case of neurotic personality disorder, and so on. That on its face is a reasonable statement.

                  But they extrapolated that to assume that “not likely to seek active treatment” really means “have no sense of shame, conscience or morality”. Which is where they were factually incorrect.

            2. anon4this*

              Just for the record, having a personality disorder (or an undiagnosed one) does not mean that person has no conscience, nor is it often the case.
              Most of the psych community is now finding no one person truly has “no conscience” or is a “evil sociopath” (although good luck finding a universally decided definition of “evil” or “good” for that matter). That’s Hollywood science, shallow and not based in reality.
              If someone’s appears to have no conscience IRL, it’s usually due to physical brain damage, that will accompany a host of other symptoms, and should be treated as such (like someone with an impulse disorder, low affect, etc).

          1. Mia*

            Or she could have a mental illness like Munchausen’s (or some other factitious disorder), where lying about health problems is a key feature. Either way, she did something illegal and ethically horrifying, but some conditions could explain what triggered it.

            1. selena81*

              What i find strange about that is that apparently her ‘sponsor’ called around to warn people: isn’t the idea that she herself should go apologize?

              It’s possible this anonymous caller just wants to make sure Jane doesn’t steal any more money and it maybe makes her hand-wave confidentiality issues way more than she should, or there could be something completely else going on (i’m not not sure what though)

        4. Maria Lopez*

          It sounds more like a personality disorder, but we have very bare bones information about her. If you have ever dealt with people like this (pathological liars) it really shakes your faith in people and it takes a very long time before you can trust anyone again. Think persons who get scammed out of money in “romantic” relationships, as seen on Dr. Phil.
          Of course, she may just be a garden variety grifter.

          1. anon4this*

            Or her doctor misdiagnosed her. Who knows? We don’t have enough information to make an educated guess.

        5. Sarah*

          I’m gonna disagree. You actually insult people with mental illness by stating that we cannot think logically. That’s insulting and not at all a blanket truth.

        6. Candi*

          “When you have a mental illness you do not think logically.”

          Gonna chime in this is a hard disagree. Logical thinking is often perfectly possible in mental illness. Part of the problem is it gets all-too-frequently overwhelmed by events affecting the psych (like a death), neurochemical storms, or both.

        7. Laura*

          I have severe mental illness and although I’ve done terrible things to myself, I’ve never even come close to this kind of nonsense. This person may have mental illness, but she still needs to be held accountable for committing a crime.

    2. Bertha*

      But is she herself guilty if someone else set up the GoFundMe? (I’m not saying THAT person would be guilty, but it seems like it would be easy enough to have some sort of plausible deniability)

        1. Bertha*

          I understand that, but every case I can find where someone was actually arrested or faced criminal consequences related to fraud on GoFundMe, they set up the fundraiser themselves.

        2. Wintermute*

          I imagine that it becomes much easier to prove intent to defraud when you can prove someone took positive steps to initiate the collection of money in the first place.

          If people were offering money to her, based on a potential misrepresentation but nonetheless offered, not asked for, then things get a lot more interesting in a legal sense. I think it’s probably still illegal, though only case law would tell us for sure and I can’t find any on this exact situation of “a gift-but-not-really explicitly because someone thought you had a serious illness because of your own misrepresentations but you didn’t ask for anything of value.”

    3. Linzava*

      Yes, I was coming here to say the same thing. There are a lot of people who fake cancer and other illnesses for sympathy and popularity, a former friend did this to me once and I gave her 6 months in my spare room, vile. But once they take take donations, they can be prosecuted, youtube has tons of news stories where these people end up in jail for years, it’s very serious.

      If she faked it with your company, she will probably do it again in her next one. Mental illness causing this is rare, very rare. Usually it starts with a desire for attention, and leads to income, which is fraud.

      If you report it to the police, she can easily clear it up with medical records if she didn’t fake it, but if she did, she needs to be reported, if for no other reason than the profit she’s making off of an illness other humans are suffering and dying from.

    4. CoffeeLover*

      I don’t know if I agree. Someone suffering from mental illness is not what the penal system is built to handle. While I understand the desire to see justice… I personally wouldn’t want sending someone to jail ultimately due to their mental illness on my conscience.

      I think it’s better to rephrase this in your mind OP. Jane is someone who’s suffering. And yes she got a free vacation out of it at your expense, but do you think she “won” here? What she has done – alienating colleagues, friends and family – will haunt her for the rest of her life. I’m not trying to excuse her actions, but she’s not some criminal fraud mastermind that acted with full awareness. I like Allison’s advice in reaching out to her for closure and trying to get the refund through go fund me. But mostly, I think this is something to move on from and not let it affect your view of people in general.

      1. CL Cox*

        Legally, the mental illness doesn’t matter unless it prevents her from knowing that what she was doing was wrong.

      2. Alan*

        If you’re a victim of a crime I don’t think it’s your responsibility to decide if the perpetrator deserves to be punished. The OP has been defrauded and she has every right to report it

      3. Detective Amy Santiago*

        As someone with mental illness, I find this attitude insulting. My mental illness does not give me permission to treat others badly and it certainly doesn’t give me permission to defraud them for my own gain.

          1. Sarah*

            Same. This thread is filled with insults against people with mental illness. Apparently we are uncontrollable, illogical, et cetera. This thread is why people do not want to come out as having mental illness.

              1. Candi*

                It’s obvious if you take ten seconds to research. But far too many people don’t even take that much education. It all mixes together into “crazy” and “nuts”. Ugh.

                If a person who has a genuine mental illness is committing crimes, the DA or the person’s families can apply for stricter measures in diagnosing, treatment, and monitoring; what exactly happens depends very, very much what state/county/city you are in. Federal law is it is illegal to lock them up unless they are a (physical) danger to themselves or others, or simply cannot care properly for themselves. (Very severely disabled.)

                But you have to file the police report documenting the crime(s) first before any of that can kick off.

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              Seriously. This shit is harmful both to people who have mental illnesses *raises hand* and to people who just want to hold other people accountable for things like fraud and not have everything ever explained away as “you’re not allowed to be mad at her because she’s mentally ill!!”

        1. bluephone*

          Seriously, word. Lots of people have mental illnesses (including very serious ones like schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, etc) who *don’t* scam their friends and family out of money for a fake illness. This is like saying, “oh Joe murdered Jane but he’s got major depression so it’s not really his fault!!”

          1. CoffeeLover*

            There are some good points that people have brought up in response to my comment. I can’t say I disagree with you. You’re right that mental illness doesn’t really excuse actions that hurt others and also that OP should ultimately decide how she wants to act here. But mental illness does provide context for someones behavior that can help you find closure. I just think that sometimes the best thing to do for yourself is to move on. That doesn’t apply to every case, but in this case it might.

        2. Delphine*

          Of course it doesn’t give permission. But to pretend like mental illness can never impact people’s decision making is wrong–it impacts decision making all the time. To suggest that a person with a diagnosed mental illness that may have resulted in poor decision making should be punished by our justice system is dangerous.

          1. Wintermute*

            more dangerous is acting like our judicial system is totally incapable of you know, being set up to decide exactly these sorts of things. If she really has a mental illness then she can plead diminished capacity, or if the crime requires intent she can plead lack of requisite intent to defraud.

            People are acting like this is some thing no one’s ever thought of– “but WAIT, maybe they had some reason for doing what they did?!” Yeah, those things exist, and have always existed, when our legal system was designed this was taken into account and a large portion of why we have jury trials is that very fact, to determine what sentences out of a sentencing range are appropriate and to determine the degree of guilt and culpability.

            In fact even in states which don’t allow an “insanity defense” lack of intent is always available as a defense and sentencing guidelines always take into account these factors.

            1. Chris*

              No, sentencing guidelines DON’T always take into account mental illness (they should, but in actual application they don’t always). Moreover, ‘diminished capacity’ is not a concept in many jurisdictions. In California, e.g.:

              “The defense of diminished capacity is hereby abolished. In a criminal action, as well as any juvenile court proceeding, evidence concerning an accused person’s intoxication, trauma, mental illness, disease, or defect shall not be admissible to show or negate capacity to form the particular purpose, intent, motive, malice aforethought, knowledge, or other mental state required for the commission of the crime charged.” (California Penal Code Section 25(a))

              1. Wintermute*

                As I said, there are places where diminished capacity is not available, but even there sentencing guidelines do account for it, even if there’s not an explicit defense, there’s a range for a reason, and judges and juries have wide discretion. Also, as I stated, that is why we have juries, to decide if a conviction on the elements of the crime would be fair and just, and judges to adjust sentences downward if its warranted. Remember, despite what you hear in the news, downward adjustments, non-custodial sentences and lenient plea treatment are the norm, not the exception, in our justice system.

                All california eliminated was the ability to say you were unable to form requisite intent, malice aforethought, a coherent motive, etc. They did not eliminate the ability to plead lack of requisite intent at all (meaning if there is still an “intent to defraud” component to the law, they still must prove that she intended to defraud, all California removed was the ability to say “she was too insane to be able to intend anything, so there was no intent here!”).

                I stand by my statement, the legal system is very well versed in mental illness both real, feigned and imagined and the mere whiff of a possibility someone might not have it all together upstairs should not preclude victims from using the legal system to recover their losses.

      4. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        I hate to be this person – but this person lied about cancer. Who’s to say they are not now lying about mental illness? The person who phoned the company might believe it, but a whole company believed this woman was dying, so….

        Some people really are without conscience, and it tends to make them excellent liars. They will go from lie to lie to lie, like it’s slalom.

        This might not be the case here – but I’m not sure it’s great to give a pass to people who run what looks like a damned elaborate con that netted them five figures of free money plus a year’s worth of salary and benefits for work they didn’t do.

        In my experience, people who can pull off this level of grift will keep on doing it, whether in jail or out of it. They get away with it and get new victims because everyone wants to believe the best about humanity and believe they can tell what’s true. It’s literally how a confidence scam works.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          We had someone like that in the chat room I belong to. They faked a serious injury to get attention but then people started to get suspicious (e.g., easily able to communicate and online way too much given the injury they were claiming, cutting people off who were near the location they claimed to be in when those people reached out with offers to visit, etc.). As soon as they got called out on it, *POOF!* they were gone. Probably off to find another chat or forum they could exploit.

          Luckily it got cut off before they started asking for money.

          1. Lyudie*

            I saw a situation like this in a chat room/online forum years ago as well, but the woman was claiming a complicated pregnancy complete with nursery pictures and a story baby in an incubator after the “birth” etc. It was finally revealed when a local person went to the hospital with a gift basket and was told not only was no one there by that name (or any variation, and we did know her “real” name) but that she could not have been posting updates from her hospital bed because internet was not available in the rooms and cell signals were blocked inside the building. She tried to give some story about missing the visitor because something happened with the baby right then, but disappeared when no one bought it.

            1. Perpal*

              I’ve heard of people faking triplets (Stealing pictures and blog posts from someone who actually had triplets) to get diaper donations they would then sell… these same people also set up a fundraiser for a recent widow and kids of a forum community I was part of and… stole most of the money. (which is how i learned about the triplet story). It was a husband and wife team.
              Not sure if OPs coworker is at that level but, mental illness isn’t a pass at fraud, unless the person was actually delusional. Which will be up to gofundme and the courts, if it needs to go there?

            2. Candi*

              The jamming may be because older medical machines and cell signals don’t always play nice. Newer machines are designed to take stray signals into account and handle them -no company wants its machine connected to someone being overdosed on insulin. (A thing that almost happened in the mid 00’s, but for a vigilant and smart nurse.)

              Some hospitals also have structures that resemble a Faraday cage. Drove EMTs and paramedics nuts long before cell phones and wireless became widespread.

      5. Temperance*

        She stole thousands of dollars from people under false pretenses. Let’s not pretend that mental illness leads people to commit complex fraud schemes like this one, or that she was somehow not responsible for her bad choices here.

        1. Ariaflame*

          I found it interesting that the person who called did so saying they were doing so because of some thing to do with getting Jane to make amends… wouldn’t that be Jane’s responsibility? Not whoever this person is. I don’t know if Jane committed fraud, but neither do any of you.

          1. zaracat*

            Yep. If we’re talking sponsor in the AA sense then it’s absolutely on the person themselves to admit fault and make amends, in fact having a sponsor do it would be a co-dependent behaviour and a big no no.

      6. Mia*

        Unless the mental illness in question caused a complete break with reality in which the LW’s coworker was genuinely convinced she was dying, she still knowingly defrauded people. I’m not big on mass incarceration in general, but the mere existence of mental illness doesn’t make someone incapable of being held accountable for their actions.

        1. CoffeeLover*

          Now we’re getting into the details, but my interpretation was that the coworkers raised these funds for her as a very generous surprise. Thats a bit different in my mind because she didn’t set up the go fund me or ask for them to do that – meaning that she wasn’t pretending to be ill with the intention/purpose of getting money (as some people have done on the go fund me platform). Of course, she still accepted the gift under false pretenses, which is fraud. But I can see how someone could get so deep in the lie that it seemed like the “logical” thing to do. Still messed up, but not as messed up as actively plotting to defraud people.

          1. Mia*

            I kind of read it more like Jane was talking extensively about wanting to go on this pricy vacation before she passed as a way to like, nudge her coworkers to raise the money. Granted, that could just be a wildly uncharitable interpretation on my end.

            1. Jamey*

              When discussing someone who lied about being terminally ill, it’s probably pretty natural to jump to uncharitable conclusions. It’s not a very flattering situation to begin with.

        2. TechWorker*

          ‘Unless the mental illness caused a complete break with reality in which LWs coworker genuinely believed she was dying’

          …which you know, is a possibility.

          1. Mia*

            I mean, yeah, but it’s certainly not a given. There are *tons* of mental health conditions that don’t cause full-blown delusions.

          2. Mia*

            Also like, going on an apology tour for faking an illness isn’t something that would required of someone who was lying because of actual psychosis rather than a disorder that involved pathological lying as a feature.

        3. Gazebo Slayer*

          I feel like requiring her to pay all the money back, plus more, would be a more appropriate and useful punishment than incarceration.

      7. ToS*

        If it is this complicated, I agree that the penal system will not handle it well. What people can do is look for their local community mediation center, community conferencing center, or restorative justice non-profit to sort out a resolution that helps people find appropriate justice and resolution, especially when incarceration is far from an ideal result.

        With these processes, people have more voice and communication, and can ask for things that the criminal justice system can’t give them. Some people might not want their money back, however they might support that she give a certain amount or fundraise for whatever the diagnosis was.

        They may also hear about how discussing any disability, let along both a health condition and a mental health condition is like walking through a field of landmines, and coworkers coming on like a ton-of-bricks with a GoFundMe campaign is hard to manage.

        They might not share personal health information that is no longer relevant at a subsequent employer, and *really* is this a good conversation to have? If this is a worst-case scenario, which Alison mentioned (we don’t know who is accurate) what do your actions look like if she decides to sue the person who accused her of faking it?

    5. Sana*

      I believe you don’t have to confirm it’s true to report it to the police, but you can make their job a lot easier by providing any actual, tangible evidence or putting them in touch with someone who does have said evidence.

    6. Aphrodite*

      If true, I’d contact the IRS. They won’t be amused if she didn’t pay taxes on that $15,000. At the very least they will investigate.

        1. Candi*

          They’ll care, if she obtained the gift by fraud. Obtaining the money by fraud takes away the “gift” protection -something many a scammer has discovered after getting “gifts” from the meditation or fortune-telling or whatever group and then getting found out. Which is how I know about that detail; I love reading about cons and scams, especially clever ones. (Also hasn’t hurt to know how to spot the cons.)

          The tax-free amount only extends up to $15,000. Now, that’s the amount cited in the letter, but the IRS will be all “did you get more than that?”

          Incidentally, it doesn’t matter to the IRS that the GoFundMe was set up by someone else; Jane received the money under false pretenses, and as far as the IRS and their courts are concerned, that’s what matters.

      1. chronicallyIllin*

        I don’t think you have to pay taxes on gifts, whether they’re given under false pretenses or not. I don’t think the IRS would be the right group to investigate, as a result.

    7. gracak*

      But really confirm it’s true. I’ve had some nasty people call former coworkers and spread lies about me that I didn’t find out for years. She absolutely deserves to know someone is saying this about her (sponsers should NOT be doing the making amends for the person. And it would be a huge breach of trust to do so, so that’s also weird.) Like Allison said, it needs to come from someone she still has a relationship with. And if she says it’s true, they could work with her to ask if she will pay back the money that was raised for her before going to police.

  2. Hills to Die On*

    Reminds me of my ex-husband. Lied to all of us – including me – about being disabled and committed disability fraud. Continues to collect disability and child support from me, and had the nerve to tell me he is starting his own company. But don’t worry – his day is coming very soon.

    Get the facts straight and go from there. You can file for a refund from GoFundMe, you could report it to the police, you could take her to court as a group (plus have her pay your attorney’s fees), etc.

    Please let us know what happens.

    1. AKchic*

      Sounds like my first ex-husband. He messed up a work truck and was embarrassed about it, so he faked an “attack” and stopped going in to work. He worked nights, alone, on a street sweeper. Who was going to contradict him?
      Then the next job he had he realized it was more than he could handle and faked a wrist injury. It was a union job. He milked that one. Faked specialist appointments, milked unemployment and state benefit payments, up until the state actually called the doctor and the doctor had no idea who he was. I’d been supporting us for nearly two years at that point and we were getting our food stamps pulled because of his lying and fraud. Divorcing him was the best thing I ever did, and it was a long, drawn out thing. Seventeen years later, he still plays the ultimate victim, as if that were his only role in life.

      1. Hills to Die On*

        Yep. Mine deserves an Oscar for playing the victim so well. Can fool some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Except my kids – they see it and it’s so sad because I wanted them to have the good dad I never had growing up. At least I can validate what they are seeing and tell them dad still over them even if he has issues. Then pray that they make a better choice than I did when they are adults.

        1. Maria Lopez*

          I had one of those. It is hardest on the kids, but since he remarried a wonderful woman (she has my sympathies) I absolutely did not try to keep him from the kids. They were safe in her care, and they needed to know on their own who he was, and that I could validate what they were seeing. It’s a crime to gaslight kids, and that is what he would have done more successfully if I weren’t there. They realized pretty quickly how he was and now pick up on con artists amazingly well.

        2. Aurora Borealis*

          Do we all have the same ex-husband?? I finally got out after 24 years of believing his BS. My kids are finally old enough to see it, but it doesn’t stop them from hurting when he is manipulating them. My only consolation: what goes around, comes around.

          1. Hills to Die on*

            Nothing would surprise me at this point. If you moved to Wyoming for 2 years for ‘his health’, let’s have a talk. lol.

            1. Aurora Borealis*

              Nope, not Wyoming. I left him on the East Coast and I went to the farthest Northern state you could get to without moving to Russia. Still not far enough.

          2. AKchic*

            Mine’s still in Alaska, and I know the last three of his “wifeys” (as he calls them) have all died in the last 7 years. And yeah, I side-eye it real hard since I know his propensity for physical abuse.

          3. Maria Lopez*

            Yes, he just keeps changing his name, lol. It is unfortunately a very common experience we have all had.

    2. Anonymous Poster*

      Oh my God. I recall reading a post from you about a very, very sick husband. I’m sorry you went through all of this. Good advice for the OP, especially starting with getting the facts straight.

