Sick son used in web con

Last updated 12:00 19/11/2012
Samual Whittaker
SAMUAL WHITTAKER: The profile photo from the legitimate Support For Sammie Facebook page.

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A Feilding mother has been left heartbroken and angry after finding a picture of her sick son was being passed off as someone else's child on Facebook in an attempt to scam donations.

Becky Fothergill's 3-year-old son Samual "Sammie" Whittaker lives with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), which has only a 50 per cent survival rate.

A picture of Sammie, then aged 2, hooked up to tubes and bloated from steroids in Auckland's Starship children's hospital was taken in May last year after he had just endured campath chemotherapy before a bone marrow transplant.

The image was posted on her Facebook page "Support for Sammie", which has more than 2000 followers.

On Friday, she was alerted by one of those followers that a person calling themselves "Courtney Herdert (Norton)" was using Sammie's picture on their page, saying he was her 5- year-old son "Ryan" and asking for funds.

Fothergill said she burst into tears when she saw Sammie's picture on the page.

"I just felt sick. How could someone do that to a child? To anyone? We have been through so much as a family and tried really hard to hold it together and to have someone that's scamming money out of people with my son's face with a different name is sickening."

The timeline on the page says it was created just a few weeks ago, on November 6. Courtney is listed as living in Auckland, but her workplace is in California.

Fothergill and some of her supporters reported the page, and the image was taken down as Courtney's profile picture a short time later. However, at the time of print, the image remained in her photo gallery.

Fothergill and her mother had taken photos of the page and reported it to the police.

She had been told two people had donated about $1500 to the woman, and they had also been informed of the scam.

She said she thought about taking her son's page down, but felt it wasn't fair.

Sammie's page had followers who had supported them throughout his ordeal and she felt she shouldn't have to take it down because someone else felt entitled to use her son's image, she said.

Fothergill said it was a warning to others to be wary of where their images ended up.

"I feel really horrible for those people who lost money, it's gutting. I'm just glad we found out before it got out of hand."

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The person behind the page should sit in the oncology ward at Starship hospital and see the children there for themselves, she said.

"It's not fun and games, it's not exciting, it's fighting for your child's life. For someone to make it up, it's devastating."

Fothergill said following his bone marrow transplant, Sammie had received four top-ups of lymphocytes in his blood after he started to experience graft failure, and was awaiting eye surgery.

After he relapsed, part of his eyelid rotted away, she said.

Fothergill's younger daughter Leiah also carries the HLH chromosome, but it has not activated.

- Manawatu Standard

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