In part 2, Darlene Asher, as the head of her local dart league, has been leading the charge to help Jeremiah Jon Smith, who they believe is dying from cancer. But when Jeremiah’s wife leaves him, she shares her doubts with Darlene about his illness. A police investigation reveals the devastating truth: Jeremiah has been faking his cancer and exploiting his friends' generosity in order to line his pockets.
[00:00:01] Bob: This week on The Perfect Scam.
[00:00:03] Darlene Asher: He'd say he's going to the doctor. She'd say, "Can I come with?" And he'd say, "No, I don't want you there. I don't want you to hear what they have to say." Just little things like that were like, something doesn't seem right.
[00:00:18] Bob: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. I'm your host, Bob Sullivan. Last week we spoke with Darlene Asher of Minnesota, queen of the local dart league. Her big heart swung into action when local dart legend, Jeremiah Jon Smith told everyone he was dying of cancer. The young father had a baby, and his new bride, Amanda, was struggling to deal with the infant, their other children, and a husband who was barely able to get off the couch. Darlene rallied the dart club to help Jeremiah. Members paid for the young couple's wedding, donated to a Go Fund Me page, held a big fundraiser at a local pub, and that's where we left the story last week. At the event, Jeremiah's exhausted wife confides in Darlene about just how hard things are. And some of the things she says are confusing. Jeremiah isn't taking traditional cancer medicines, for example. That's what Amanda told Darlene.
[00:01:20] Darlene Asher: I kept saying, well what are they doing for him? What, what are they doing to make him comfortable, and she said, "They're not doing anything because he, it's not curable," and Jeremiah was smoking marijuana for the pain, so there was no pain pills, per se, involved.
[00:01:39] Bob: It seems almost sacrilegious to question someone's pain treatment during cancer, especially terminal cancer. But well, Darlene is asking questions. Some things Amanda says just, just don't add up. She's worried about the young mother who's responsible for so much right now. A little voice inside of Darlene is starting to get louder and louder.
[00:02:03] Darlene Asher: Things started to kind of not feel okay, like this is crazy. There's things out there to help people. There's medications to keep you comfortable, and work in the healthcare industry, so it just got a little bizarre. Amanda had said that he wouldn't let her go to the doctor with him. He'd say he's going to the doctor. She'd say, "Can I come with?" And he'd say, "No, I don't want you there. I don't want you to hear what they have to say." Just little things like that were like, something doesn't seem right.
[00:02:38] Bob: And it isn't just Darlene. In hushed corners at the fundraiser and soon after, others start wondering about Jeremiah's treatment plan, too.
[00:02:48] Darlene Asher: The minute one person actually verbalized it, then everybody kind of started talking about it, like where's Jeremiah at? How is he doing? Is he as sick as he thought he was? Are they trying a treatment?
[00:03:04] Bob: Only a few weeks later, there is strange news. Amanda takes a drastic steps, feels she has no choice.
[00:03:12] Darlene Asher: So within, I don't know, maybe a month I came upon a Facebook post from his wife, Amanda, that said, "Me and the kids are staying in Becker, Minnesota," which would have been about a 2½ hour drive from where she was living with Jeremiah. And it said, "I just can't do this anymore." So I immediately reached out to her and said, "What is going on? Why are you, you know, that far away?" And she said, "It's the only friend that I knew I could go to." She said, "Jeremiah had physically abused her," and she took the kids and left.
[00:03:57] Bob: Amanda takes her newborn and the other kids and leaves because she's afraid one of them will get hurt. But she really has nowhere to go. Remember, Jeremiah hadn't been able to work for a long time, so the family has very little. Darlene steps right in.
[00:04:14] Darlene Asher: I am about an hour closer to where she was living. So I offered my home to her and her children. So then that night she came with her two kids and stayed in my basement, and the deal was for her to stay there for a week or two until she figured out what she was going to do next. That turned into them living here for probably a little over a year.
[00:04:48] Bob: Wow.
[00:04:49] Bob: Even from a distance, Jeremiah keeps making things hard on her.
[00:04:54] Darlene Asher: Amanda had went to the county and applied for assistance, and they turned them down because Jeremiah wouldn't produce paperwork from the doctor stating that he was terminally ill.
[00:05:08] Bob: And as Amanda starts to trust Darlene more and more, eventually she reveals a terrible secret.
[00:05:16] Darlene Asher: So during that time, she would FaceTime with Jeremiah so he could see the children, and I would say it was probably two or three months of her living here when me and her would sit down and have talks. And finally one day she just came out and said, "I don't think Jeremiah's sick."