    3. Tidewater 4-1009*

      I know someone who never has a real job, is always broke, but seems like a good person who is trying to get it together.
      At one point she went on Facebook crying about her ex taking her back to custody court for their daughter who was then 16. She asked for money and said anyone who sent $50 or more would receive some of her art and t-shirts.
      I gave her $50 and my address, and never received any art. This is typical of her – because she’s young-looking and cute she assumes she can get away with not honoring commitments.
      A year later I learned the reason her ex took her back to court was, she was openly cheating on her current husband. She didn’t mention this in her pleas for money…
      After that I saw enough of her to observe a pattern of sabotaging her life and getting people to rescue her – along with conveniently leaving out details that would make her look bad.
      I don’t know what’s the matter with her. I no longer associate with her.

      1. Mrs_helm*

        I’ve known and tried to help a few of these. “pattern of sabotaging her life and getting people to rescue her – along with conveniently leaving out details that would make her look bad”. There is a deficiency somewhere that tells them the actual truth would never be acceptable – even when the lie they make up or thing they do is not any better. If you reject them because of their lie, it hurts less because you aren’t rejecting their actual self/truth.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I get email blasts from the state about the people they find scamming workers comp for “workplace injury”.

      They do indeed catch frauds and it’s hell to pay when it happens. I’ve seen the numbers and almost vomited at times because it’s so astronomical. You repay everything, plus interest, plus fines and you know, go to jail sometimes.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Why yes, I do know that. I do enjoy the reminder though so thank you! You can also have to pay back 3x as much as what they paid you.
        My outline alone that lists what I am submitting to the SSA takes up a full 8.5×11, typed page. Single-spaced. Then there’s the private disability company to whom he lied and racked up hundreds or thousands of dollars when he sued them, and then there’s the IRS…
        I wouldn’t be doing this at all if a) he weren’t trying to still collect child support from me and b) I could go to jail too because we were married when he started it. I’d just leave him to his asshole self.
        I do a damn good job at 2 things: strategy and documentation. I’ve been working on this for 14 months and I’m about to drop the bombs. I’m not sorry.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I’m glad you’re working to bury this monster.

          I have a lot of sympathy and even can justify some criminal acts in my head but not this kind of cold calculated stuff that is seriously just out of sheer greed and utter laziness in the end.

          This is why it’s hard for truly disabled folks to get in the door as well. So that really sticks in the craw. I’m also sad to see you have children who have to deal with it too, triple yuck!

          I’ve known some lowlifes petty scammers in my time but I could shrug at them because their level of greed was simply to get them to say off the streets and were still living in extremely poor conditions. I’m just like “If you work that hard to scrape by…and at the cost of having a soul, well God speed.”

        2. Candi*

          Pleeeeeeeeeeease let us know in one of the open threads about the sheer the beauty of the things exploding.

    5. Media Monkey*

      this is scarily common. my friend’s sister ended up shouldering a huge amount of credit card debt as her ex claimed to be on disability and couldn’t pay. then she saw him playing 5 a side football.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        People can be on disability for mental illness.

        Unless the ex was claiming to be physically disabled, he could have been telling the truth.

    1. Arian Johnson*

      I think the sponsor was trying to hold Jane accountable to actually making the apologies and followed up to see if she had done it.

      1. Wrking Hypothesis*

        That sounds correct. I’ve heard of this kind of apology tour being a part of treatment for Munchausen Syndrome, which is certainly what this sounds like.

        1. Mia*

          Yeah, I have a relative with Munchausen Syndrome and this is definitely a thing. It sounds like maybe Jane told her sponsor that she had already apologized and the sponsor was trying to verify.

      1. starsaphire*

        +1. I’m inclined to be far more suspect of a “sponsor” breaching info like this. This doesn’t smell right.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Likewise. Perhaps the “friend” has an axe to grind.

            Wouldn’t making Jane’s life even more difficult be a great way to do that?

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          It’s not a breach of info if there a ROI from the patient for it, and I’ve seen this kind of apology requirement with somebody checking up on them before in the treatment of Munchausen Syndrome. This reads real to me; it’s VERY similar to what happened in another case where I know for sure it was legitimate.

      2. epi*

        Yeah this was my first reaction. I have never heard of a sponsor for any legitimate recovery program that would contact people on the person’s behalf outside of an emergency, violate their privacy, or give people information that could be so damaging.

        It’s possible this could be a friend who has some informal agreement with Jane to keep her accountable. But if so, they really screwed up here. If Jane did this because she is mentally ill, I can’t imagine it is good for her recovery to have people who cared about her now thinking the worst of her and wanting to individually confront her or go to the police.

        1. DataGirl*

          Yep, as someone very familiar with 12 step programs- the sponsor would/should never do this. First- it breaks the anonymity of the sponsee (even if it’s not AA, all the 12 step programs I am aware of emphasize anonymity). Second- it serves no purpose, the person who committed the wrong has to make amends for themselves. So I find it really weird.

          1. Kuododi*

            I’ve worked with 12 step sponsors off and on throughout my professional history. I’ve never experienced one who would in anyway divulge a group members info regardless of the type of ROI presented. The only info they would divulge would be name and general attendance info to help clients stay in compliance with probation. (ie… Member X was present for 12 step on dates A, B and C). Hope this helps. Kuododi

          2. boo bot*

            I didn’t read the “sponsor of sorts” comment as literal, more that the OP was trying to describe the informal role Jane’s friend had taken on in trying to help her. So, that didn’t read as odd to me, more like the OP, or the friend, just isn’t particularly familiar with 12-step programs.

            If the friend did in fact introduce herself as “Jane’s sponsor,” then yes, it’s extremely weird – almost like getting a call from someone claiming to be Jane’s therapist with the same message.

          3. Lisa*

            Yes, but she’s not an alcoholic. It’s not the 12 step program, it’s a different program. The sponsor’s likely behave in a different manner, and given that Jane is known for lying, part of the sponsor’s duties probably include verifying that she is being honest.

      3. Al*

        This was the thing that sounded most off about the story. It violates the entire concepts of anonymity and amends. But of course, there are terrible sponsors in the world, as there are terrible examples of everything else.

      4. aebhel*

        Yeah, same.

        It’s not that people don’t lie about being sick like this–but the way the ‘sponsor’ went about notifying them seems really suspect to me. It’s certainly possible that Jane lied, but absent any other information or context, I wouldn’t necessarily believe this caller’s story out of hand either.

      5. Sharon*

        +1000. no real sponsor would ever do this unless it was a life/death situation and then they’d call the police. this “sponsor” has an agenda of some kind.

      6. CeeKee*

        Ditto. I think there’s more than an “outside chance” that the caller is not being straightforward. This is not what “sponsors” do in any recognized recovery programs.

      7. Tallulah in the Sky*

        Yep. I could see a sponsor to check if Jane did apologize like she says she did, but not tell the whole story like that.

        But I have trouble finding a reason why someone would tell such a lie. Scorned ex ? Someone who doesn’t believe in disabilities and wants to “expose” her ? I don’t know, but something is weird here, I like that Alison started by saying that OP doesn’t know for sure what’s happening.

    2. Annony*

      That’s what I was thinking too. I’m not sure I agree that Jane is the most likely one to have lied. I don’t see how this “sponsor” could have thought she was being helpful by contacting places Jane has worked to tell everyone she is a liar. I would say that there is a good chance this person has some grudge. Defiantly have someone reach out to Jane about it.

      1. Quill*

        Also, the volume of lies if the caller is the liar (1, with no work to set up proof) is EXTREMELY lower than the volume of lies needed if Jane is the liar. It’s far more likely that someone will do a one lie smear campaign with no proof than it is that someone will do a months long, dozens of lies fraud that may include documentation of disability, etc.

        1. StrikingFalcon*

          Also, almost anyone who has any kind of serious or chronic health issue can tell you there are people who just flat out won’t believe you. I can certainly imagine someone deciding Jane couldn’t possibly have a terminal or serious illness because she’s not say, dead or in a hospital, and take it on themselves to “expose” her. Some people are weirdly convinced that everyone who claims any kind of disability must be faking it.

          Of course, Jane could also be lying – but like you said, it would take a lot more lies for her to have made all of that up.

          1. pamela voorhees*

            Thank you — it’s entirely possible Jane does have a serious, terminal illness but doesn’t present as sick enough, or perhaps said something like “I was given five months to live”, and when that was stretched to a year through good luck, someone decided she was lying rather than being a statistical outlier.

          2. Deranged Cubicle Owl*

            Yes, Jane could indeed have lied about a terminal illness. However, I also think that “the evidence” given so far, a call from someone who claims that Jane was lying, is sketchy.

            I know someone who has a brain tumour. Inoperable. She was given two years to live. At the moment we are three years further and she is still among us and even doing great.
            Every three months she has to get an MRI and the tumour is stable. For some reason the tumour hasn’t grown (she still gets chemo, palliative care) but it hasn’t shrunk either. However, it stays a ticking time bomb. It is still inoperable and if it starts growing again it will cause damage in important parts of the brain and death will follow. She is stable and doesn’t have an “end date”, but she is still terminal.

            Perhaps this could be the same for Jane? Jane can have a terminal but stable at the moment condition? OP doesn’t know and we certainly don’t know it either.

            (That being said: if Jane has indeed faked it and there is solid evidence of it, there should be some repercussion. Even if it is caused by mental illness. Paying back the amount given for the vacation for example, a fine, etc. I’m not fond of jail time though, but that’s me.)

            1. Totoro*

              I’m so glad someone brought this point up. It’s totally possible to have a terminal illness *and* still continue to work, go on vacations, etc. Maybe she needs to work in order to pay for healthcare…?

              I’m in my late 30s with a young child and none of my colleagues know how serious my health issues are/will become (approaching end stage autoimmune liver disease) because I keep it under wraps. I have no idea how long I have and maybe your former coworker doesn’t either.

          3. gracak*

            Yes, and if the person who called decided that Jane’s illness isn’t legitimate, in their mind that could mean that they have mental health problems that cause Jane to lie about an illness.

            I am chronically ill and on disability and have been accused of faking it or malingering more times than I can count, because the times they see me don’t fit their idea of what my disability looks like. (And no one sees me on the days I can’t leave the house).

            1. Jessen*

              It gets worse if there’s any form of mental health problems actually involved too. I’ve found a lot of people take the fact that there may be ANY mental health related aspect of an illness, to mean that the whole thing is made up. E.g. if someone talks about how their depression is making it harder to deal with everything, that means the whole thing is just made up due to their mental illness.

    3. Phantom*

      The way I read it, Jane was supposed to have apologized and the sponsor was checking to see if she actually had done so.

      1. Gingercrumbs*

        That’s not how things work. Sponsors wouldn’t call to check, and they wouldn’t spill the information to people knowing the person hadn’t gone through it. The mysterious caller makes this really sketchy.

        1. Amber T*

          Do sponsors call and check to see if the person who was wronged (i.e., the company) would be receptive to an apology? I feel like there was an AAM letter where the OP’s husband had been contacted by a sponsor for someone who had stole inventory/equipment from their employer, and the husband was their former manager or something?

          1. ACDC*

            I had this thought too, that maybe the sponsor was trying to establish a potential bridge for further communications.

          2. DataGirl*

            Not in any program I am aware of, but sometimes people in a program don’t work it the way it is supposed to be done- i.e. take it upon themselves to do something out of the box.

    4. Hills to Die On*

      I have heard of it as a facilitator type of role but it’s extremely rare. In 28 years, I can count the number of times I’ve even heard of it on one hand.

    5. NerdyKris*

      Yeah that sounds iffy to me. The rule isn’t “apologize no matter what”, it has the caveat of “if it won’t cause further harm”. A sponsor shouldn’t be making the determination of who needs to be notified. What if it was a recovering abusive alcoholic who decided to donate to a woman’s shelter rather than re-open old trauma for their ex? Or in this case, where letting the coworkers know opens her up to legal issues. It’s setting off red flags for me.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          OP and many commenters here are jumping on the “Jane lied!” bandwagon when neither OP or we know anything about the “sponsor” or her motivations.

          Jane could very well be an innocent victim of some kind of vengeance thing on the caller’s part, and terminally ill.

          She could have Disease and be in remission and Caller is pissed that she hasn’t died…for whatever reason Caller would desire that…

      1. Mags*

        I don’t think it was an official AA type sponsor from how it’s described, more someone in Jane’s life trying to manage her recovery on an ad hoc basis. And if Jane was conning people at various places out of money, I can imagine someone thinking it was best if people who’d been defrauded knew not to respond to Jane if she approached them again.

        Funny enough, I read a story about something very similar recently although the woman in that case only wanted the sympathy/intimacy of it not money.

        1. Kate R*

          This was my read too. The fact that OP called the friend a “sponsor of sorts” made me think this is not in any official capacity (like through an organization like AA or something), but rather is someone trying to support their friend and doing it poorly. It sounded to me that the friend took what she learned about addiction sponsorship from TV and is applying it to her “sponsorship” of Jane following a mental health crisis. I.e. Addicts are supposed to apologize to those they hurt, so why not Jane. It’s possible that Jane told the friend that she did apologize, and the friend, as her de facto sponsor, felt she had to call and confirm in order to hold Jane accountable, but I find it really irresponsible to not consider the ramifications of alerting people to Jane’s lies. It doesn’t seem like the friend considered how this would impact the people finding out they’ve been duped or what this could do to Jane if she was not yet ready emotionally to deal with the fallout of everyone knowing what she had done. I’m not sure which person (Jane or the friend) is lying, but the whole situation sound fishy, and I wouldn’t take the friend’s word at face value based on that.

          1. Mags*

            To be honest, in that situation I would be so far out of my depth I would have no idea what to do for the best. Should you protect Jane or the people she has scammed? Do you trust Jane’s recovery or cut off her routes to approach people for money and sympathy?

            I would have NO idea.

          2. Jessen*

            Unfortunately I think “sponsor of sorts” could quite easily mean “self-appointed busybody.” Other people have pointed out it’s not too uncommon for people to decide health conditions that don’t look like what they expect aren’t real. This reads to me just as plausibly as someone decided that Jane was lying and that it was their responsibility to tell everyone for Jane’s own good as that Jane was in fact lying.

      2. ThatGirl*

        Same, I have a sober friend who’s also now a sponsor for others and I can’t imagine she would ever contact people on her sponsee’s behalf, that’s just not how 12-step programs are done.

    6. Huff*

      The LW said “sponsor of sorts”, so I wouldn’t assume that it’s an official designation from a twelve step program. My read was that the caller is simply a friend of Jane’s who was trying to be helpful and guide her through the situation. People do things all the time that they think are helpful but really aren’t.

      1. Antilles*

        Yeah, that was my read too – it’s not some formal program or therapy with strict rules, it’s just her friend (who I’ll nickname Sarah) serving as an “accountability buddy”.
        Jane is chatting with her friend Sarah and says “I really want to apologize for everything, but every time I go to pick up the phone, I chicken out.” Sarah offers sympathy and offers to help by independently checking up afterwards so that Jane has that additional mental push of knowing that she’s ‘on the clock’ to actually come clean.

        1. Carlie*

          Even so, there’s no reason for that friend to spill the beans. “Just wanted to know if you had heard from Jane lately”, with an answer of “No”, would tell them everything they need. They shouldn’t have explained everything themselves.

          1. Chrysanthemum*

            Exactly. Whoever this caller was, they were no friend. I wouldn’t take their statements at face value. You don’t “offer to help” by blowing up someone’s career.

          2. Wing Leader*

            That was my thought. Even if so-called sponsor called and found out Jane had not spoken to them, then sponsor should have said that Jane had something she needed to talk to them about or whatever. But why would sponsor just blab everything like that?

    7. earg b*

      It was friend who called, acting as “a sponsor of sorts” so it’s not like a sponsor in a 12 step program. This seems much more informal.

    8. Don’t Think About a Cat*

      Could also be someone just trying to tip everyone off without giving up who they really are. Doesn’t want to admit they’re related, but wants the legitimacy of first hand knowledge.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, I wondered whether the caller might have just invented something that would sound plausible rather than going into any detail about their actual relationship to Jane (if they were a friend, family member, etc).

      2. lulu*

        That’s my guess. The way I see it, the friend is someone who thinks they got scammed by Jane, and is getting back at Jane by letting other people know they’ve been scammed.

        I like the suggestion to have HR reach out to Jane to find out what happened, and withheld their reference in the meantime, but I’m afraid it will be very hard to get to the bottom of this and find out for sure what happened.

    9. button*

      Yes, this seems strange to me. If the whole point is Jane apologizing, why is this mystery caller telling the workplace about it? They could have just called to confirm whether or not Jane had been in contact without getting into details. This seems like a flimsy cover story for someone who really just wanted to rat out Jane. Which doesn’t necessarily mean what they’re saying is untrue, but I kind of doubt the legitimacy of this “sponsorship.” And that makes me a bit skeptical of everything they’re saying.

    10. kittymommy*

      While I agree that a sponsor should not be doing this and a sponsor in a legitimate program would not, I’m actually not reading this as the friend being a “sponsor” in the formal sense, more like a friend who is “trying to help” (and arguably not doing a good job of it) by holding the person accountable and thinking that this is how legitimate sponsors go about it.

    11. cmcinnyc*

      A 12-step type sponsor would not do this (or shouldn’t–I’m sure somebody somewhere has), but it may be a religious thing or a different type of organization–even a credit-repair type service, who knows? It could also be someone who got burned and feels vengeful dressing up their story.

    12. Normally a Lurker*

      So… Long story short, I was once best friend’s with a human who was a pathological liar. When I found out about it, I called all the places she said she worked or went to school as part of a deep dive. I def made up stories about why I needed the info, the common one was that I was calling doing a resume check for a job. I felt like I was going crazy the further down the rabbit hole I went in checking her history. (To be fair, VERY different circumstances as in my case it was a “I need to check, was this person employees/at school with you during XXX years?” Yes/No question. I never had to divulge that she lied bc no one knew who she was)

      I say all of this bc this could easily be a me type person who has just discovered what happened and is now trying to figure out how far the rabbit hole goes.

      Regardless, Allison is right in terms of “someone is lying” and the really answer might be “both of them”.

      1) Could be the “sponsor” is not a sponsor at all, but someone who is trying to figure out what happened coming up with a cover story
      2) Could be an actual sponsor telling the truth and employee lied
      3) Sponsor could be someone with an ax to grind lying about what happened
      4) Another option I haven’t thought of yet

      Without further info, it’s hard to know which of these options is correct.

    13. The Great Octopus*

      Yeah, this is in fact directly against the core purpose of a sponsor which makes me pause.

      Like this is next level coo-coo bananas and if she is a real sponsor SHE SHOULD NOT BE SPONSORING PEOPLE as she has her own BS to sort out.

    14. Eukomos*

      OP did say mental illness and not substance abuse, so I don’t think we can assume this is part of an AA program and follows their system.

  3. workerbee*

    Ugh. I know GoFundMe can be an invaluable help for many people, but cases like this really make me uneasy about using it to donate. There’s no way to know what’s true and what’s a ploy for a nice holiday.

    If she does indeed have a sponsor who is helping her to make amends, it sounds like if you approached her in a relatively neutral manner, she might admit what happened. But I still wouldn’t expect to see that money again.

    1. remizidae*

      I didn’t know that GoFundMe offered refunds–that’s great if you can get it.

      But yeah. This is a reminder not to give away money if you can’t afford to lose it–and not every person/organization who claims to be a charity actually does any good. Do your own research.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        This is a reminder not to give away money if you can’t afford to lose it

        This, this, this. I don’t donate more than $10 to non-blood relations (and my donations to family are also limited) because you just never know if people are telling the truth, and I’m not trying to get bamboozled.

      2. Not Australian*

        It would be interesting to know how much investigating GoFundMe might be inclined to do. It’s not impossible they might end up reporting this themselves, for example.

      3. Yorick*

        I don’t think it’s fair to say “do your own research” as though OP and coworkers were careless. Jane told them directly that she had a terminal illness, was getting these treatments, etc. They didn’t do anything wrong by believing her and doing something kind for her.

        1. fposte*

          I think remizidae may have been expanding to thinking about charities generally, but I agree that there was no additional research the co-workers could have done here on Jane without being cruelly invasive when they had the option merely to not contribute.

          And, of course, it’s still quite possible that it was all true.

        2. Wing Leader*

          Agree. If someone tells you they are dying or very sick, it’s pretty normal to take their word for it. No one immediately screams, “Liar! Let me see your medical charts!”

      4. CatLadyInTraining*

        Yes! I only really donate to family members and close friends. Or I just donate to a charity..say breast cancer or I volunteer or take part in an awareness walk. If it’s someone I don’t know well or at all, I just say no very nicely or “I’ve done all my charity for the year.” You really do have to be careful!

        1. Van Wilder*

          Agreed. This is why I donate to legitimate charities instead. You can donate in a person’s name if you were moved by their story.

          1. Anonapots*

            That’s awesome, but most people use GoFundMe because they need the actual cash to help them, not the good thoughts or potential research done in their name. Be cautious, sure, but people are literally going bankrupt for medical bills and a county in Kansas is now jailing people who can’t pay their medical debts, so I’m willing to donate a little if it means someone won’t be actually locked up because they were sick.

            1. Avasarala*

              If you can afford to do this and are so moved, great. But if you’re donating to someone you don’t know, and there are no checks to see if the money is used for what it was intended… don’t donate more than you can afford and emotionally disengage from the result.

              There are so many worthy causes out there so if you care about your money actually going to help people, then it’s more guaranteed to do so if you donate to an organization that is checked by watchdog orgs rather than anybody who opens a GoFund Me.

            2. Gazebo Slayer*

              That’s horrible, but GoFundMe is at best only a stopgap, even leaving aside questions of fraud. I once saw someone on Twitter (I forget who) ask something like “What if there was a big GoFundMe that we all paid into? Oh wait, that would be universal healthcare.” YUP.

            3. Jessen*

              Yup. I had a friend who had to rely on GoFundMe recently. Someone at Medicaid screwed up the paperwork and they wouldn’t fix it for weeks (originally the timeline was on the order of months). And he needed insulin, which he couldn’t pay for because he’s on disability. It wasn’t even something that research or anything would fix – everyone knew exactly what he needed, it’s just that the bureaucracy didn’t care.

  4. Arian Johnson*

    WOW. I’d be super pissed if I was one of the co-workers at this company. It’d be really hard for me to restraint not reaching out to Jane. This kind of stuff makes people less likely to do nice things for others smh.

  5. LinesInTheSand*

    Alison, what is the employer’s responsibility here to make sure this doesn’t happen again? What are their options? Health info is private, but doesn’t the employer have some vested interest in ensuring that people getting lots of medical accommodations aren’t lying about their conditions?

      1. AndersonDarling*

        Yeah, HR would have needed documentation to set up FMLA. Unless it was such a small company that there was no FMLA and the employee was taking lots of time unpaid.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          This. FMLA eligibility requires a ton of paperwork on official provider paper, so unless Jane forged documents, bribed her doctor to falsify the forms, and/or stole forms off the internet and filled them out with her info, the company’s HR department should have been able to verify that Jane was ill.

          Now, it’s also possible Jane really was sick, but not as bad as she claimed to be – people exaggerate genuine illnesses more often than inventing them whole cloth. All HR could do moving forward is continue to thoroughly vet employee medical documentation and possibly put a ban in place for employees who want to start GoFundMes on behalf of their coworkers. But I’m not even sure that could be done.

          1. Lucette Kensack*

            I just came off FMLA leave that started as intermittent and then became an extended leave. To be honest, it would have been really easy to take advantage of the intermittent leave; I essentially had carte blance on how to use my leave (because I didn’t have a diagnosis for weeks and was going to dozens of appointments to figure out what was going on, they couldn’t really predict what kind of leave I would need).

            I was nervous when my doctor submitted the FMLA paperwork that it wouldn’t actually cover what I needed since we didn’t know at the time the paperwork was submitted, but it went totally the opposite way and I had complete flexibility. I’m really not sure how my employer would have prevented me from just taking it whenever I felt like having an afternoon off.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              See, I had intermittent FMLA at two workplaces, and I would not have had the ability to just skip out of work whenever I felt like it. For starters, while both companies were all nice enough to allow me to flex my time in lieu of taking unpaid time off, I still had to inform them of the exact times I was going to be out of the office so that it could be appropriately recorded in our payroll system and one of the companies even verified with doctor’s offices (if I said I had an appointment I was leaving for) that my appointment day/times were legit. I was also expected to make up hours that I took off since I was flexing my time (yes, even as a salaried employee) – if I didn’t, I would have had to use PTO or sick hours (at my last company) to cover the time off if I wanted to be paid. I was not going to blow through my time off for foolishness.

              1. fposte*

                Yeah, workplaces definitely vary in their approach to this. Mine was the state and it was still pretty much like Lucette’s–my doctor’s office faxed in a one-page document about my need to take intermittent FMLA and I told my employer I planned to work shortened days as needed. No further documentation needed.

                1. Diahann Carroll*

                  One page?! OMG, my doctors would have been jumping for joy if that’s all they had to fill out, lol. My PCP would get visibly annoyed when I brought back the same documents for him to re-complete every six months for re-auth purposes. It got to the point where he stopped signing stuff and just used his stamp with his name, practice number, and address and called it a day.

                2. Lucette Kensack*

                  My doctor filled out very extensive paperwork, but once that was complete it was totally hands off. (Also, because of my complex situation — two hospitalizations, one emergent and one planned, four different specialists, no diagnosis for six weeks, and eventually treatment for two conditions, one of which it turned out I did not have — I can’t even really imagine what the doctor who completed the paperwork said. She didn’t have nearly all the information — she was just one type of specialist, whose only information about the rest of what was happening to me was through what I told her.)

                3. fposte*

                  Yup. Maybe it was some kind of “bureaucracy recognize bureaucracy” thing, but it was pleasantly non-onerous. (I didn’t have to recertify, fortunately, so I don’t know if that would have been differently complex.)

                4. valentine*

                  Unless it was such a small company that there was no FMLA and the employee was taking lots of time unpaid.
                  I assumed the leave was paid. If not, that was a lot of effort to keep a part-time job.

        2. Atalanta0jess*

          Just a note that FMLA is very often unpaid – FMLA doesn’t come with any compensation at all, it just protects your job while you’re away.

          1. fposte*

            Right. You may manage to get paid while you’re *on* FMLA if you have PTO or STD or a deal with your workplace, but you don’t get paid *by* FMLA.

          1. CL Cox*

            Most companies have a policy that after a certain number of days out (whether consecutive or intermittent) an employee MUST file for FMLA or face absence management consequences. At the very least, I would expect the employer to have asked for a doctor’s note for the absences (for things like treatments, they can usually get something from the location that shows the date they came in and future appointments).

          2. Gail Davidson Durst*

            Yeah, I did chemo and radiation without formal FMLA, just a kind of extreme flex time, and have two coworkers who have dealt with a micropreemie child and a brain tumor without formal plans. If you’re a salaried worker who can work pretty effectively from home, and your immediate boss and grandboss are chill about it, actual FMLA might not come into it.

    1. MK*

      I don’t think so. The company can certainly demand documentation before providing medical accommodations, but I doubt they are legally obligated to check that they are not giving unneeded ones.

      And, honestly, it would be a real dick move for the employees to ask the company to reimburse them, unless the company itself vouched for Jane/pressured their staff to donate. This sounds like an coworker-initiated gift; just because it happened within the context of the workplace shouldn’t make the employer liable.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Having been both the person getting lots of accommodations (I’ve got everything from schizophrenia to spinal injuries) and the one who suspected a staff member was misrepresenting the truth…’s difficult. Grand master chess level difficult. You have to weigh up confidential information against things other people are telling you, and what proof they have, or not, and insure that you don’t harm an innocent party..

      Thus a lot of managers simply won’t get involved with it.

    3. Snow globe*

      The thing is, even if documentation is required for FMLA, I’m not sure HR is able to ethically tell anyone outside of the employees manager whether or not FMLA is approved. Even if the employee is collecting donations from co-workers, I’m not sure it is HR’s place to come in and announce to everyone that there has been no FLMA paperwork to confirm the illness.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        I think HR could say that there are accommodations being made but not say why. For example if a coworker came to HR and said that someone keeps leaving early, HR could say that it’s approved or they are accommodations being made. I may be wrong though.

        1. Safetykats*

          In general, HR is not going to say anything to anyone who doesn’t have a need to know. The standard answer to someone who doesn’t would be to let them know the information they are asking about is confidential. That would be the case regardless of the answer. So no – HR should not be telling random coworkers whether or not someone has an accommodation, because they have no need to know.

    4. BluntBunny*

      I think the issue is that she seems to have got more than someone without a terminal illness would. I doubt someone with a chronic auto immune disease that flares up would have been given so much leniency. If they go beyond the sick leave and flexible work accommodations that are there for everybody and not just for an exception then they should require documentation.
      Also I think it is a lesson to the coworkers don’t give more than you will miss. I try to give change to homeless people but I generally give less than a $1, because I wouldn’t mind if it was “misspent” on alcohol or something else as I think what would I have done with that dollar anyway, I wouldn’t notice being a dollar poorer. However, I bet the OP would have put that $500 to good use.

      1. LavaLamp*

        Having had an intermittent FMLA for a couple of years, my doctor had to fill out a book every six months, plus yearly re-certifications. It’s a pile of paperwork. Hell, there was an entire book of paperwork just for me to ask my employer to buy me a different chair. They were more than willing to do it, but my doctor still had to say it was necessary.

  6. The IT Plebe*

    What an upsetting situation all around. I’m a little confused about the friend who made the call — it sounds like it’s supposed to be Jane that reaches out to people she’s wronged, but for some reason the friend is doing so on her behalf? Maybe I’m misunderstanding the situation. Either way, LW, I can totally understand your feelings on this and think Alison is right. Tread carefully with one-sided info out of the blue like this.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      It sounded to me as if the sponsor was checking up to see if Jane had called them yet. Which would make sense for certain types of relatively tough-love therapy, including a form that I know is used for Munchausen Syndrome because I’ve seen a case where it was done. Looked almost exactly like this: the patient was required as part of their therapy to contact those their lies had wronged and apologize, and the therapist followed up with calls to make sure that this was actually what happened, because reasonable therapists do not trust a Munchausen’s patient further than they could throw the Chrysler Building. So you get formal permission from the patient at the beginning of the therapeutic process to reveal whatever’s necessary in order to confirm their actions, and then you verify EVERYTHING.

      Of course, it *could* also be a much less formal type of sponsor, checking in to see if Jane did what she said she’d do because Jane asked her friend to help her stay accountable. The information we have doesn’t tell us either way. But 1) I’m pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to be the friend apologizing *instead of* Jane, but rather, making sure Jane *did* apologize; and 2) this is definitely a way that certain types of formal therapy happen, for certain diagnoses which match the symptoms in this letter.

      I note in passing that this person was the first the company had heard about the matter… meaning that whether she was a friend serving as informal accountability or a therapist serving as official accountability, Jane did not actually make the apology she was supposed to have made by this time.

      1. anon4this*

        I’m not sure this is true.
        If the therapist/psychiatrist follows up, and outs the patient as a Liar/Con/Thief…they don’t know the repercussions of this. The patient losing their job? Their family? Their friends? Who knows what else?
        All so therapist can double-check the “progress” of an admitted liar with a mental disorder?
        I doubt a therapist would risk the job of the patient, as their $insurance$ that’s covering said therapist. It feels like too much of a liability issue.

      2. Jessen*

        Unfortunately, for all the evidence we have, it could easily simply be someone who’s decided that Jane is lying and it’s their business to hold her accountable.

    2. CL Cox*

      According to the “friend,” Jane is supposed to reach out to apologize and this friend was verifying that she had done so (which she hadn’t). The whole thing is weird all around.

  7. Jennifer*

    You don’t have to give money every time someone in the office is having a personal crisis. You don’t have to buy them anything. You can give them a card and let them know you’re thinking of them and if they are struggling, you can help them connect to services through Human Resources or the EAP. I personally wouldn’t give hundreds of dollars to anyone I didn’t have a personal relationship with. Live and learn. You aren’t getting your money back.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      THIS. Ain’t no way in hell I’m donating that kind of coin to a coworker, even one I really liked. When I had a work friend that was dying of cancer, I used to go to lunches with her or go and grab coffee and let her vent about stuff or tell her silly stories about the nonsense happening in my life at the time – that meant a lot to her, especially because I didn’t let the conversations become morose and generally steered things back to a light situation so she wouldn’t have to think about her impending death too much.

      1. Jennifer*

        Exactly. That’s what I’d want if I were in that situation, I think. I wouldn’t even expect that kind of money from coworkers.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        There was a great advertisement for a cancer charity in the UK years back that had quotes from patients and one stuck with me about how he really loved that his friends would take him out for his favourite game of pool and not make the evening all about cancer.

        To this day, I’ve offered the same to anyone suffering from anything mortality-facing. You want to do something you like with someone who likes your company? I’ll drive, pay for it, we’ll have friend time, and whatever works for you.

        1. Lucette Kensack*

          It totally depends on the person, though. While I was going through my recent (cancer-related) health crisis, it was all I wanted to talk about.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Yup, my friend was the same way. She didn’t want our entire conversation to be about cancer, but she did need someone outside of her family to talk about her treatments, how they made her feel, how scared she was for her kids, etc. I wouldn’t have felt right completely shutting down that kind of talk because sometimes we all need someone to just let us feel bad and wallow for a minute.

          2. Dahlia*

            Yeah, it’s not the same, but I broke part of my spine recently and I don’t need to play pool, I need 1300 dollars to pay an ambulance bill. Sorry *shrugs*

              1. Dahlia*

                It sucked a lot! And the hospital I was in is 125 miles away from my home so that was also expensive. Doing better, slowly!

            1. Anonapots*

              This. We don’t know if this person had a health crisis or not. All we know is someone claiming to know Jane called and said Jane lied about stuff and took off with money. But here’s the thing. I’m not going to assume everyone relying on GoFundMe is lying to me about their medical bills or whatever considering what we do know about healthcare in the US. I said it above, but a county in Kansas is literally throwing people in jail for medical debt. While cheating people out of money with a faked illness is crap, it kind of pales in comparison to what is happening to people with legitimate illnesses. I’ll choose to give a little where and if I can if it means someone can avoid freaking jail because they were ill.

        2. BluntBunny*

          Yes my coworker has cancer and she has chosen to talk about it frankly and is being positive about it. The team felt that doing a card, flowers and chocolates would be sort of pitying her and reminding her of the negative so we are supporting her instead by managing the workload.

    2. Holly*

      The smarter thing to do probably would be something similar to what my office does – offer a collection that goes to something specific like a condolence card or flowers or something tangible rather than giving a lump sum of money that really can’t be accounted for. That being said, I don’t want to blame OP or her office for giving money and showing support that way as the cause of the issue here. The issue here is the lie and what to do about it.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        The “possible” lie, but I agree with you. The OP and her coworkers acted in good faith, and sometimes people take advantage of that. But I like your suggestion for what folks can do in these situations in lieu of donating tons of money directly to a person – maybe OP can suggest this moving forward so that no one feels taken for a ride in the future if a coworker’s personal plight turns out to be not so serious or even true.

      2. Jennifer*

        I’m not blaming them for what happened but just pointing out that it’s important to be careful. Those are two separate things.

      3. CatLadyInTraining*

        Yes! I worked at an office where people could sign up to drop off meals for people who had major surgery. My office mate was out for a week after surgery and we all signed up to drop off casseroles and stuff each night…

    3. Bree*

      I’d take a gentler approach here – what Jane (likely) did is terrible, but that doesn’t change the fact that for the LW and her colleagues it was a kind, generous, loving way to treat someone. They can feel good about that, regardless of this highly unusual outcome. I don’t think it’s worth beating themselves up or learning from getting fooled – if she was lying Jane went to extraordinary measures to do so, and they shouldn’t feel bad for trusting her.

      1. Jennifer*

        I don’t think they should feel bad for wanting to help someone they genuinely thought was in need but I hope it teaches them to be more careful if this happens again. You can care for others while protecting your own interests at the same time.

        1. Bree*

          But we don’t have any reason to think they weren’t careful – Jane went so far beyond how a reasonable person would behave that it’s super unlikely something like this would happen again. I’d hate for it to make these very nice people cynical or less likely to help going forward.

          1. fposte*

            Yes, I agree. This was somebody they knew and whose illness had been respected, possibly confirmed, by their workplace. There was no “more careful” they could have been without being hostilely intrusive. At that point the call is an individual one–do you contribute to this kind of GoFundMe even though now and then somebody you know will be a pathological liar, or do you stick to a different path on your charitable giving?

            I do think there’s been some good discussion of why this kind of GoFundMe can be tricky even without doubting the illness of the recipient–it’s complicated for the co-workers, and it’s complicated for the recipient who didn’t ask for it. To me that’s where the useful exploration lies–is this really a good idea, and how can you decide that? What’s the best way to do such a thing?

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              There’s also another ethical issue with GoFundMes and similar fundraisers: the people who get substantial sums are generally popular, well-connected, outgoing, and charismatic enough to have a large supportive social network, and assertive/confident enough to ask in the first place. A lot of people need help but are so modest, shy, proud, or scared that they’ll never ask. A lot of people would ask, but they have little social support and they’re not good at marketing and presenting themselves publicly.

              Someone on Twitter (sadly I forget who) summed it up as “You shouldn’t have to have a good brand to not die.”

            1. Anonapots*

              Based on what? When you find out someone is sick, do you immediately question it or do you believe it’s true? Because questioning it every single time is a little…weird.

            2. fposte*

              My personal take is not that what’s needed is more cynicism but less love of the feel-good gesture. I’m really not trying to slap at the OP or her co-workers here, because this is a big practice and was even before GoFundMes, and kind people want to be kind and this is a path people take to do it. But the feel-good gesture tends to privilege, comparatively at least, the highly connected, the reasonably photogenic, and the narratively compelling. Eff you, unattractive minority dude with the non-terminal but disabling chronic disease who desperately needs, oh, better stoma care products; we’re sending Jane to Disneyland, because people who are going to die deserve to be treated to trips because reasons.

              I can’t even really blame broken US systems for this, because what Jane received wasn’t something that functional systems would otherwise have provided her. Basically, to me the common template for this kind of collections raises troubling questions before you even get to “Is Jane a grifter?”

              1. Avasarala*

                I agree. I’d rather donate to a charity or org working to change the system and fix real problems than give my money to Jane so she can go on vacation.

              2. Gazebo Slayer*

                Thank you for summing it up better than I did: “the highly connected, the reasonably photogenic, and the narratively compelling.”

    4. CatLadyInTraining*

      Yes! I like to be generous and help out. But, I am very choosy about who and what I donate my money to. I only donate money to family or very close friends. Otherwise, if a co worker is sick and I know them fairly well, I offer to bring over a casserole. Or I give them an I’m thinking about you card.
      I also donate to charities directly or donate my clothes to the charity store. Or I donate clothes/cosmetics when my office has a collection drive for the shelter for women and children escaping domestic violence. I also help feed the homeless. There are lots of ways to help out.

      You have to be very careful with your money and how you donate.

  8. NerdyKris*

    I don’t know which would be worse, the coworker defrauding people like that or someone lying about it to defame a terminally ill person.
    I’d err on the side of someone trying to stir the pot, since for this to be true, her spouse would have to have been okay with accepting that money under false pretenses as well. You would think they would have been aware their spouse was lying about a terminal illness and would have put a stop to a $15,000 charity drive.