[00:05:42] Bob: I don't think Jeremiah's sick? It's an almost unthinkable thing to hear but then not really unthinkable. Darlene had begun to have her doubts.
[00:05:54] Darlene Asher: And I said, "What? You're his wife, and you're telling me you don't think he's sick?" So then she informed me that she had actually gone to the police and stated that she thought her husband was faking a cancer diagnosis to get funds. Of course, she didn't want anybody to know that she had went to the police. She was scared, but she said, "I don't know what else to do."
[00:06:29] Bob: What was that moment like when she said to you, I went to the police. Your jaw must have hit the ground.
[00:06:34] Darlene Asher: It did, but I am a people pleaser, and I know my first reaction was, oh my God, what can I do to help you? Like, how could we make sure that you and the kids are okay? You know, are you going to get a divorce? Are you, you know, just lots of things in my mind of how is she going to survive now?
[00:06:58] Bob: Remember, Amanda and Jeremiah have a baby and a newly blended family, so they still talk often, even after Amanda goes to the police. At least until the police come calling on the once famous dart player.
[00:07:13] Darlene Asher: At that time, there was a lot of yelling. When he learned he was being investigated he would call to talk to the kids and his wife in my basement, they would just get into a screaming argument about how come this is happening? How come people don't believe him? And Amanda, his wife, she still cared about him, but she knew that at, in her heart that he wasn't sick at this point.
[00:07:48] Bob: But he still maintained that he was sick this whole time.
[00:07:51] Darlene Asher: Oh yes, yep. Yep, he maintained, I don't even know whenever he finally, I don't know that he ever truly said, "I'm not sick." I think he just got busted and that was that.
[00:08:06] Bob: He just busted, and that was that. After a brief investigation, Jeremiah is arrested and charged with Theft By Swindle. A state charge. Darlene has a really hard time dealing with the complex feelings that arise from the news.
[00:08:23] Darlene Asher: Once Amanda reported it to the police, then I received a phone call from the detective and wanted to know my role in, in the fundraiser and all that. I still was hopeful that it wasn't true. In a way it was kind of a double-edged sword. Oh my God, he's not going to die. That's amazing. That's fantastic. On my God, he pulled the wool over our eyes. We all believed him. That is the most horrific thing somebody could do to somebody. So it was a hard balance to figure out, you know, where your emotions were at. So I cooperated with the detectives, I gave them information, names of people that donated, names of his friends that paid for his Vegas vacations, paid for his wedding.
[00:09:20] Bob: And the rest of the generous hearted players in the dart league, well, they all react in their own way.
[00:09:26] Darlene Asher: They all spoke to the detectives, however, I think they, for the most part, the players that took Jeremiah under their wing and was trying to give him the happiest last months of his life almost became nonverbal about it. They didn't want to talk about it, they didn't really want to get involved in, in the investigation other than, they did speak with the detective, but they didn't want anything back. You know the detective wanted to know like financially how much it set them back, and they all, for the most part, the word was is, I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to know. I don't want nothing to do with this anymore.
[00:10:20] Bob: It is just an unthinkable crime, and it still haunts Darlene.
[00:10:25] Darlene Asher: It just, the more I would talk about it or find out about it, the more angry I got, the more I wanted justice. I wanted something to happen to show people that this is not the way to go. The, the stories and the, and the lies to raise money and take advantage of people is not okay. And I was like, I want to shout to the world that this happened, and can you believe that somebody could do this to their second family? Jeremiah had a 10-year-old son at the time who he told that he was going to die. Who does that? Who in... in my opinion, you're telling your child that you are going to die in, in less than six months, and you're not. Who does that to a child?
[00:11:32] Bob: Who does that indeed? Jeremiah's web of lies, the web of pain he caused, it's all hard to comprehend, but believe it or not, it's not that unusual.
[00:11:45] I have probably seen at least several dozen stories like this before, and maybe well over a hundred. I haven't kept count, but it is appallingly common that people will misuse social media and online fundraising sites for their own nefarious purposes.
[00:12:09] Bob: Will Darlene get the justice she seeks? We'll hear what happens with the Jeremiah's criminal case in a moment, but first, this crime is so dramatic, so twisted, really, we needed to find an expert to try to make sense of it all. And we found the perfect person; Marc Feldman is a Professor of Psychiatry and author of the book, "Dying to be Ill." We borrowed his title for the title of this episode. He's been studying people who fake illnesses for many decades. The phenomenon is common enough that it has a nickname, Munchausen's Syndrome, after the person who first identified it. But these days...