    1. Annony*

      Also, Jane is presumably someone they knew and liked. The “sponsor” is a complete stranger. Since both scenarios are outlandish, I wouldn’t jump to believing Jane lied about everything. Definitely ask about it and tell her about the phone call, but try not to jump straight to outrage.

        1. OP*

          Hi, sorry for the lack of clarity. The family mentioned were the person’s parents (who don’t speak great English). We are pretty sure that they didn’t understand exactly where the money came from and/or the whole picture of the situation.

          1. CRM*

            Is there any way to verify that they were OP’s parents? Something doesn’t feel right about this situation. It’s certainly possible that Jane lied about her illness, but if so, that is an INCREDIBLE amount of work she would needed to have put in just to sustain it for as long as she did.

            1. virago*

              “Is there any way to verify that they were OP’s parents?”

              You mean Jane’s parents.

              OP is a former co-worker of Jane.

            2. Beth*

              Speaking as the ex-partner of a pathological liar: yes, a huge amount of work can go into building and sustaining some of the really big lies. This IS what liars do. Some of them work very hard at their lies, and when you find out, you wonder why the hell they didn’t stick to the truth, which would have been far less work.

              1. Normally a Lurker*

                Agreed. As the former best friend of one, the lengths she went through to maintain the lies just… like… it would have been so much easier to be honest.

              2. Adalind*

                YES! Exactly! My ex was a pathological liar and man, it would have been so easy to just be honest. It takes so much effort to lie and then when they get caught… smh. It just blows my mind. Not saying Jane lied but if she did – people do it everyday for less.

            3. LunaLena*

              Some people are willing to go through that much work for even less return than a free vacation, though. Google cases of Munchausen’s Syndrome or Munchausen’s by proxy, the lengths people will go to to lie about things like this is astounding. Or the case of Wendy Brown, who perpetrated an elaborate hoax that involved stealing her daughter’s identity… all so she could relive high school and be a cheerleader.

            4. Eukomos*

              I’ve heard about several situations like this one, sadly. Once you get started with big lies like this, it seems to be hard to stop.

    2. Paulina*

      The “sponsor” does seem to have a credibility problem. But people who go on their special last holiday before they die from a terminal illness, one that caused them to have to quit their job, usually don’t need a reference for future jobs. It’s still a possibility, depending on the job and its workload, but given that the illness was considered terminal a few years ago, I’d be very tempted to ask Jane how she’s doing these days… though likely still shouldn’t.

      Looking over the timeline, there appears to be a big gap: the GoFundMe vacation was a few years ago, she later (unclear how much later) left the job, a few months after that the “sponsor” got in touch, and now the OP sees Jane applying for jobs in the area. If it’s been quite a while, it’s worth the OP just letting it go. The proper person to follow up would be the HR person giving the reference, which could be done without referencing the “sponsor” information, given the circumstances under which Jane worked there and had to leave (significantly reduced workload due to understood-to-be-terminal illness).

      1. Quill*

        Remission does occur though, and no timeline was necessarily specified in terms of how many years Jane has left to live. For example, if she has an autoimmune disease usually considered to be fatal within 10 years, she may have had limited time to be able to fly to europe and enjoy herself, (for example: were she to be put on oxygen or in a wheelchair for the remainder of her life soon, air travel would become exponentially more difficult,) but also need to be employed in less intensive jobs than the one that she left later just to continue to have health insurance.

        1. Paulina*

          Good point, thank you. And there are a lot of diagnosis problems with autoimmune diseases, which can further throw off the assessment of how much mobile/enjoyment time someone has left. It’s just a prediction. And it’s not unusual for others to ascribe the disease to being in the sufferer’s head, either.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            Yeah, autoimmune diseases are a bit of a crapshoot- I think I’m officially five years past my expiration date that the gastroenterologist gave me, and doing vastly better than I was before, but that’s because they finally figured out a medication that worked, not because I was lying about it.

            1. Harper the Other One*

              Even non-autoimmune conditions have a lot more uncertainty than people think. It’s easy to forget that when a doctor says “you have two years to live”… that’s really a guess based on averages.

              My friend’s father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and told her had six months. He lived 2 1/2 years and had enough improvement with his second treatment regimen that he went back to work part time for a while.

              1. KoiFeeder*

                Yeah, the human body is not as reliable as people would like to think it is! Which can be good or can be bad- I’m happy to not be dead, but not everyone gets as lucky as I did.

      2. AnneNonyMouse*

        I know someone who was diagnosed with a terminal illness, did the ‘bucket list’ trips at great expense, came to terms with their mortality… only to find out later that it was an incorrect diagnosis and their actual illness was not fatal. It’s bizarre, but it does happen, and I’m sure at least some of their acquaintances and former coworkers assumed they were faking it when they didn’t die as expected.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          This happened to my grandfather. He was told he had terminal cancer, he went and spent a ton of money and did a slew of things he otherwise wouldn’t have if he hadn’t been given that diagnoses – and then it turned out that the original diagnoses was wrong. He ended up suing the first doctor.

        2. Safetykats*

          This does happen. I’ve worked with at least two people who were badly diagnosed, and very ill (seriously seeming to be terminal) but who have mostly recovered after correct diagnoses and treatment. Both did have to take a lot of time off work; in fact both stopped working for a while in order to better concentrate their energy and efforts on their health.

          Also, “terminal illness” generally means something that reasonably could be fatal. Not everybody dies of a terminal illness, and it seems completely unreasonable to feel somehow cheated if they don’t. Our sine has a friend who was diagnosed with a terminal autoimmune disease as a child, and approved for Make A Wish. She had wished for a playhouse, and got a beautiful one, funded by donated materials and labor. Today that playhouse sits in the yard of her house (moved there with donated labor) and her children play in it. Far from feeling cheated, everyone I know who donated feels like she has been fortunate and blessed, and hopes that they maybe had a little something to do with that.

          I do think there are a couple of lessons here. The first, obviously, is that you never have any idea of the truth of anything in GoFundMe. The second is that, if you can’t donate with an open heart, such that you don’t feel cheated if the terminal patient doesn’t die, you probably shouldn’t donate.

    3. I'm just here for the cats*

      There are a few things I want to point out.
      1. The “friend” says Jane “had been going through some sort of mental health issue and had consciously lied to everyone about what was going on.” There are legitimate mental health issues that can cause people to do this. It’s not that they are doing anything to be greedy or to exploit other people. They are actually sick, just not in the way the coworkers thought.
      2. “Terminally ill” can mean a lot of things. You can be terminally ill but live for 15 more years. Perhaps she was diagnosed with something like MS where you’re body degrades gradually. Maybe she was mis-diagnosed and she has more time than she originally thought, which is why she is going back to work.
      3. How does the friend know that she consciously lied? That makes me feel like they know that Jane was deliberately trying to fool their workplace. (see #1)
      4. This whole thing seems fishy. Why is this friend calling Jane’s former workplace? If Jane is in some type of group therapy where she has a sponsor why would the sponsor be calling to check up to see if jane has made amends? If this group is built like AA I think it is a breach of privacy and trust. You wouldn’t expect an AA sponsor to call up the other person’s workplace and say that Brad has a drinking problem and I want to know if he’s apologized to his co-workers.
      5. If Jane really did all of this, maybe she wants to apologize individually to co-workers and hadn’t been able to before the “friend” called. In fact, I think she would almost have to contact people individually, and not in a group. Again why is the friend calling, it’s not like Jane could go in and do a presentation to the whole company explaining what happened?

      Overall I think the Letter Writer needs to take this news with a grain of salt. Maybe this “friend” has a grudge against Jane. Maybe it’s someone she knows who doesn’t believe she has a disability (terminally ill would qualify for disability) or doesn’t feel like she deserves anything. If you are close to jane please check in with her

      If I was this person’s

      1. RC Rascal*

        A comment on point #2:

        My cousin is terminally ill with a degenerative disease. She was diagnosed 11 years ago and was given a 5% rate of survival for 10 years. She is still ill but functioning and working. Her disease hit a plateau and she’s managed to keep it there. She turned out to be the 5%.

  9. Miss May*

    OP, if you do confront her, be ready for denials. They lied for a LONG time if what her friend says is true. It sucks, and I’m sorry for everyone involved.

  10. CatCat*

    Yeah, you need way more info. Who knows if the person who called has some sort of ax to grind with Jane. I mean, it’s weird that a “friend” of hers would call with all this damaging information.

    1. CatCat*

      Reminds me of when I was dating my spouse and a (now ex) friend of his (who wished she were dating him, but also who lived a state over) created a fake profile for herself on social media pretending to be a local woman. Then sent me a “confession” from the fake profile that the fake person had been having an affair with him. It was very shocking and upsetting to get that message. And at first, I was taken in by it.

      I let myself calm down and realized the message itself was very suspicious. Some rando with a brand new social media account contacts me? Why? Then certain details about the fake profile didn’t add up and the verbiage she used on it sounded just like the real person. Bottom line, she was an idiot and not very good at covering her tracks. She almost did serious damage to our relationship though.

      1. Dragon_dreamer*

        Someone once hacked my gmail account and sent edited gtalk chat logs copied from it to my then boyfriend. I had to show the originals with the correct date stamps of 2 years before we started dating!

      2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

        That was one of the subplots of Bob and Rose, a Russel T. Davies series.

  11. WellRed*

    I wonder who this person is who called and why? Also, I really dislike GoFundMe being used in this way by coworkers. That right there would have made me wonder why someone in her personal life didn’t start one, not a coworker. PSA: If you make low wages, don’t donate $500 to a coworker. Just don’t.

    1. Renamis*

      I wouldn’t say don’t. We had a coworker who was shot by her boyfriend (who was another coworker) multiple times. She was in a coma, and her kid saw the whole thing. Most of us don’t have a lot of money, but we where sure to raise as much as we could. I donated both to the GoFundMe and at Christmas when we had a collection for her son to replace the stuff the (now ex‘s) family wouldn’t let them retrieve from the house. And any of us would do it again if the situation hit, no regrets.

      1. Jennifer*

        I’m glad that she got some help during a tragic time. I still think it’s okay if someone at your office decided not to give or offer support in other ways, like alerting a local charity.

        1. Morning Glory*

          I don’t think those viewpoints are mutually exclusive. Renamis wasn’t saying people HAD to donate, they were responding to Wellred’s blanket advice.

          1. Jennifer*

            When everyone around you is giving hundreds of dollars, there’s an implied pressure, whether people say it out loud or not. I think the company should offer financial support to employees in tragic situations, after doing due diligence, instead of expecting their employees to do so. That’s my blanket opinion.

            1. OP*

              Hi! There was no pressure put on us to donate any particular amount. It was a small office, and a lot of the staff were very close, so there was a sense (I think), of just trying to do what we all could for her. I personally was fortunate that I had a good amount in savings, and my living situation allowed me to give a substantial amount. My frustration is less about how much I gave, and more about the thought that I could have given that money elsewhere if it wasn’t needed her.

              1. Jennifer*

                Fair enough, and I’m glad you didn’t feel pressured. I just have a different perspective on giving money to coworkers in general, at least more than a few dollars per person. We had a fund at my last job that employees could apply to receive assistance from during tragic times. I think that’s the better way to handle it.

              2. Anon for this*

                Hi OP,

                Can I ask what about the stranger’s call was so compelling that many/all of you believed what the stranger said? I’m sure there are details you left out and fair enough, but as presented it sounds like ‘co-worker in a small office was sick for a very long time and we all trusted her based on our direct experiences with her’ versus ‘unknown person called arbitrarily, spoke to one person briefly and said things that were deeply upsetting but also unverifiable’. No shade, honestly: if this happened to me it would absolutely make me ask some questions. But as an outsider it looks to me like such a vast difference in (for lack of better words) evidence and the effort required: it is very easy to have one phone conversation; it is very hard to fake a serious, long-term illness. (Note that I don’t say impossible, of course, but it is exponentially harder.)

                This is why I wonder if there were something presented by the stranger that made whoever spoke to them trust them, or that could not reasonably be considered evidence of anything but that Jane was faking.

      2. Else*

        Setting aside all else in your very upsetting coworker situation, I have THOUGHTS about the shooter’s family. Keeping a kid’s stuff!

        1. 'Tis Me*

          Adding to traumatised children’s trauma and potentially leaving them wondering if it’s their fault their father shot their mother in front of them because why else would their family be too annoyed with them to let them have their stuff? (Answer: these people have messed up priorities and are using the kids to punish the mother… And no, it’s not her fault either!)

          1. Renamis*

            The boyfriend wasn’t the dad, and his family blamed her for his shooting her. It took wayyy too long for them to get the stuff back, and only because they knew the courts where about to order them to be let in to retrieve it. They where literally being petty.

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              “his family blamed her for his shooting her”

              WTF. And then they punished the *kids* for it?

      3. WellRed*

        I think in this case, in most cases, really, that was a lovely thing to do, and I would have made a small donation. But then, it also seems critical unlike a trip funded by coworkers.

  12. Heidi*

    Sorry that this happened to you, OP. It sounds like this was a painful event for everyone. I was surprised at the sums of money that people donated. Was there any sort of pressure from coworkers or management to “dig in” and contribute so much? If so, I’d find that inappropriate. No one should feel like they need to donate more than they can afford.

    1. OP*

      Hi! There was no pressure put on us to donate any particular amount. It was a small office, and a lot of the staff were very close, so there was a sense (I think), of just trying to do what we all could for her. I personally was fortunate that I had a good amount in savings, and my living situation allowed me to give a substantial amount. My frustration is less about how much I gave, and more about the thought that I could have given that money elsewhere if it wasn’t needed her.

  13. Me*

    Contact Go Fund Me. They will investigate because they don’t want to be out money.
    If she did it’s criminal and there will potentially be charges pressed.

    1. LinesInTheSand*

      I don’t know if that will work. The OP said that a colleague (not Jane) set up the GoFundMe. So if that’s true, I doubt there’s much GoFundMe can do. The fund was set up in good faith.

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        Absolutely – any refund would come out of the kind co-worker’s pocket, and if she did it without consulting Jane, she’ll have no legal recourse herself.

      2. CL Cox*

        It depends on who the money raised was given to. If it was as it sounds – that the money was paid directly to Jane, then she did accept it under false pretenses and can be prosecuted for fraud. I think that GoFundMe tries to pay directly to the intended recipient to ensure that the money goes where it’s supposed to. If the recipient declines the money, then it gets sent back to the donors.

    2. Paulina*

      This seems to have happened a few years ago though, and GoFundMe’s policy appears to limit fraud claims to one year after donation.

  14. TeapotNinja*

    She committed a crime, a pretty substantial one at that. I’m sorry, but an apology isn’t really what I’d be looking for. I’d call the cops.

    1. MK*

      The problem is that it’s not certain that she committed a crime; it’s only a random(anomynous?) person on the phone claiming so. Going straight to the police risks that you are kickstarting the poenal process against a possibly very ill person.

    2. fposte*

      I think it’s fine to call the cops to see if they’ll do something, but we don’t know if she committed a crime. We only know some random stranger who is unlikely to be who they purport to be is claiming she committed a crime. That’s a big difference.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Yep. I’d drag the police into this and let them plus the courts sort it all out.

      I am not getting what all the stuff is with the “sort of” sponsor, but I think that it’s not necessary to figure that out. The police can work on that part also.

      1. Dahlia*

        I think calling the police on someone who could be very ill because one person said they weren’t with no proof or even asking them what’s up would be very cruel.

      2. whingedrinking*

        Put it this way: if someone sent me an email telling me that they knew my fiance was a serial killer, my first thought wouldn’t be, “Oh my god, I’ve agreed to marry an axe murderer, I have to call the cops”. It would be, “This is some kind of sick joke.”
        Currently the OP and her coworkers have one piece of evidence that Jane lied, which is a phone call from one person who purported to be a friend checking up on Jane’s progress. As Alison says, this would be an extremely weird thing to lie about – but no weirder, and certainly much less complicated, than pretending to have a terminal illness. It doesn’t sound like OP’s workplace checked up on who this person was or have any reason to prefer the caller’s version of events to Jane’s. Someone is lying, and if it’s not Jane, then you’re sending the police around to investigate someone with a serious illness (unlikely to be good for her health).

      3. CatLadyInTraining*

        No….maybe call the police on the anonymous caller…but maybe Jane really is ill. Who knows? Best not to get involved!

  15. annakarina1*

    I’m wondering if someone is lying about her, because I’m assuming that someone who reports having a terminal illness and getting the support from their job would need to show some medical documentation to HR or their supervisors.

    1. Me*

      People forge things. We had someone who had “cancer” that lied and recreated doctors notes and everything. He got caught because he misspelled Johns Hopkins.

      1. Quill*

        I mean, when I was a kid one of my classmates stole another girl’s charm bracelet, then when the girl found it in her cubby and took it back lied and told teachers that the girl had stolen it from *her*

        It had original owner’s initials on it, which were NOT the liar’s initials.

        Somehow it took multiple grown adults most of a school day to sort this out when several children, including me, knew liar was a constant liar and pointed out the initials stuff.

        All this to say that thieves are not necessarily good at thinking things through but also workplace authorities are also not necessarily good at investigating.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          My daughter had that happen to her a couple of years ago and her teachers did NOT get to the bottom of it… possibly because it was an inexpensive item, but dang it left a biterness in her that is sad to see.

          1. whingedrinking*

            I vaguely recall a middle-school classmate who made more than one attempt to switch our art projects. My solution just became to not leave my stuff unattended, since unfortunately my art teacher didn’t seem to have the competence to stop one twelve year old girl from stealing another’s paper mache mask.

      2. Ryn*

        Someone I went to college with forged having cancer as an excuse for missing classes, she faked it by forging her aunt’s signature (an actual oncologist) and a local hospital’s letterhead. She got caught but didn’t get kicked out, pretty sure her parents made a pretty donation to the school.

    2. Amethystmoon*

      I agree, something about this doesn’t entirely smell right. I had a coworker who was on disability and she told me about all the forms she had to show HR. Doesn’t HR have to do some legwork to make sure it’s legit? For sure, get more info.

      1. Me*

        Should HR do leg work – absolutely. But do they? Especially if it’s a small company that hasn’t really dealt with a serious illness before I can see them taking a lot at face value.

    3. annakarina1*

      I’m also asking this because I just completed jury duty for a few weeks, and had to send documentation to Operations to both ensure I would get jury duty pay and also that the letter was legit and not forged.

  16. Ms. Ann Thropy*

    The “sponsor” is probably another person Jane ripped off. It’s a shame grifters take advantage of the kinder impulses of better people.

    1. CBH*

      I’m not disagreeing with you. But I would think if it was a person who was ripped off by Jane, that person would have been more upfront – Can I speak to someone in charge? I need to give you a heads up about something that happened to me with one of your former employees – type of situation. Just guessing. It does sound like Jane scammed a lot of people.

    2. andy*

      I dont think so. It would make sense to report Jane to police or to GoFundMe. It would make sense to seek another victim to joint for legal action. It would make some sense to straightforwardly announce Jane lied.

      It would make zero sense to pretend you are helping Jane to apologize.

      1. Ms. Ann Thropy*

        Unless the sponsor was someone who thought Jane was a friend, caught her in a scheme, then was taken in again by Jane begging her to help Jane change her ways and make amends. Of course, that’s just the speculation of a person who has dealt with pathological liars.

        1. andy*

          That still does not make sense to me, unless sponsor is unusually naive and dumb. Insisting on therapy or professional help woild make sense., Insisting on ammends maybe, but the call as described here does not fit that.

          I acept that people can be dumb and do weird things, but the way letter describes it is just too odd.

    1. Me*

      Well there are instances where people miraculously recover from illness. It’s super rare but it happens.

      I doubt that’s the case here though.

      1. AnonToday*

        Of course. But she ended up dropping to 2 days/week at OldJob and then left because even that was too much, apparently.

        1. Kella*

          It’s possible that Jane’s illness has ups and downs and that year was a really bad one, and this year has been good.

          It’s also possible that she discovered she could do another type of work that was somehow easier for her, like a job she could do remotely etc.

      2. Me*

        And OP says she worked with her several years ago.

        I’d say the circumstances merit a skeptical eyebrow raise.

        1. Quill*

          A terminal diagnosis can be a “you have anywhere between 1 year and 7 years to live” though. Especially in cases of rarer diseases.

          And Jane may need a job in order to continue having access to treatment.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      My terminally ill coworker was applying for jobs because our then workplace was entirely too toxic for her to work in when she was going for chemo and radiation (our former manager had a weird hard-on for her and tried to make every day of her working life hell). She also needed to make more money because she and her husband were separating and she wanted to make sure her kids were set financially before she passed.

      1. Me*

        That’s awful.

        In this case it sounds like the coworker had it really good. I find it curious she left great circumstances and now is looking for something else years later.

      1. blackcat*

        Yup, this.
        Outside of a few specific diagnoses, you don’t qualify for medicaid just because you’re dying.

      1. Senor Montoya*

        I hope I am misunderstanding the tone here. It’s possible, you know, to be terminally ill and to take a vacation. It’s possible to be terminally ill and to work.

        It’s possible to not feel well enough to do either of these things, and to still do them.

        If I’ve misunderstood your point, I apologize. I’m kind of touchy about this — my younger cousin died a couple of years ago from stomach cancer. She spent some time on a visit to my parents about 6 months before she did — my mom was her favorite aunt — which my parents paid for. During the day, she seemed peppy. At night…it was terrible. As far as anyone could tell when she was out in public, she was doing great! Other relatives said to my mom, Well, she certainly fooled you into paying for a trip! (After she died, they said, gee, I had no idea it was that bad. Correct — they had no idea and should have kept it to themselves.)

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          This was my work friend who had cancer. She traveled, she worked, she continued living her damn life regardless of her terminal diagnosis. She lived for five years after being diagnosed and having undergone very expensive and excruciating treatments – she earned those damn vacations, you know?

      2. Jennifer Thneed*

        Yeah, tell that to my father who was dying of leukemia when the whole family went to Disneyland. He was in a wheelchair, but we were there! (Oh, and I was a kid. He was 27 at the time.)

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*


        It seems like you’ve never heard of the Make a Wish Foundation and how they send terminally ill children on vacations, yet they cannot always go to school or do specific things. But they can certainly enjoy a get away.

        Terminally ill doesn’t mean that you’re on hospice riding it out, it just means that your time is limited per the doctors. It often isn’t until the very end that you’re bed bound and waiting to be called home…jeez.

    3. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      The brutally ugly fact of the American healthcare system: decent coverage comes through your employer, and never mind that the ability to work and the need for ongoing intensive healthcare tend to have an inverse relationship.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’m reminded of one of my favourite YouTubers TotalBiscuit who battled cancer into submission more than once but after he sadly passed away his family were still suffering from the financial costs of his medical treatments. I was quite shocked to see just how expensive it all had been.

    4. Lost academic*

      Terminal illnesses can take long, painful years. And you still have medical bills, housing, food…. So you need money.

    5. Half-Caf Latte*

      Terminally ill people still need to eat?

      Also if this is the US, she might need a job for the healthcare coverage.

    6. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Remission? I’ve had one occasion where a friend survived a cancer with a vanishingly low survival rate where all the doctors said they’d be dead in 6 months. I’m not saying that’s happened here though.

      1. Carlie*

        Also transplants – there are terminal diseases for which transplants *might* help but are not guaranteed to, and of course you might not even get one before your time runs out.

        1. Senor Montoya*

          Or treatments are developed that aren’t available when you first get diagnosed. My son had many years of chemo, which temporarily knocked down the tumor, but it kept coming back. Eventually the scientists came up with a treatment that seems to have stopped it for good — it was not available until the year he was offered the treatment (Phase 2 study).

    7. londonedit*

      People can survive for years with a terminal diagnosis; it doesn’t always mean ‘you’ll be dead in a matter of weeks’. And if those people feel well enough, they might want to carry on going to work and feeling useful and getting out of the house for as long as they can – financial implications aside, it can be very helpful for people to feel like they’re still making a contribution and not just sitting around waiting to die.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        And sometimes a long shot treatment works/buys you years.
        But yeah, a sense of purpose and normalcy goes a long way when you’re sick.

      2. wittyrepartee*

        Oh wait, one more “and sometimes”. And sometimes your doctor misdiagnosed you/diagnosed you correctly but gave you a wrong prognosis. Totally happens.

    8. Oxford Comma*

      Okay, I don’t know if Jane was lying or is dying, but there are all sorts of reasons why you might still need to be working if you are terminally ill: insurance, money for the many many things that insurance doesn’t cover, copays, rent/mortgage, bills, food.

      It’s not always like it is in the movies where you go from that visit with the doctor to quickly dying in hospice. There can be a long part in between.

    9. Cee Cee Dee*

      I just came on here to make the same comment. If you are really curious, you could reach out and ask her how she is! Since she was so open about her health, you could ask more pointed questions on her treatment, etc…

      1. Sunflower*

        This is what I would do! I don’t see any issue with the OP reaching out and asking how she is doing. No guarantee OP will get the truth or even an answer but this seems like the safest way to proceed if OP wants any sort of closure.

    10. Dahlia*

      Unless you’re dying next week, you probably need to eat and pay rent. And as others said, health insurance.

    11. Dying breath*

      Because those of us unlucky enough to get a terminal diagnosis that won’t kill us quickly still have to pay for rent and food, on top of the medical bills. My landlord won’t accept my letter from the hospital that says I’ll be dead within three to five years in lieu of my rent.

      How is this so hard to understand?

    12. Senor Montoya*

      Terminally ill does not mean you will die tomorrow.

      Terminally ill people need money, just like you are me:
      They have to pay bills. Often, terrifyingly large medical bills.
      They have rent or a mortgage; if they don’t pay, they can end up on the street.

      Health care is the number one cause of personal bankruptcy in the US.

  17. Alfonzo Mango*

    A $15,000 vacation?! That’s one heck of a trip!

    This is me officially requesting an update to this post.

    1. Quill*

      Multiple people, flight to europe, lasts perhaps two weeks…

      Say, 3 persons, ($5,00 apiece) to a fairly touristy destination? I can easily see that, especially if they were going during the busy season.

      1. Sarah N*

        Yeah, I don’t think this is unreasonable. I think our European honeymoon was maybe $7-8K, and we were only two people and went with a sort of mid-budget approach (stayed at mid-range hotels, didn’t rent a car/taxis and relied on transit, no orgnaized tours, some fancy restaurants but not every meal, etc.). With more than two travellers (unclear how many were going) and more luxury accomodations, I feel like it would be pretty easy to hit $15,000.

        1. Sarah N*

          I mean, it’s unreasonable if the person was not actually sick! And maybe it’s generally unreasonable to ask your coworkers to fund a trip of that cost even if you are terminally ill. But I don’t think it’s in general an outrageous price for a multiple-person European vacation.

      2. One of the Sarahs*

        Plus if she *was* sick, there are likely to be a ton of extra costs around things like medical insurance, accessible rooms, taxis instead of taking the bus, and all that ramps up the cost super-fast.

    2. Beth Jacobs*

      A long vacation to multiple destinations (ie. a month discovering Europe, including flights and train rides within the continent).

      Still, I can’t say I’m not jealous! There’s people who live on 15k a year.

    3. Another Academic Librarian*

      Well…not really. The last time I went to Europe, my flight ended up being about $1,400. Even if you figure $1,000 each for airfare, once you add in two hotel rooms for $250-300 US a night (obviously you can go cheaper, but pricing is so dependent on location, seasonal demand, exchange rates…), a ten day trip for four people might cost around $10,000 even before you add in food, ground transportation, and the cost of sightseeing, museums, performances, etc.

    4. Senor Montoya*

      Check out Make A Wish. That is not an impossible amount for a trip for the ill person plus family members. On average, wishes are around $10 K. Some (like my son’s) are much less. Some are more.

  18. Matilda Jefferies*

    One thing you can definitely do, is block the social media suggestions. I’m not clear if it’s Jane’s profile that keeps popping up, or her “sponsor’s” – but either way, if it’s bugging you, there are ways to turn them off. Whatever you decide to do about the money, you can certainly take back some peace of mind by not having her name pop up all the time.

    1. hbc*

      Yeah, that’s pretty much the end of what I’d do. It’s a weird situation in which more information is likely to not make me feel any better, so I’d cut out as many reminders as possible.

  19. podcastgal*

    Listen to the podcast “Something was Wrong” Season 2. It talks about a similar (but seemingly much more severe) case. I am not affiliated with them, I just love the podcast.

  20. Jennifer*

    Also – lots of times people start these GoFundMe campaigns when they don’t even know if the coworker is in need. I remember there was a letter a while back where the OP’s dog was ill and needed surgery and she had enough money to cover all the expenses but for some odd reason her coworkers decided to raise money without even talking to her first. She wasn’t even sure if she wanted to go through with the surgery at all.

    People need to sit down sometimes, seriously.

  21. TootsNYC*

    It’s interesting that the GoFundMe was started by a coworker, and NOT by Jane.
    I wonder if that changes the fraud dynamics, from a legal sense.
    Does GoFundMe require the person receiving the funds to sign anything? Or did only the person setting up the account have to do it?

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Oh yeah – if someone else started it on her behalf, GoFundMe could use that as an excuse not to issue refunds since Jane herself didn’t commit fraud through them since she wasn’t the one who set up the page in the first place.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        But if she accepts the funds I believe that may make her compliant with the scam. She’s not without recourse every step of the way, she could have told the friend NO, she could have informed the folks at GoFundMe, she could have informed her office and last, she could have refused the funds.

        She had lots of outs here and did not take any one of them.

    2. Bertha*

      I was wondering the same thing. Every case I am able to find of someone who received criminal charges related to fraud on GoFundMe, it was the person who set it up that was committing the fraud.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think GoFundMe wouldn’t want to get into the “false pretenses” thing. It was set up to fund a vacation for her, the money was used to fund the vacation for her…

  22. Nelalvai*

    That is a really, really strange way for a sponsor to behave, so while acting out a fiction like this is definitely a thing I would be very wary of the sponsor.
    IF it’s true, LW, it might help you to focus on the fact that mental health is in play. I don’t say that as a way to justify Jane’s actions or get you to forgive her, but in the hope that changing the story from “we were taken in by our lying con of a co-worker” to “our co-worker had an untreated mental illness and it caused widespread harm” will bring *you* some peace.

    1. Keely*

      Yeah, this sponsor is really sketchy. Their responsibility is to Jane, ultimately, and I don’t see how Jane could be helped by the sponsor calling her old job and tanking any chance she has of getting references from them.

    2. Salsa Your Face*

      It makes me wonder if the “sponsor” isn’t really a sponsor, but someone Jane confessed to trying to surreptitiously/passive aggressively blow the whistle.

    3. CRM*

      I agree with the mental health re-framing. If this “sponsor” is telling the truth, that means that Jane probably wasn’t lying just to scam her coworkers and get time off from work. Severe mental health disorders can truly alter the way you think and perceive the world.

  23. Musereader*

    I don’t understand why OP and her old office would believe a random stranger who has made one call and presented no proof, more than someone she had worked with and presumably liked enough to donate to who they literally knew was sick at the time because she was getting accommodated cf. – “she was getting treatments and also experienced pain/fatigue from her illness, so usually was working two days a week on average”.

    1. The Great Octopus*

      yeah my first thought. Like a stranger can rattle that much? Plus this person who claims to be a sponsor doing something this damaging? That is the exact opposite of a sponsor which really makes me wonder if Caller is just stirring the pot and Jane is/was sick.

    2. Misty*

      That was my thought too. I had a friend whose ex was really mad at her so his current gf helped him make my friend’s life difficult. She called my friend’s workplace and complained about a bunch of stuff, pretending to be a vendor that my friend wronged. (They also did a bunch of other random stuff). But it caused a bunch of problems at work because people didn’t take the source into account.

  24. Leela*

    I have cancer and people tell other people I don’t all the time. This is usually based on me doing regular, non-cancer things like *walking* and *eating stuff their aunt who had cancer DIDN’T EAT* and through the telephone game that becomes me lying about having cancer.

    You definitely have a reason to look into this now but people can and do lie or spread misinformation about other people’s health so I’d keep that in mind, even if Jane is 100% lying you’ll come out looking way better if you try to get more info before reacting than if you react and it turns out that in addition to a terminal illness, Jane now has former coworkers not believing her and taking stabs at her professional life based on a phone call from someone you don’t know

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      My sincerest kind thoughts to you mate, and I hope people don’t believe those liars in your life. When my cousin had cancer people told her she couldn’t have because her hair didn’t fall out.

    2. Minimal Pear*

      Yes, exactly! I’m chronically-but-not-terminally ill and people have SUCH an incorrect mental image of what that looks like. Then they get SUPER huffy and self-righteous when they think they’ve discovered you’re faking. If the “sponsor” is lying/wrong, they may not even have a vendetta (as such) but rather just a busybody who thinks they’re the next Sherlock Holmes and The World Must Know. I really do NOT like people like that.

      1. TootsNYC*

        also, chronically but not terminally…

        A guy from my church was in the hospital for leukemia. He’s apparently fine now.
        It’s a disease that, if people heard what it was, they would assume it was fatal–and it can be. And he might have worried that it would be.

        But it can be in remission easily–and then it can come back, or it can create a weakness or vulnerability that it a big part of things.

        And people with serious cancers can live quite a long time.

      2. Anon Cancer Patient*

        I’m sorry there are so many other people out here with stories like this! But thank you for sharing. It makes this person who’s having a bad day feel a little less alone.

    3. Quill*

      Yeah, people are TERRIBLE about illnesses, and I think it’s some combination of the just world fallacy and, (in america at least) the pervasive protestant work ethic stuff surrounding about whether people Deserve to have time off / medical care when they’re not pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

    4. epi*

      This is a really good point. Unfortunately, many people take it upon themselves to decide whether others are *really* sick or disabled based on their mistaken beliefs about how an ill person should look, feel, or behave. This can cut both ways, too: sometimes people with serious illnesses are treated like they’re much more fragile or impaired than they really are, because the diagnosis is scary to the people around them. Not all cancers, even more distant ones, are terminal or mean that someone is highly likely to die very soon. Many people also conflate someone seeming to be in a lot of pain, needing to miss work for treatment, or being unable to do a lot of activities of daily living as being about to die. They’re not necessarily the same.

      I’m struck by the fact that someone else set up this GoFundMe for Jane. And that learning that, if Jane was not physically ill, then she was mentally ill, also doesn’t seem to affect the coworkers’ feelings of having been defrauded on purpose.

      Even in this thread there are people asking why Jane is still alive(!) and looking for jobs if she was so sick before. The OP should seriously consider whether someone close to Jane, with her best interests at heart, would even have contacted them and told them this story.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I know it’s not in the same boat, but when I had time off due to severe life-threatening depression my husband took me on a holiday and one person at work asked me afterward if I realised how bad it looked going away hill I was that ill.

        (Doing much better these days.)

        1. Also Amazing*

          Wow. Just… wow.

          I’m glad to hear you are doing much better! (And I hope you have better coworkers!)

      2. Chrysanthemum*

        I think that’s what struck me the most- the presumption that of course this random caller (that the OP didn’t seem to speak to personally) is right and Jane, the former coworker with lots of support from friends, is lying about everything.

        I get so tired of having to perform health or neurotypicality for the benefit of others. But when I don’t, I get tons of questions that are always presuming I don’t understand my conditions or that I’m just exaggerating my experience. Or they think I shouldn’t be functioning if I “really have” that condition and try to tell me to stop doing things.

    5. CRM*

      I totally agree with you. It sounds like Jane would have needed to go through a lot of trouble just to sustain that lie for as long as she did, and it’s much more plausible that phone call came from someone who doesn’t have all of the information (at best; this is assuming the caller didn’t have malicious intent).

      On a separate note, sending positive vibes your way Leela.

    6. aebhel*

      Yeah, a lot of illnesses don’t actually look the way healthy people expect them to look. Like, it’s certainly not impossible that Jane was lying, but I would investigate a LOT more before jumping to any conclusions.

      1. 'Tis Me*

        I have systemic lupus amongst other things. I don’t get the proper rash but it’s quite normal for me, when I’m feeling bad, to be flushed where that rash appears (so high colour in my cheeks and forehead).

        My boss when I was 20 would always comment on how well I looked those days… He evidently perceived it as a healthy glow when it was not…

    7. KoiFeeder*

      I was going to say something like this, but you got there first and much more eloquently. People really do tend to be the disability police the second you tell them that you’re ill.

      1. Blue*

        It is possibly my least favourite thing about being chronically ill/disabled, how much energy you have to waste dealing with people who either don’t believe you or are sure you’re Doing It Wrong.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          The worst is when it’s totally impossible for them to believe that, yes, my doctor does know what I’m doing and she’s the one who suggested these things. Or the ones who keep trying to sell me essential oils.

    8. Danish*

      Ugh, I’m so sorry people take it upon themselves to decide you dont have cancer. Like, if only that were true amirite.

      I have a chronic illness and I have sometimes taken to not doing my regular hair and makeup routine when I know I’m about to see someone who expects me to “look” “sick”. I’m not trying to deceive people so much as I am tired of hearing about how “well you’re looking much better!”. It is completely stupid that I have to do this, but it’s so tired to have to be all “ha ha well thank you BUT UNFORTUNATELY I AM STILL ILL, YES REALLY” all the dang time.

    9. pamela voorhees*

      I would be willing to bet that this strange, out of the blue phone call is someone who believes Jane was never ill based on something like this, or a misunderstanding of what a statement like “I have a year left” means (meaning, statistically most people will pass within a year, but some may go quicker, and some may live on past that, but not that Jane was lying if she lives past a year). My friend Elle has a genetic disorder that has resulted in months long hospital stays, and will likely kill her before fifty. Her aunt told the extended family that Elle’s family has been lying this entire time because Elle recently got married — the reasoning being that, essentially, people who are really sick are not allowed to experience joy or have normal life events. They must be sick, all the time, visibly, on demand.

      My point is, people police illness. A lot. If you’ve never been chronically ill, it’s hard to understand how many people have opinions on how sick you are and what you do or don’t deserve based on how you look. And it’s hard to understand how STRONGLY people hold these opinions. Strong enough to absolutely call a past workplace and claim that someone is lying because they weren’t ill in the right way. It’s possible Jane’s lying, sure, but to me, it’s way more likely that this is phone call is from someone who has convinced themselves that they are Right because Jane … who knows, ate ice cream? / went out for a run? / was ill in any way they thought wasn’t appropriate.

  25. Count Boochie Flagrante*

    Yikes. Yikes.

    You have my sympathy, OP. No matter what turns out to be true, this is an awful situation to find yourself in the middle of.

    There’s an excellent Longreads article (link to follow) about being taken in by someone faking a terminal illness; if that’s actually what’s going on here, it may help you process the feelings you’re dealing with.

    However, I do think Alison’s point is well made — you know someone’s lying, but you really do not have evidence about who, and it’s worthwhile not to jump to conclusions. Plus, it sounds as though you no longer have any direct contact with Jane; it might be that the easiest answer for you would be to step back entirely, accept that questions have been raised and not answered, and simply draw the best conclusions with the information you have and carry on your way.