[00:12:47] Marc Feldman: The technical term these days is Factitious Disorder. It's like fictitious, except "a" is the second letter. And it refers to people who feign, exaggerate, or actually self-induce psychological or physical illness because they're after some sort of emotional gratification. Now there's a related phenomenon called Malingering, where people do the same thing, but not so much for the emotional gratification as to get something tangible like money, disability payments, opioid medications, not guilty by reason of insanity verdicts. The difference is that in Factitious Disorder the individual is just after attention and sympathy, but in Malingering, they want something that they can grab onto like money.
[00:13:47] Bob: As we said, Marc has been interested in this very painful phenomenon for decades. He encountered it early on in his career.
[00:13:55] Marc Feldman: I became interested in 1989 when I was uh, assigned the factitious cancer patient who had shaved her head and dieted to lose weight, and had joined a breast cancer support group. She was actually a schoolteacher, and the basketball team at her school had dedicated their season to her thinking she was going to die. The whole school thought she had terminal breast cancer. One day, literally on a single day, it emerged that she had never seen any of the doctors she claimed were treating her, and she was sent emergently to my office, even though I had never seen such a case, I didn't even know what it was called. But I admitted her to the hospital, discovered that depression, a severe depression was prompting her outrageous behaviors. And that once we treated her depression, she no longer felt the need to lie to get her needs met. Now she had burned a lot of bridges, as you can imagine, and so with her, we decided it made sense for her to move out of state and temporarily stay with family because there was no way she could ever return to that school.
[00:15:14] Bob: Wow, and you, you were just working as a psychiatrist at that point or...
[00:15:19] Marc Feldman: That's right. I was the youngest member of the faculty at Duke University. And so I got assigned the cases no one else would take. And the conventional thinking at that time was that Munchausen Syndrome or Factitious Disorder was totally untreatable. And so she was sent to me. No one else would take her. It was a very gratifying experience for me in the end, and uh again, it's left me with an optimism that's lasted through the present.
[00:15:49] Bob: There are a lot of reasons someone might mislead others about being sick. The motivations run a gamut really, but they fall broadly into two categories.
[00:16:01] Bob: Should I draw a sharp distinction in my mind between people who are, you know, looking for an emotional payoff and maybe even committing self-harm, and people who are just out for money?
[00:16:12] Marc Feldman: What's interesting about that is that is an important distinction, but some people do both. And we see that in a lot of cases, that it starts out with they're looking for money and medications. But they start to really enjoy the attention they're getting. And so it merges between Malingering and Factitious Disorder going back and forth. And now for the first time, the American Psychiatric Association acknowledges that they can occur at the same time, and they can also take place either partially or entirely online. So it's become very easy to engage in medical deception simply by clicking onto Facebook or some social media group and claiming to have an illness you don't have. People are kind, and they may send gifts, they may provide money, and so there are lots of benefits though, ultimately, this behavior tends to be self-defeating.
[00:17:17] Bob: When I was reading about some versions of Factitious Disorder, the stories are very heart-breaking, I mean people who will actually ingest substances, so they become sick or, or pick away at wounds so they don't heal. This sounds like a very painful and sad uh, illness.
[00:17:33] Marc Feldman: In most extreme cases, people have lost their lives as a result of what they've done to themselves. I have one classic case of a woman who injected herself with bacteria, and numerous times, to the point where she was in septic shock, uh, near death. And it was only then when she was in the intensive care unit, near death, that she decided to come clean and tell the truth if she ever lived. And fortunately, she did, and she did well with treatment. So it shows that even in the most extreme cases, there's cause to be optimism. She did a panoply of other things to herself too, um, some of them were kind of disgusting, but others are just a--, appalling, uh and you think to yourself, if she had used her creativity and knowledge for productive things, she could have accomplished anything.
[00:18:31] Bob: Like the story of Jeremiah John Smith, some of Marc's story sounds so extreme. But let's back up a little bit in our explanation of this disorder.
[00:18:41] Bob: I think you make the point in your book that, that everyone has to some degree exaggerated an illness to get out of going to work, or to maybe extend a vacation, or like me, to avoid going to school when you were a kid. So there's a little bit of this in all of us, right?
[00:18:57] Marc Feldman: That's right. It's on a continuum. My second book was called, "The Spectrum of Factitious Disorders," recognizing that huge range. But I wouldn't want listeners to think that if a child or grandchild complains of a tummy ache now and then to avoid going to school, that that means they've got a psychiatric illness. Or if someone wants to avoid work and calls the boss and claims to have a cold or the flu and coughs a few times into the receiver, their gains are really minimal, and this doesn't represent a, a real pattern of behavior. And so we wouldn't call that Factitious Disorder or Malingering. We would call it the Benign Use of Illness, or some people call it Normal Illness Behavior.