    I don’t know what GoFundMe’s policy for fraud is like, if they would launch an investigation (and if so, how thorough?) or simply take a report as fact and attempt to reclaim the money from Jane. It’d be pretty rotten if they turned out to be demanding money back from someone who is truly very ill. In my personal moral risk management schema, I think I’d be more comfortable, barring further information, with concluding that I believe Jane and not this caller, and carrying on. This would be different if you still had contact with Jane, obviously, and if your donations to her — either in the form of money, time, energy, etc — were ongoing, but given that it’s past… it may be easier to simply let it rest in the past.

    1. Caroline Bowman*

      yeah, no. I’d insist flatly on finding out the truth. I’d chat with Jane first and get a feel for the situation, but if any inconsistencies, such as apparently being so sick years ago that she had to leave her job, right after a really, really pricey holiday was purchased for her, but now being job-hunting would make me explain that there will be an investigation launched, you’re terribly sorry but you’ll need medical confirmation or GoFundMe will be involved and there will be further consequences.

      1. fposte*

        But who are “you” in this situation? It’s not likely that Jane’s old job has a ton of extra resources to devote to Solving the Mystery of Jane, or that they have the ability to launch an investigation or require the cops to do so. And the suggestion that she has to supply private health information to her old employer or else suffer consequences sounds a tad blackmaily.

        1. aebhel*

          This. I think at this point the odds of actually being able to recover funds are extremely slim, the odds of being able to prosecute her for fraud when she wasn’t the one who set up the account are also extremely slim, and there’s always the possibility here that you’d actually be calling up a threatening a very ill person based on an unproven claim from a total stranger.

          1. One of the Sarahs*

            Yeah, and all the people saying “report her to GoFundMe!” are assuming that Jane was paid the money directly, and complicit in getting it set up etc etc. I would be very, very careful about calling in “this is fraud!” and demanding refunds (and I can’t see how GFM would take “someone at work had an anonymous phonecall saying Jane was lying, and she’s looking for work” as evidence of fraud, anyway), because it really does seem like the person that would hurt most would be the co-worker who set it up.

      2. Count Boochie Flagrante*

        That’s also an option. But I think it’s worth asking what kind of benefits an aggressive pursuit of the issue would bring, versus what kind of costs it would have.

      3. hbc*

        That’s a fair approach if you know that Jane’s a lying liar who’s going to get what’s coming to her, but it doesn’t take into account other possibilities. For example, what if Jane has some ex-friend or coworker who wants to punish her by starting nasty rumors? Do you really want to be the person who makes a terminally ill person choose between sending a former coworker private medical information or dealing with a lawsuit?

      4. Colette*

        But you’re not in any position to do that. You can ask Jane how she’s doing, and I guess you could ask if she was lying about her health, but she has no obligation to answer you. If you were in the OP’s position, your only option would be to go to the police – and you might not hear back about what they find out.

  26. Jared*

    Is it possible that the person who made the call isn’t actually a sponsor? It is possible that a close friend or family member of Jane found out about the money / trip and reported it back to her previous employer because that person felt guilt or felt that Jane shouldn’t get away with something like that? They didn’t want to give away their identity so they pretended to be a sponsor of some sort. Jane may have lied and the person who made the call could have been telling the truth about everything except their identity.

    1. Oxford Comma*

      It’s also possible the “sponsor” is a vindictive ex, family member, ex-friend, etc.

      Again, I don’t know what the truth of the situation is, but before I would go straight to grift, I would want to be sure of the situation. Because OP is gonna feel like absolute garbage if it turns out that Jane wasn’t lying and is working because she needs the money to live, pay for her burial, or whatever.

  27. Quill*

    Burden of proof should, in this case, be on the whistleblowing caller, because I have SO MANY QUESTIONS about how they “know” Jane was faking this illness. There’s pretty much no way they could know this beyond a specific confession from Jane, at least in any way where they could legally share that information. Even if they, say, are calling with concerns because Jane confessed to them that she took a day off for mental health issues – there’s no way for them to determine that it wasn’t related to her treatment for the disease she was already getting accommodations for. (And the stress of a major illness, or having to go off meds to take other meds, isn’t going to help a pre-existing mental health issue.)

    It’s also possible that said terminal illness is in remission but this caller is making assumptions that since she’s doing better (or better enough to take a europe vacation with her family) she was lying about the illness being terminal, or needing accomodations, or whatever. This sort of snap judgement is not entirely uncommon when people see a disabled or chronically ill person not acting disabled / chronically ill enough to fit their preconceived ideas of what counts as sick or disabled enough.

    Frankly, the volume of lies necessary on either side makes it far more likely that the caller is the liar (they only need one lie, that they can do not in person, and never have to do any work to maintain) vs. Jane (she’d need to lie about her diagnosis to multiple people, get paperwork documenting accomodations, set up the gofundme…)

  28. Caroline Bowman*

    But wait, wasn’t it a terrible terminal disease.

    Without being cruel, why is she, you know, still out there actively on the job market? If two days a week was too much, then one presumes whatever the disease was had progressed to something life-altering, from which a person would be unlikely to miraculously bounce back to this extent.

    I feel that the caller was stirring the pot of course, but that doesn’t mean that what Jane said was true either. Both of these things can be true at the same time. I’d be going back to the foundation once I’d clarified and also let Jane know you all know and think she’s scum. Of course if she IS terminally ill, then all that falls by the wayside.

    1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      Just because a disease is terminal doesn’t mean it’s terminal fast. And in the meantime, she still presumably needs health coverage and an income of some kind.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      Your question was already answered above: terminally ill people still have bills they have to pay, they have shelter they have to pay for, and they need medical insurance, which is usually cheaper through an employer than getting it off the exchange yourself. Jane job searching in and of itself doesn’t prove she isn’t terminally ill.

    3. Anon for a moment*

      A good friend’s mother got diagnosed with two primary cancers a few years ago. They were able to operate on the one, but couldn’t get all of the cancer. They couldn’t operate on the second. They told her she was terminal. They gave her an estimate of 6 months to a year.

      She held on for three. The first year was apparently not as bad as hoped. She was responding to the chemo. She was rallying. She even got to see her granddaughter get married. She was not doing so great for the next six months of year two, but she was functioning with the help of her family. The next six months of year two was a much bigger decline. There were hospital stays, but she was holding on. Year 3 was horrible.

      All throughout this my friend was having to fly back home multiple times a year to help out. Her boss and coworkers were skeptical after a while. Because it’s terminal right? Shouldn’t she be dead by now?

      And then she died. Quite horribly and awfully.

      It happens.

    4. Quill*

      “Terminal” generally means “you will die of this, or complications of it, barring accidental death” not “we know how long you have left to live with a reasonable amount of certainty.” Especially in terms of things like degenerative diseases (MS, some autoimmune diseases) that may progress at different rates, or cancers where you go into chemo and surgery not knowing how far into your body it’s spread.

      Frankly, it sounds like she’s on the job market because she needs the health insurance to continue treatment. And the job could have been more difficult for her at the time she left than it would be now, there might be significant differences in the job duties that make the ones she’s applying for easier, she could have been having trouble at OP’s workplace with the fact that she was confronting her mortality and undergoing initial treatment and be in a better headspace now…

      It’s premature based on Jane being still alive or able to work to assume that she lied in any way.

    5. Sabina*

      Our nephew was given a terminal diagnosis due to a type of blood cancer over 20 years ago. Shortly after the diagnosis a new drug regimen was developed that worked for him. He still has cancer, but it is more of a chronic condition, though it could eventually kill him. He worked long enough after the diagnosis that he was able to retire with a pension. If he hadn’t kept his job (though he had weeks, even months when he couldn’t work full time) he would have been left destitute.

    6. AnneNonyMouse*

      In addition to the above comments about remission and how long terminal illnesses can take, misdiagnosis also happens. I know someone who was misdiagnosed with a terminal illness, only to have it turn out a year later with another doctor that it was a different illness that was chronic and disabling, but not terminal with treatment.

    7. Carole*

      OP, you seem very willing to take the word of a total stranger who called up with a fishy tale, when previously you’d been convinced enough to give large sums of money to Jane. That seems strange to me. Did you already have doubts about the legitimacy of Jane’s story? If not, why was this one weird phone call enough to completely reverse your opinion? Why was this such a compelling claim?

      I think you need to think very carefully about why you were so willing to believe this random stranger over a former colleague you apparently knew, liked and trusted enough to give hundreds of dollars to.

    8. Senor Montoya*

      Maybe two days a week was too much *then*, but she’s getting good palliative care that allows her to work longer?
      Maybe it’s taken this long to get good treatment?
      Maybe new drugs/treatments are available?
      Maybe she needs to work because: health insurance, bills, rent…

    9. BookishMiss*

      I know I’m late to the game, but my spouse is terminal. In our case, the terminus, as it were, is about a decade out based on current treatment regimens and medical knowledge.

      We still have bills to pay, and I’m not even starting on what I’m saving against future bills. And I have good insurance.

      Empathy. It’s a thing.

  29. Employment Lawyer*

    Honestly I would let it go.

    You gave money to someone else to take a vacation. You did is because you thought she was sick. She WAS sick (mentally).

    You still have the same “mitzvah points” as you had in the first place–you did a nice thing–and you’re unlikely to get any money back or to achieve anything other than making you and other folks upset.

    1. Minimal Pear*

      Yes, this is what I always think about when donating to crowdfunding campaigns and such–even if it IS a scam, think about what it says about you! You’re a kind and accepting person who’s willing to give others the benefit of the doubt when they say they need help.

      1. Merci Dee*

        That’s kind of where I fall on donations, etc. in the general scheme of things.

        Several years ago, I saw a young guy sitting on the grassy verge next to a strip mall, holding a sign saying that he was homeless and needed help. I quickly ran through a neighboring McDonald’s and got a couple of sandwiches, some fries, and a drink to take back to him. His eyes lit up when I offered him the bag of food, and he acted like I’d just made his day. Later, I mentioned the young guy to a friend who’d been out running errands around the same area, and she had seem him sitting on the grass with his sign. She was absolutely livid that I’d “fallen for his scheme.” She was sure that he was trying to scam people for drug or alcohol money. I told her that her version of events was entirely possible. But the guy expressed a need, I was in a situation where I could offer some help, and I did what I could to help him. When I went to bed that night, my conscience would be clear and I’d be able to sleep with no problems. If the guy was scamming people for cash, then he was the one who’d have to carry the burden for that — not me, for being someone who tried to help.

        Of course, I freely admit that there’s a world of differences between $15 of food from McDonald’s and $15k for a vacation. I have no idea what I’d do if I found myself in OP’s situation.

        1. anonanna*

          Merci, this is how I feel about helping homeless people too. It’s a matter of faith for me- if I feel prompted to give money or otherwise help someone, I’ve done my part. What they do with the aid is beyond them. But I can tell you the times when someone says “thank you for seeing me” or tells you the food you gave them is their favorite kind make it 100% worthwhile.

  30. Michelle*

    I think I may have told this story here before- We had an young lady pretend to be pregnant 2 jobs ago. She had a baby shower and took off for “maternity leave”. She was a larger lady, so it was not obvious that she wasn’t pregnant. She would even let people feel the baby move. She talked about how excited her parents were and all they were doing for the baby, such as the grandpa handmaking a crib. The alleged father, her ex, had broken up with her 2 months before and got married to another woman within weeks of her declaring she was pregnant. It was a mess. We found out because she had been gone on maternity leave for 2 weeks and no word on the baby (we were going to send flowers). She told the office manager she was scheduled for a c-section but the nursery was “too” full of newborns and she had to wait. Another 2 weeks and someone called her home, asked her father about the baby and her father said “Baby? What baby? “Kim” isn’t pregnant”. Cue the sh*tstorm.

    She called within minutes. She said she had actually been pregnant but had lost the baby at 12 weeks but was too embarrassed to tell anyone since the alleged father had married, and she was afraid everyone would think she had made it up. Um, yeah, that’s what happens when you lie to people for months. No one believed she was ever pregnant and it was ploy to try to get the ex back, which ended up backfiring and she was all in at that point. She said she was going to use the maternity leave to job-hunt and not come back to the company. She ended up getting disciplined for lying about leave and they let her COME BACK. A few people talked to her but the majority of us just stayed away.

      1. Michelle*

        Yep. I never understood why she thought it was never going to come out. We live in a town where one of our coworkers would have bumped into her eventually and of course they would have asked about the baby. Of course no one’s reproductive choices are the business of any of their coworkers, but this lady was volunteering everything and seemed to relish the attention her faux pregnancy brought her. A few harsh comments were said about the ex, but he told people all along that was not pregnant. I was dating one of his friends before, during and after this. He shared some of the voicemails and text messages she had sent. She had become obsessed with him. I didn’t say anything to her or anyone else at work, I just stayed as far in the background as I could.

          1. Michelle*

            I still don’t know. Maybe her digestive system moving things along? She asked me once if I wanted to feel it kick and I declined.

    1. RC Rascal*

      Growing up, one of the neighbors did this. She was a larger lady and she faked a pregnancy; she already had 4 school age children and this one would have been a tag along, except it wasn’t real. After the neighborhood waited a year and there was no baby, everyone wrote it off as her being nutty, which she already had a reputation of being. They were an odd family.

      Many years later, the house was condemned due to poor repair. This is in a very nice suburb with award winning schools. Guessing at least the mother was mentally ill.

      1. SenatorMeathooks*

        Or…she could have miscarried, it was stillborn, or she genuinely thought she was pregnant for a while.

  31. Leela*

    Not an illness but when I was in college I was at work waiting for my boss who was late, and we got a phone call saying that it was a case worker and he’d been arrested for a violent outburst. He showed up as I was on the call so I put it on mute and told him what was happening so he took the phone; it was his mother who had gotten in a fight with him that morning about something she wanted so she tried to cause problems for him at work. He was in an ongoing legal battle with her about custody and she’d been doing all kinds of nonsense things like this, she even came in to steal inventory to try and make it look like he shouldn’t be store manager because he couldn’t keep stuff from getting stolen.

    It’s certainly possible that Jane’s the problem here but people do inexplicable things just to hurt other people all the time, please proceed with awareness of that

    1. Fashionable Pumpkin*

      I had an employee’s vindictive mom call in when I was managing in retail, too! Sweet 15 year old who loved crating. She took home the tiny bags the costume jewelry comes in to use for storing her beads. The mom called us to insist that her daughter was a drug dealer. Her evidence? she’d found “dime baggies.” SMH. We told the daughter, and I advised her not to tell her mom where she works when she hits 18. Apparently she was trying to get work experience early so she can find fulltime work the minute she graduated high school in 3 more years.

      I can’t understand why anyone would try to sabotage their kid that way.

      1. The Supreme Troll*

        Incredible…just kind of wishing it was some stupid (beyond the utmost stupid, though) joke.

      2. Blueberry*

        I can’t understand why anyone would try to sabotage their kid that way.

        To keep the kid trapped and dependent on them. I’m really glad that young woman had you in her corner.

  32. Anon Cancer Patient*

    This is such an upsetting situation. I really would hope that in some way you can give Jane the benefit of the doubt. While in general I think people’s medical information isn’t anyone else’s business, it became in some way your business when you donated to this fund. It became the workplace’s business when Jane disclosed her illness and received (presumably) flexibility under FMLA.

    I am someone who is living with cancer. I told precisely four people at my old job—HR, my boss, my direct report, and, stupidly, one other coworker when I snapped because I was vomiting in the bathroom and she accused me of being hung over and I snapped that I was in a treatment week and to mind her own business. I had to go through a ridiculous amount of paperwork to get FMLA accommodations of any sort, had six different doctors sign off, sent in all my medical records, etc. I cannot imagine being able to truly forge that.

    When I was out for a few days after a particularly rough radiation cycle, my boss let me know that someone else in our department came to him and was concerned I was faking my cancer because I hadn’t lost my hair and I had gained, not lost, weight. Well, guess what. Oral Temodar didn’t make my hair fall out, and my medications made me balloon up. My boss was fantastic and read that colleague the riot act but that wasn’t the last time someone questioned my health status because I “didn’t look sick enough” and I shockingly kept up with my work and still outperformed other despite an intense physical battle.

    No one did anything for me at work. No one had a stake in this. I ended up taking disability time following surgery and then didn’t return to work. I now work elsewhere and am still not NED/in remission. I, you know, need insurance and an income. I found out just a month or so ago that an old colleague saw me in a major city near us (where I go for treatment), and told old colleagues that “I was still alive so probably it wasn’t cancer.” I know their thoughts shouldn’t matter but…wow. I was a kind colleague, a hard worker, and tried to minimize the effect of my illness on the department and it hurt to have that all dismissed.

    Sorry for the word vomit. That was cathartic. Anyway…I sincerely hope Jane wasn’t lying, and I also hope she’s OK. I sincerely hope that someone can speak to her and, if she’s being lied about, they can get that set straight. If she did lie…well, then I will hope she is getting help for whatever mental health issues she’s battling. I wouldn’t wish either cancer or significant mental health issues on anyone.

    1. beanie gee*

      Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sorry for what you’ve gone through.

      No one should have their hardest moments in life made more difficult by people who think they know something they know nothing about.

    2. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      I’m glad your boss was a solid person but I’m sorry about the horrible gossipy jerks that were your old colleagues.

    3. Leela*

      I, too, am on a form of chemo that causes weight gain. If you look at me now, it doesn’t look like I have hair loss. If you look at me now compared to me before I started treatment, it’s a very visible stark amount of hair loss, I just started with extremely thick hair and now it looks on the thin side of normal. I get called out all.the.time. because of it. I can even see people’s eyes drift to my hair and then see the disbelief on their faces. I know I stand no chance of people giving up a priority seat they don’t need to me because of how I look so I’ve long since stopped trying, but people constantly try to get me thrown out of priority seats and people with visible illness seem to think that their cane means they get to harass someone with invisible illness out of a seat instead of just moving on to the next priority seat and seeing if the person there has a medical need for it. Unfortunately pregnant women have become the bane of my existence because looking young and female they always, always, ALWAYS ask me to move first (I’ve never seen a man asked to move, EVER. It’s very rare I see a woman older than me asked to move first but it happens) and then when I explain I need the seat they start crying and then everyone acts like I’m the asshole who made a pregnant woman cry by refusing to give her a seat because I’m just selfish. This means I can either be treated like crap by everyone for the rest of the ride, passive aggressive scoffs eye rolls or people full on getting confrontational with me, or I can divulge my private health information to a bunch of strangers that they disbelieve anyway.

      I’ve heard that in some other countries, they give you a specially colored bus pass to indicate that you have a medical need for priority seats and I really wish we’d adopt that where I live.

      1. Media Monkey*

        in london on the tube, we have “baby on board” badges and ones that say “please offer me a seat”. there’s also an ad campaign featuring people with invisible illnesses like lupus explaining why they might need a seat.

    4. Diahann Carroll*

      This is horrible – sorry you’re going through this. My work friend had the same struggles with people (at first) not believing she was sick because her cancer treatment caused her to gain a ton of weight, but when her hair finally started to fall out (it took years), then people knew she was telling the truth.

  33. I'm just here for the cats*

    If she’s in some type of self help group, why would her sponsor call up her old employer. Doesn’t that go against what sponsorship does?

    1. TooTiredToThink*

      Thank you. Looks like we commented at about the same time, but this is what makes me think that Jane may not have been the one lying….

  34. TooTiredToThink*

    “This friend of hers was a sponsor of sorts trying to help get her back on track by apologizing to people she had wronged.”

    Eh? Correct me if I am wrong but it is NEVER the sponsor’s responsibility to contact people. Their story actually smells really fishy to me and not in the “Jane lied” category.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      Everyone is reading their own interpretations into that, but we just don’t have enough info on it to know if it’s shady or not.

      1. fposte*

        That’s the challenge on this one–like us, the OP and her co-workers don’t have enough information on any of this to know if it’s shady or not. And much as I, a fact-finder, hate to say it, I don’t think they’re likely to get that information, either. (I’m pretty certain we’re not.)

      2. Impy*

        It’s not about ‘interpretation’. There is no sponsorship program which involves the sponsor gossiping about their sponsee.

        1. Eukomos*

          There are several people upthread saying they’ve seen sponsors helping people with Munchausen Syndrome do exactly this.

          1. Impy*

            No, they’re saying that people with Munchausen’s are encouraged to apologise to people they’ve wronged. Not that sponsors helping people with serious mental illness call up and gossip about their sponsees.

            1. Mia*

              They’re not necessarily called “sponsors”, but having an accountability partner of sorts to verify whether or not you’ve apologized/admitted your lies *is* actually what I, at least, was referring to upthread.

              1. Impy*

                Sure, but even in those cases, I doubt the accountability partner calls up to rat the other person out. The point is honesty from the person recovering, surely?

                1. Mia*

                  A big part of the point is harm reduction, which sometimes does include letting people know when they’ve been on the receiving end of someone’s lies. OP specifies that the “sponsor” specifically contacted someone they knew, so to me it sounds much less like “ratting out” than trying to ensure transparency.

  35. Not So NewReader*

    OP, I feel so bad for you and yours.

    Please know that you all did the right thing, you were supportive of someone who you believed was in trouble.
    Don’t wear HER responsibility and her shame for her. Your lives go on, you all can sleep well at night because you know you have done nothing wrong.
    If the caller is telling the truth, then Jane is in a very different space from what you are in. The shame is on Jane for conning all of you.

    Going forward, take the time to let your wounds reknit. If this means giving more modestly or more selectively, then so be it. There is nothing wrong with giving cautiously. And there is definitely nothing wrong with being even more cautious after being burned.
    I’d steer clear of this person but I would not try to confront her. If she has conned you, she will drag you down a dark hole that starts with, “But I JUST…..”. No, a clean break is best.

    You are a good, caring person, OP and don’t let her take that away from you. I do believe that sometimes good, caring people get swindled. The problem comes in when a particular individual allows themselves to be swindled repeatedly AND to their own detriment. This does not describe you at all OP, as you say you have grown wary and distrusting. You are not talking about having financial difficulties so through all this you have remained fiscally responsible toward your own self. This is important that we don’t sink our own ships.

    My vote is to let it go. Do what you need to do to take care of YOU.

  36. AKchic*

    OP, I think in this case, all of you need to take that phone call with a healthy dose of skepticism.
    The caller identified themselves as a “sponsor of sorts”, which is not the same as a true sponsor. That means this isn’t a real sponsor. It could even mean that this person isn’t even doing this in good faith, let alone telling the truth.

    Having said that; even if Jane had/has serious mental health issues, it is not the job of this “sponsor of sorts” to be telling everyone about it. That person is breaking all sorts of confidentiality by doing so. And I’m not just talking laws, I’m talking about socially.
    Each and every one of you acted in good faith when you donated. You all acted on the information you had at the time. I am going to assume the company asked for medical information to grant Jane the leave she requested (2 working days a week, for example, possible FMLA) and she was given such leeway due to the medical paperwork she supplied and not just her word. That alone should give everyone some pause as to the veracity of the caller’s story. Even if Jane is a master with photoshop, or paid for fake documents; each and every one of you acted appropriately to the situation presented at the time, and that is all that can be asked of you. If Jane is the one who took advantage, that is on Jane, not on any of you.

    I think Alison is correct in saying that HR is the one who should be reaching out to Jane to let her know of this caller. How Jane responds may be telling in its own right.

    Right now, I think everyone should operate on the assumption that Jane is/was battling what she said she was and that this is a malicious person who is trying to sabotage Jane because they don’t believe Jane’s illness (it happens a lot more than you’d like to imagine), and is going to extreme lengths to undermine and discredit her.

    1. fposte*

      I think this is roughly where I land as well. It’s just too unclear what happened, too horrible to take wrongly informed action, and too emotionally and practically enveloping to pursue. This is a classic example of making your own closure–HR can reach out to Jane and let her know, and everybody else accepts the fact that there will never be a scene whether either Jane or the person who made the phone call is unmasked as a liar and publicly shamed, and they’ll probably never find out more about whatever the behind-the-scenes drama was.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      You put this so much better than I could have done. I totally agree with you.

      The OP should regard the CALLER with suspicion, rather than their former co-worker, at least until HR has investigated. I would assume that HR did their due diligence when Jane was an employee, and that her need for accommodation was appropriately documented.

      Under those circumstances, this caller’s statements really are pretty suspect. It’s possible the person is telling the truth, but it’s also entirely possible that they are making up their story. The OP has no idea for sure how they are, what their relationship with Jane is, or what their motives are. I don’t know why on earth anyone would take this caller’s word over the former co-worker’s word, unless you already had suspicions that Jane had been lying. I’d be more concerned that someone was trashing Jane’s reputation.

      It’s possible the OP is thinking, “well, Jane would have died by now if her disease was terminal.” But there are people who have cancer whose disease is able to be managed over the long term with periodic treatment to keep their cancer in remission.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Yup. My old work friend had terminal cancer for five years before she died. She didn’t even look ill for a lot of that time.

  37. Nora*

    I am extremely skeptical of this so-called sponsor. No one I know in a 12-step program would ever break confidentiality that way. Something is fishy.

    1. Impy*

      Oh, I missed the sponsor but. That immediately makes me suspicious. I’ve known people who’ve been through 12 step programmes and the whole point is that *you* make amends. And it would be in a “I’m sorry, I was unwell, here is your money back,” kind of way, not a “Psssst! Guess what Jane’s been up to!”

  38. Fashionable Pumpkin*

    There are so many things we don’t know here. How did this person determine she was lying? Remission is a thing, and someone this invested in another person’s health issues may think they have more info than they do. Maybe she (sick ex coworker) didn’t feel like going into details with this person- maybe they are invasive with their questions about her health. If this caller really feels that the ex coworker defrauded LW and others, she should contact go- fund me who can go about verifying or denying ex-coworker’s eligibility for a gofund me.
    I’ve had to friends diagnosed with cancer in the last 2 years. One is a drama-magnet and pathological liar, the other is not, but I do believe they both have cancer. One of them could be faking, I suppose, but I think word would get out in our small town. I wouldn’t be surprised if the dramatic friend has a few people accuse her of lying, but she’s been a supportive friend in the past and I didn’t hesitate to fund her gofundme.
    I guess I’d just prefer to think that people who say they need help are telling me the truth, even if I don’t know all the circumstances. I don’t feel privy to anyone’s financial statements.

  39. My Brain Is Exploding*

    When I read this I thought that the person who called had been one of the GoFundMe sponsors, had discovered the Jane did not have a terminal illness, and was working to make her accountable to other donors.

  40. Happy Pineapple*

    This happened to me. An old friend got back in touch and eventually told me about her terminal illness, as well as many other struggles, all of which turned out to be fake. She had a blog and a CaringBridge website, which I believe are still archived online, where she meticulously spun a web of lies for years. She’d learn about the people who reached out to her and then use their own trauma to intensify her narrative. In the past I had told her about my issues with abuse and eating disorders, and years later those stories were rewritten as her own. She falsified prescriptions, staged “seizures”, fainting, weight and hair loss, fake or unnecessary medical equipment such as wheelchairs, IVs, catheters, supplemental oxygen, fake hospital room sets for photos and videos… She amassed thousands of followers, gifts, donations, and perks from celebrities. She ruined the lives of people who deeply and desperately cared for her, putting their own lives on hold thinking she was dying. My own mental health suffered and I had several near nervous breakdowns trying to handle her pain on top of my own. When it all was exposed as an enormous and elaborate hoax there was a criminal investigation, which I complied with, but never followed up on the outcome.

    There’s no point to this rambling other than to say, OP, you’re not alone. There are truly horrible, manipulative people out there. But overtime it’s possible to let go of the mistrust. This woman and her lies changed me, but I have once again found the way to be empathetic and compassionate with others without them needing to prove anything.

    1. OP*

      Thank you for your story. This sounds similar in some ways to Jane. She had a blog detailing her “symptoms”, and frequently talked about how it was God’s plan for her. (Not saying that to make a commentary on any religion or lack thereof, but I do know that many coworkers felt a deep connection with her on those religious matters). She was given a diagnosis of 3 months (originally), then every doctor’s visit (what we were told) she was given one poor prognosis after another. I would love to believe that she is in remission, but I have a really hard time with that, based on what I’ve heard from those who took the phone call and others I’ve kept in touch with from the office.

      Also, a bit more info: I was not the one to take the call from the “friend”, but the person who did take the call knew this friend, and had enough reason (that wasn’t shared with me) to know the call was intended to not “out” Jane, but to try to, as others have suggested, ensure as a friend that Jane was making amends. It wasn’t a structured 12-step or anything, from my understanding.

      I am sorry that all that happened to you, and I hope that you have found, or will find comfort in knowing that you weren’t to blame for that.

      1. Observer*

        I’d really want to know what those reasons were, because it doesn’t make sense that the friend would need to share this much information to do what they said they were trying to do.

      2. gracak*

        Please don’t already pass judgement on Jane by calling her symptoms “symptoms.” Please, please err on the side of believing her until the evidence is overwhelming.

        Read all the stories of cancer patients and other people who have been disbelieved. I have watched people use air quotes while talking about my symptoms. I’ve read messages where people talk about me that way. Illness and disability don’t always look the way we think they do, and it’s incredibly harmful to default to assuming someone is lying unless they present in the way you think they should.

        And as someone living with a chronic illness, I have been so, so saddened and hurt to see HOW many people immediately jump to the assumption that I am making up an illness within minutes of meeting me. I think it’s a way to protect themselves from feeling bad that sometimes people just have really awful things happen to them and there is no way to prevent it.

  41. mindovermoneychick*

    Holy crap! This sound very similar to a story a close friend told me about a year ago that happened at his company. And he was very much in a position to know all of the details directly, not through the rumor mill.

    Seriously, I just emailed him to see if the details line up the way I remembered them, because these is spot on. While of course I can’t verify that the “Jane” in this story was lying, I can verify that someone has done something very similar to a company that was generous and understanding, poisoning the well for people going forward :(

  42. Impy*

    I’d advise you to be careful. My Grandpa was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and given six months. Through experimental treatments, chemo and luck, he actually lived another ten years. While he never took a penny from anyone, I imagine in the era of social media, someone might have accused him of faking. Do you really want to be the person accusing Jane of faking when the person doing the accusing is talking smack?

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I think it is very unlikely that some random fake sponsor would call a real cancer survivor’s former employer to tell them she lied. I don’t believe for a minute the person is really a sponsor; I think it’s someone who is pissed off that they fell for Jane’s lies and is trying to get revenge.

      1. Impy*

        Whereas I think someone with an axe to grind is spreading malicious lies about Jane. As someone else said, we all have our biases about this. I spent fifteen years reporting dizzy spells, fainting, stabbing stomach pain and irregular, heavy bleeding to doctors. I regularly had to call in sick once or twice a month and had plenty of people, including doctors, assume I was faking or exaggerating – they fobbed me off with anti depressants, which made the symptoms worse.

        It took me trying to donate blood, being rejected and being sent to my doctor with a note from the hospital before they would take me seriously. Turns out I had anemia related to endometriosis. Not as serious as cancer, but I can tell you, I had a lot of doctors and bosses roll their eyes rather than believe me.

        So after over a decade of unnecessary suffering and ridicule, I have less than zero sympathy for people who call out ‘fakers’, because most of them are talking out of their lower passage.

      2. Fashionable Pumpkin*

        See, I think it’s entirely possible that someone *thinks* Jane is faking and, outraged, has taken it upon themself to “set things straight.” How they *got* to the conclusion that Jane is faking is unclear, though. Does Jane not seem sick enough (some people think cancer is 100% laid up in the hospital, waiting to die, like in the movies)? Does Jane have a history of lying, and so this person assumes Jane is lying about this, too (which may not be an accurate assumption- liars can get cancer, too)? We have no idea what the caller’s motivation is. If they really think Jane is a scammer, why not just notify gofundme and the police? What are the coworkers supposed to do?

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, that’s an interesting component, isn’t it? It sounds like the actual mission of the caller was pretty different than the stated mission of the caller. That’s a lot of dirt to get into if you’re just helping somebody apologize.

          1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

            That’s one of the things that bugs me about this. If the caller really was a sponsor checking up on Jane regarding an apology tour, it seems like there would not be much needed beyond “Has Jane contacted you recently? No? Okay, thank you,” and then go back and talk to Jane about it. Dishing the dirt seems a little outside of the supposed remit.

  43. mindovermoneychick*

    Ok the more I read this, the more I think this really might be the same story. OP, if you want, I could confirm the city in which this happened. But I don’t want to give speculate any details publicly without your approval. I could confirm the name of the org too, but I don’t want to do that in public forum.

  44. Not really a waitress*

    I may have told this story before but 16 years ago I worked in a church as a secretary. It was myself and the church admin in the office and occasionally the pastor. One day a man came in looking for financial assistance. He had his 2 young daughters with him and one was noticeably disfigured. The man told us she had been bitten by the neighbor’s dog, he had had to take work off to care for her, the neighbor was giving them a hard time, the medical bills… the girls were shy but darling. The pastor was out but the office admin wrote him a check out for a few hundred of her discretionary fund then called our bank to ensure they would cash it for him. A few days later I took a call from another church (different denomination) who wanted to warn us about this man scamming churches and badmouthing one of their parishioners. After the call the admin and I talked through it and we still could decide if we were scammed. But we did decide we did the right thing and that it’s always best to err on the side of kindness.

    1. WellRed*

      “But we did decide we did the right thing and that it’s always best to err on the side of kindness.”

      Amen to that.

  45. hbc*

    Pascal’s Wager is a simplistic model, but I think it works here:
    -Jane was sick and you don’t go after her. Good results, leaving an innocent person alone.
    -Jane was faking and you don’t go after her. A faker gets away with your cash, which you had already written off.
    -Jane was sick and you go after her. You are harassing and stressing a terminally-ill person. Awful.
    -Jane was faking and you go after her. You maybe get some money back, and she gets what she deserves.

    Given the outcomes, the only possible choice is to not pursue it, as far as I’m concerned.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I like math, but sadly, this means that a bad person has a 50/50 chance of getting away with evil, and a good person has a 25/75 chance of doing actual good and a 75/25 chance of getting screwed.

      Unless I am doing the math correctly, Pascal is telling me not to donate to causes like this. What the doodle?

  46. Shirley Keeldar*

    What a baffling, frustrating, sad situation. So sorry, OP! I just wanted to address one thing–you mentioned feeling more skeptical of others now, and not liking that feeling. I believe there’s been some research indicating that people who trust others are generally happier than people who don’t. (I don’t mean “hand-over-your-pin-code-to-the-stranger-in-line-at-the-ATM” level of trust, just approaching others with the attitude that they are likely telling the truth unless proven otherwise.) I’m sure your feelings of skepticism are very natural, but if you’re not happy feeling like that, it might help to remind yourself that being a trusting, kind, and caring person (as you are!) is something that you are doing for yourself as well as others like Jane, and that you’ll be happier if you don’t let such a strange occurrence change that part of you.

    (One source for this is The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. I’m sure there are others.)

  47. Anon4this*

    So Jane to lied to everyone she knew, including possibly her family members, but decides to be truthful to one person, whose now calling around saying Jane is a liar?
    And the OP is only upset because money for a good cause maybe went somewhere else and cannot be give back?
    I mean, OP isn’t getting their money back, who knows who really called and why (I’m not above thinking an angry ex of Jane or perhaps Jane has DID and is calling in, who knows?), so I don’t really understand the question. Sabotage Jane from future employment? Sue her to get your money back? Demand a forced apology?
    I’d just leave this whole mess alone. Jane is either innocent and karma will set her free, or Jane is guilty and karma will cut her loose.
    Either way, it doesn’t appear to directly, so I’d just let it all go…

    1. WellRed*

      I think this is the best way to go. Well, except for if Jane wants a reference and it turns out Jane was indeed, lying.

    2. Radio Girl*

      I’m inclined to agree.

      I know of a former coworker who pulled something similar about 20 years ago. Everyone chipped in, even held a fund raiser. It was all a lie. “Sick” coworker has since been married and divorced at least 5 times and served time for workplace theft.

      Karma will get her.

    3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I’m big on “choosing your battles” but I think in OPs position I wouldn’t be inclined to let go of this very easily.

      I don’t believe in karma, as such, but I have a general point of view that if we do good things we’ll tend to get good things in return, if we do bad things they’ll catch up to us. Not in any ‘cosmic’ sort of sense but just a kind of statistical squaring-up.

      I have been wondering about this viewpoint lately though as I am aware of a couple of situations where wrong-doing has been ongoing for +20 years with seemingly no payback..

      It does directly affect the OP, for 3 (at least) reasons. 1) lost money 2) shaken trust and 3) perhaps most importantly — OP doesn’t know the truth, and will continue not knowing until it’s somehow resolved — if that’s even possible!

      I’m not generous/trusting enough to give $500 in the example given, but if I were… you can be sure my sense of trust of anyone else would be harmed by this.

  48. Siege*

    I don’t think you should doubt Jane on the word of one caller, one time. Jane is someone you knew for a long time, and the caller is a stranger. I think the sponsor story sounds fishy. I’ve never been involved in any sort of sponsor program, so take it with a grain of salt, but would a sponsor contact someone’s old business and tell them about her mental illness? It seems like a breach of trust.

    If it were me, I’d choose to believe Jane for my own personal peace of mind. Especially since it was a while ago, I’d feel better believing Jane and writing it off as an (expensive) good deed.

    1. Impy*

      It’s not how sponsors in these groups work. If anything they tend to go too far the other way, and conceal things that *should* be told about for the good of the community.

  49. Dan*

    I’m going to be honest. Given everything we know for an absolute fact (which is not much) and don’t know (which is a lot), I’m inclined to just let it go. File a complaint with the police or the FBI if one must, but after that, move on.

    I say this having been married to a pathological liar with multiple personality disorders. They have their own internal compass that makes no sense to the rest of us, and trying to rationalize their behavior is just an exercise in futility.

    The money is gone, they are who they are, and that’s that. This is assuming that Jane was line and the phone call was accurate. Since we can’t even take the phone call at face value, moving on is the mentally sane thing to do.

  50. All Hail Queen Sally*

    I used to work in a specialty medical clinic for a very serious condition and one of our patient’s coworkers set up a go fund me account in his name. When it was discovered (someone mentioned to the family they had donated to the account and the family said they didn’t have one), the coworker absconded with the money and as far as I know, has never been found.

  51. Delphine*

    I’m deeply wary of deciding that a person was faking their illness or disability after hearing so from one person with no other evidence to support the claim. Let it go.

  52. Go Fund My Bad Decisions*

    This is why I never, ever, give money to these “causes” or anything GFM related. I was burned once, and once burned, twice shy. My story does not involve work, but an online community. A member of that community claimed her husband had died and she had nothing for bills, and since it happened around Christmas, nothing for her kids. She received almost $5K before it was revealed that the husband was very much alive and in on the scam.

    1. Media Monkey*

      or there’s the one whose husband did die, leaving her with 5 small children and no job. and it turned out she had remarried less than 3 months following his death and was living with this new guy by the time the money came through.

  53. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

    So, wasn’t this employee ever required to provide proof of her medical condition? In my company you didn’t need to provide anything when using your regular sick days, but this goes beyond that into medical leave territory. Medical leave can “full” in one big block or “intermittent” where, say, you take off one day a week for treatment, and then maybe call in whenever you are having a bad day. But for medical leave you need to provide lots of documentation from your doctor. We didn’t handle it in-house we had an outside company called Sedgwick that handled everything and they made the determination of whether to approve or deny leave.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        (With my “devil’s advocate” sort of hat on, sorry! I try to consider things from all sides & I’m still not sure what I think about this) isn’t it possible that Jane could have ‘whatever motivation’ to want to be out of the office a few days a week whilst continuing to keep the job, so could have faked those medical notes and such like that were needed as documentation. I’m sure there are many ways to do this (I haven’t investigated it in depth) from writing them yourself on convincing looking paper through to persuading a doctor you are unwell, or actually paying a corrupt (registered) doctor to write the notes?

        From fake documentation it would be a short step to accepting money that was fortuitously donated through a Go Fund Me when it happened to be presented.

        I’m not saying this is the case, but is a potential scenario.

        1. Impy*

          Sure, potentially. I have a short fuse on this – as I say my grandpa lived longer than he was meant to, my elderly grandmother beat cancer she’d 75, and I suffered from a so called ‘invisible’ illness for 15 years before I could persuade a doctor to treat me. I just think it’s a 1000 times more likely that someone is talking shirt* than it is that someone would fake cancer. Call me an idealist.

  54. LlamaGoose*

    Pretty sure Jane’s “friend” is the liar. Just Occam’s razor: it’s easy to spread lies about someone to ruin their reputation. Maybe she’s out to get revenge? Or maybe Jane’s “friend” has an overactive imagination and “feels like” what she’s saying is true, so she’s decided to go around saying it is?

    I have known far more vengeance-seekers and pathological liars in my social circle than I’ve known full blown con artists. Actually, I haven’t known any. Keeping up a ruse of a fake terminal illness, complete with blog posts and missed work, is a HUGE effort for a con, compared to just making one phone call to screw someone over.

    If you trusted Jane before this, my gut says she’s genuinely trustworthy. Whereas her friend, whom you’ve never heard from before, is full of crap.

    1. GreenDoor*

      Came here to say this, too. As others said above, no reputable recovery/therapy program would hav a sponsor doing the apologizing & asking for forgiveness. The addict/afflicted person needs to do that as part of their growth process.
      In my job I have had more than one person contact us to use an employee’s job to get them in trouble. A quick google search usually turns up court transcripts of a divorce or request for a restraining order, or a twitter feud or a FAcebook firestorm that shows a personal beef between our employee and the caller. OP, please get the facts before you react, especially before you loop other donors in.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        I read it (possibly wrongly?) as that the friend/’sponsor’ had reached out to OPs workplace, and potentially other people, to find out whether Jane had mentioned the fake illness etc to those particular people – with the purpose of guiding Jane to make an apology? Nothing in the OP says that the ‘friend’ apologized or asked for forgiveness, just that they explained that Jane never went through those treatments etc. I think the OP would have made clear if the ‘friend’ had actually apologized on behalf of Jane.

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        Btw, I’m still processing this as like LlamaGoose above, my initial thought was that the ‘friend’ is the one at fault and Jane is genuine, although on further reflection I think Occam’s razor doesn’t really support that.

        (That’s the flaw I’ve found with the whole Occam’s razor reasoning in general, across many situations, actually — that it assumes the “simplest” explanation can be objectively identified. I don’t think that’s the case based on my experience, ie what seems simplest to me may not be simplest to generic you, and vice versa.)

  55. Mrs_helm*

    OP – you and your colleagues are kind and generous. Don’t let this person change that.
    Even if they lied, it doesn’t change the fact that what YOU did, it was awesome and good and inspiring. The world is a better place with people who act like you, so don’t let this person sabotage the hood in the world!

  56. Anonanon*

    How could they lie about it effectively? Wouldn’t they need to provide proof from a doctor if they need to be out for treatment? Or was the company just going by her word alone?

  57. Pretzelgirl*

    Is it possible that it turned out her cancer, wasn’t terminal after all? I mean I know sometimes this is not the case, but you hear stories all the time about people who “beat the odds”.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      It’s possible (I think, I’m not a medic!) but in that case wouldn’t she have returned the money (if able) or at least clued in the people who donated, thanked and/or apologized?

      1. LavaLamp*

        Why would you apologize for beating your cancer? If that were the case, she wouldn’t have done anything wrong. Medical things advance and sometimes when someone is diagnosed with a disease it’s terminal and then a treatment is invented that can extend their life or even take the terminal bit out of it completely. That doesn’t mean that they weren’t sick. For example, my Nana’s breast cancer really happened, and was deadly even though she beat it and is still alive now.

  58. CatMintCat*

    I Don’t get it. For that amount of time off, wouldn’t she have needed doctor’s certificates to claim her sick leave and just keep her job? You can’t just suddenly drop to about two days per week, claim illness,and have no documentation supporting it and stay employed, surely?

    I had a massive amount of sick leave last year and every day was supported by some sort of doctor/medical certificate, almost all specialists in the disease I claimed to have (and did have). There was no getting out of it.

    If she was this dishonest, how did she manage it?

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      As was stated above, different companies handle sick leave differently. Some people are able to fill out one form saying they need accommodations and then they can come and go as they please without any real pushback or follow-up from their company/organization’s HR department while other places are like ours and require mountains of paperwork and regular check-ins in order to take time off.

  59. MaryAnne Spier*

    My best friend made sister did this years ago. She convinced a group of coworkers and others she knew through work that she was dying of cancer. Finally one of these people talked to my best friend and said that she couldn’t believe the family was handling her cancer so cruelly. My friend said, “Um? What cancer?” And it all fell apart. She’s gone to pretty great lengths. Thing was, she never asked for or accepted any money, just sympathy and attention, so legally there was no recourse. It was a crazy ride.

  60. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    I am curious to know (OP, are you reading? Can you confirm?) whether the ‘friend’ contacted the office anonymously, or if she identified herself by name/position/etc?

  61. The sick coworker/Bob story*

    This reminds me of a letter I sent in some time ago about a friend’s sick coworker causing her to be unable to leave work. He eventually got fired for stealing but was terminally ill with cancer which caused him to be unable to be in the store alone. He constantly spoke of how he only had a couple months etc. His wife showed up angrily to collect his things weeks later. I believe I wrote in perhaps 2 or so years ago. All kinds of other insane things happened later on in the story but I guess we will never know the truth re: his sickness. As of this year Bob is still alive.

    1. Anon for this one*

      Have you ever sent in an official update? I vaguely remember reading this post (sorry, I’m not clear on the details but I do know the post you are referring to). Especially as “all kinds of other insane things happened” after… sorry, we are curious people here ;-)

      1. The sick coworker/Bob story*

        I did send in an update to the original post as in the first submission folks were unsure or didn’t feel fully convinced that Bob was stealing from the store. I updated that he was in fact stealing from the store and ended up being fired for stealing although the owners did wait longer than most would when finding out an employee is stealing.

        The other insane parts of the story were after Bob had already been fired and left and they were more so in regards to the owner’s insane business practices including telling a young employee that she could not quit. The young girl turned in her resignation and was yelled at and told that the owners will not accept the resignation because they are short staffed and she can not quit (insane). My friend no longer works there and the owner then harassed her for months via long emails and calls demanding for continued help with the store (bizarre and insane). I listened to the voicemails. Take my word for it, they were INSANE.

          1. Observer*

            Totally. I remember the posts, but I don’t think this stuff was included. It doesn’t surprise me though, because the way they handled the Bob situation was fairly bonkers anyway.

  62. Ms. Ann Thropy*

    I must be very cynical, but I am amazed at the lengths readers will go to to believe that someone who is credibly accused of lying is innocent or justified.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s why grifters continue to exist in the end. There’s always someone who doubts that they could be lying/taking advantage of sympathy etc.

    2. fposte*

      I don’t really think that’s how the conversation’s gone, though. It’s more making the point that it wasn’t all that credible an accusation and that there’s not much chance of benefit in pursuing the matter anyway.

    3. 'Tis Me*

      But what makes the accusation credible? That she’s still alive and now looking for work?

      As described above, she may have beaten the odds, gone into remission, treatment options may have improved, etc etc. She may still have a terminal illness but with improved quality of life and a longer expectancy than she thought, she may have been misdiagnosed at the time and now has a well managed chronic illness…

      And maybe she’s looking for part time work and transitioning to a permanently part time position at Old Company wasn’t an option.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        … and she didn’t post any update to all the people who had contributed generously – why?

        1. Oxford Comma*

          It could be Jane is a grifter. It could also be that Jane is barely hanging on and working so she can pay for her health care with the time she has left (assuming this is in the States).

          I would chalk this up to lessons learned and move on if I was the OP.

    4. Oxford Comma*

      I am not sure that’s the case.

      Could Jane be lying? Absolutely. Could the call be from someone who has an axe to grind? Equally possible. We don’t know. OP does not know. That’s the point.

      OP worked with Jane for a long time. Maybe Jane has a mental illness. Maybe she was running a long con. Again, we don’t know. But I would think it should take more than a phone call from a stranger identifying as “a sponsor of sorts” and the fact that Jane is still working to wash away experience from a former co-worker.

    5. pcake*

      What is credible about a stranger calling an ex-job to tell them something negative? Could be the new BF’s jealous GF or a family member with emotional issues. An angry ex-friend.

    6. passerby*

      I don’t think it’s any less cynical to believe the sponsor could be lying. You either have someone who’s cruel enough to deceive their workplace/social circle (something several people here have mentioned having dealt with) or someone cruel enough to lie about someone severely ill and damage their reputation (something several other people here have also mentioned having dealt with). Either way the cynicism has to go somewhere, and with the facts given at this point, it’s not clear either side is more “credible.”

    7. Musereader*

      They literally *witnessed* her being sick over months, but all of what their experience showed them they can dismiss on the word of one person who may just be disbelieving Jane because of her own bias. How can we say a conversation is credible.

      On the one hand evidence of your own eyes and experience and HR documentation over a long period of time, on the other a single phone call, no documentation, just the mere fact she is still alive and needs work which means nothing considering people can live some time while terminal.

  63. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    It’s so sadly common to scam people by claiming illness. A con is a con, they aren’t known for their ethics or hearts of gold.

    In the end, when I have found out someone has conned us and beat my BS detector is to just say heavily and write them off personally. But the thing you shouldn’t do is 1. Approach them because liars are good at lying, don’t go down that rabbit hole. 2. Let it sour you on helping others in the future. 3. Assume that anyone you help you’d help them regardless of the reason in the end.

    Kind of like loaning family or friends money. Don’t do it unless you’re in that gifting mood. It makes life so much easier to not dwell on getting taken by a crooked person.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Yup – you just take the L and move on (and never donate that kind of coin to anyone outside of your immediate family and/or best friend(s) again!).

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I still do donate to acquaintances but usually when they’re vouched for by a loved one. If my loved one is taken for a ride too, we’ll go together.

        But I also give to homeless people my pocket change because I truly duncur most days, if I didn’t have it to give, I seriously just wouldn’t. I have no problem saying “I’m so sorry you’re going through this but I cannot help.” [This happened when a loved one needed help with a funeral costs and it sucked the big suck inside but not nearly as much as the person who had to request assistance to get their parents remains out of uh…hock…to be really crass about it.]

  64. LogicalOne*

    There’s always a few sour apples in a bunch. Don’t let this person make you spiteful of others or scar you from trusting others.

  65. pcake*

    A family member who was angry and irresponsible could have made that call as could a jealous current wife or GF of Jane’s ex. I can think of other circumstances where Jane’s pissed off BF or husband could ask a female friend to make that call to get even with her or even put her more under his control.

    Or Jane could have lied.

    I’ve seen this one go both ways. I wouldn’t be so eager to believe a stranger calling for no reason without serious research. Also if the GoFundMeAccount has paid out, there may be no way to get the money back. Are you ready to send Jane to jail for fraud?

  66. George*

    Not sure o could pull it off, but if I had donated to Jane, I would be trying to reframe it in my head. Either she was I’ll and now also had some person ruining her reputation OR… The caller was right and she didn’t have a terminal illness, but mental health crisis. The money in either case went to an ill co-worker, but in the later, the illness wasn’t the one disclosed.

    It is entirely possible she has some kind of hypochondria and truly believed what she said at some level… Which would be really, really sad.

    I would do this for my own benefit, because otherwise I’d be really angry, and I don’t enjoy being angry. Also, because mental illness doesn’t get the support and is harder to talk about, so I feel this stance is more on line with how I want society to be.

    But I’d struggle with it.

    1. George*

      GAH! My phone is horrible. Please forgive the ‘o’ for ‘I’ and all the I’ll/ill issues.

      I’m sure there are more, but I can’t bring myself to look!

  67. Eukomos*

    It is very generous of you to give Jane the benefit of the doubt, Alison, but I have to say this sounds like a pretty classic case. Lying about illness like this isn’t common, but it’s far from unheard of and OP’s description sounds pretty similar to other cases I’m familiar with. OP, it might be helpful for you to look up other similar situations? You’re not alone in having something like this happen to you. And it’s possible that knowing more about these situations might help you stop universally distrusting people; there are some unwell people out there who stage things like this, but one thing you tend to see in the stories is how vastly outnumbered they are by the kind and honest people around them.

    1. Observer*

      Lying about illness is not uncommon. But lying about OTHER PEOPLE’S (lack of ) illness is also surprisingly not uncommon.

      1. CatLadyInTraining*

        Yes! I want to say it’s more likely that the person who made the phone call is the one lying. But, it’s hard to say because we don’t have a ton of info…

  68. Observer*

    I haven’t read all of the responses yet, but so far no one has addressed the real possibility that actually it’s second call that’s a fraud.

    Here is the thing – it’s generally a lot harder to scam a competent HR department that needs documentation for things like FMLA. That’s not to say that it did not happen that way. But it’s just unlikely enough that I would not just believe the person who called, without further checking.

    Why would someone do that? I don’t know, but we know that people can like for the strangest reasons. And her stated reason for calling is not overwhelmingly convincing. Which is to say that I totally agree with Alison that you really don’t know anything for sure at the moment.

    1. MeepMeep*

      Yeah, that was my reaction too. Jane needed to provide documentation to HR about her illness and her claims are verifiable. The second caller had to provide no documentation at all.

  69. gracak*

    I suffered a brain injury at work and as a result had to file a worker’s comp claim, and eventually disability. There are SO many former co-workers that don’t believe that I am disabled and believe I am faking it for that sweet, sweet $740 a month disability payments.

    I’ve had people call places I’ve applied to, and even seek out my former union leader to let them know that they believe I’m faking. But it’s very, very hard to fake medical records, and also hard to find a doctor willing to lie for you. There are people who fake serious illnesses, but it’s pretty hard to keep up in person.

    I think you do nothing. If it’s true, it will become clear in its own time. But if it’s not true, you just made someone suffering a real tragedy spend their time convincing people they aren’t lying. On one hand, someone might get some time off they aren’t entitled to. On the other hand, you could make the last year of someone’s life more painful.

    The only way to know sure would be to look at her medical records, and if she’s asking for accommodations or taking FMLA, then she has had to share her medical records with her bosses.

    I would also note that she didn’t ask for money to be raised for her, someone just offered to set it up. GoFundMe is always trust based, and there is an issue with people faking circumstances to get money, and it’s been an issue that crowd-funding sites can’t really fix. Any time you give money as charity, there is a risk it won’t be used in the way you intended it. It’s a kind thing to do, but it’s naive to think that every time you give money to someone it is used in the exact way you intended, by the exact people you are thinking of. That doesn’t make it okay to intentionally defraud people, but there is always risk in giving money.

  70. Witch in Training*

    In my opinion, the timeline here is important in deciding your best course of action. If you worked with Jane years ago, and a lot of the suspicious events happened after you left the job, you may not want to take the lead on investigating this issue or confronting Jane directly. Ultimately, it’s up to HR and your former department to deal with their problems regarding references, etc. Your only obligation is to do what YOU need to feel better about this conversation. Maybe that means reserving some skepticism until/unless you get corroborating information about that phone call. Maybe it means recognizing that mental illness can impact one’s behavior in really unfortunate ways sometimes, and their calls for attention and help may seem reckless or irrational. The desire to fabricate a serious illness is absolutely not normal. To be clear, consequences have to fit the transgression, and Alison is right in suggesting that you file for a refund if you learn that Jane did indeed lie. But it’s not your responsibility to solve this issue on behalf of the others involved.

    I’m so sorry this happened to you.

    1. CatLadyInTraining*

      I would say, when the OP learns that Jane has lied then she can contact GO FUND ME for a refund. But if it turns out Jane didn’t lie, then let it go. I don’t know, that phone call seems a little bit more suspicious and that kind of thing is a lot more common then someone faking an illness. I’d say the OP should just wait and see what happens.

  71. Patricia Britton*

    I have a relative who had gastric bypass surgery but told everyone, including her children and her estranged husband, that she had stomach cancer. Her church put a new roof on her house and brought her tons of groceries. Her work gave her a lot of time off. Her neighbors did all kinds of favors for her. Her children were terribly worried. The truth only came out when her estranged husband subpoenaed her medical records in the divorce. Her children no longer speak to her.

  72. Overagekid*

    It sounds like the caller was seeing if Jane had yet called to apologise.
    Seeing as they hadn’t yet, the office should expect that call coming, right?
    Maybe speak with whoever would be right to speak to them and form a plan of what they would like to say.

      1. CatLadyInTraining*

        You can look at what people have said on the comment thread and what Allison said. But, the caller could be someone who is trying to sabotage Jane or has a grudge against her or wants to make her look bad. But, then again Jane could be lying…who knows?

  73. Amethystmoon*

    Can you find a volunteer position on weekends or some evenings doing this sort of thing for an organization? That, you could list on a resume (but specify that it’s volunteer experience). I agree that one should not list household running as a job. Perhaps you could list things like organizing and time-management as a skill, if resumes are still supposed to have skill sections.

  74. so very anon for this.*

    Jumping in here to say….
    I had an abusive (emotionally and financially) ex who threatened to call my work and tell lies similar to this about me. At the time they controlled several aspects of my life – including my contacts and finances. I’m not saying this is the case here – but want to bring it up as a point – abusive people will do horrible things.

  75. CatLadyInTraining*

    I think this could go either way. Jane could be lying about having a terminal illness. Or the person who called could be the one lying to make Jane look bad. Someone faking a terminal illness to get money, attention, sympathy and to rip people off is not super common, but it’s not unheard of. Someone calling a person’s office and telling everyone that they lied to make them look bad is certainly more common. It’s hard to know exactly what is going on here. There are a lot of odd things about all of this. I think the OP shouldn’t really do anything. You don’t really know who is actually lying here…

  76. Fraise*

    I would be very dubious of the caller, actually. While going through a nasty divorce my husband called the HR department of my very prominent employer and told them I have AIDS. I do not have AIDS/ HIV or anything else. At my next job, a woman called my employer to tell them I have been stealing money from them. I wasn’t. After an investigation I was cleared. I suspect the woman was my ex-husband’s current wife. I think there can be motives you’re unaware of. I am therefore extremely suspicious of any outsider who calls to tell you something about an employee.

  77. SenatorMeathooks*

    Did Jane ask someone to start the GoFundMe?

    People will try to tear down others all the time. I would be very dubious of the so-called friend who called. Definitely don’t just take their word for it.

Comments are closed.