[00:19:53] Bob: But there are cases where things may start out as the benign use of illness, but then the story and the storyteller just get carried away.
[00:20:04] Bob: I have been wondering while listening to you, how much of this story and maybe specifically Jeremiah John Smith's story, um, or any of these stories, are a little bit like the boy who cried wolf where it, it works a little and then there's a payoff, and then you have to keep spinning a wider and wider lie.
[00:20:23] Marc Feldman: This is especially true when it comes to the terminal cancer patients. It shows just how desperate some people get for even the mildest of attention and sympathy if they're lacking in social skills. And most of these people have what we call Personality Disorders, which just means they have long-term maladaptive for harm--, self-harmful ways of trying to get their needs met. Instead of using words, they use harmful actions to get their needs met, and it backfires uh as it did in that case, but it's hard to carry it out forever. People start to wonder if you have terminal cancer, why are you alive four years later? And so they have to elaborate on the story and make it seem as if they're having miraculous cures followed by dismal failures. And it goes on and on and on. If someone really confronts them and says, this makes no sense, how can you still be sick and alive, they tend to invoke God. They say, "Well God has cured me, and to question me is to question God." And that's something nobody wants to do, and it, it causes people to stand back.
[00:21:44] Bob: So this problem is not new. But nowadays, Factitious Disorder has a new ally. Technology.
[00:21:52] Bob: I believe you coined the term Munchausen by Internet. And I'm, I'm wondering if the internet has made this problem worse?
[00:22:00] Darlene Asher: I think that Munchausen Syndrome or Factitious Disorder is much, much more common with the advent of the internet. Uh, as you said, about 20 years ago, I began to become aware of people posting to social media groups, such as they were back in those days, claiming illnesses that sounded realistic, but over time began to emerge as caricatures, as just ridiculous and not believable. And it used to be that these patients had to go to medical libraries, read up on medical illnesses, go to the emergency room, act out convincingly, get the doctor to believe they were sick, get admitted to the hospital and get surgery; now all they have to do is click onto Wikipedia, they can become masters of medical ailments in about 20 minutes. They may know more than the doctor knows about certain esoteric ailments, and they go online and pretend to have it. And if they're discovered, they just click and go to one of the tens of thousands of other groups where they can feign either the same illness or pick a different one.
[00:23:18] Bob: And do you think that the existence of things like Go Fund Me has also made this worse?
[00:23:22] Marc Feldman: Go Fund Me is uh, of a lot of concern to me because I'm aware personally of so many cases in which goodhearted people have donated money that they really didn't have on the basis of professed causes that don't exist, whether it's illness or crisis of another form, uh they give money and Go Fund Me doesn't really vet these cases very much. So it may be easier to get away with making money off Go Fund Me with spurious illnesses than anyone has ever imagined before.
[00:24:04] Bob: This is a question, people who write about tech have to ask themselves all the time whether, whether the tech has really made things worse or it's just the same thing in a different form. But it pops into my head, it has to, that somebody who might have considered doing this before, but you know, how are you going to go ask your friends for money? But Go Fund Me's right there, and 30 seconds later you can ask perfect strangers for money. It just seems like it makes things easier for this kind of syndrome.
[00:24:29] Marc Feldman: Absolutely true. And that's what sparked my interest 20 years ago, the Go Fund Me didn't exist back then. But once there are various sites where you can raise money on the basis of a sense of illness, we began to see a multiplying of what I called Munchausen by Internet, or Malingering, and there are cases of people making literally hundreds of thousands of dollars based on claims that they totally invented and which rely on nothing more than their capacity to write well, and write convincingly on their Go Fund Me accounts.
[00:25:13] Bob: We reached out to Go Fund Me for comment on this story; the firm didn't get back to us before we dropped this podcast, but it told CBS Minnesota after Jeremiah's story became public that scams make up a very small part of their fundraisers. The statement read in part, "Campaigns with misuse make up less than one-tenth of one percent of all campaigns. With that said, there are instances where individuals try to take advantage of other's generosity. Go Fund Me has taken action and banned the individual and will provide refunds to all donors upon request. It is important to remember that our platform is backed by the Go Fund Me guarantee which means that in the rare case that Go Fund Me, law enforcement, or a user finds that funds from a campaign are misused, donors are fully protected and will get refunded.
[00:26:06] Bob: While some people get away with committing fraud on Go Fund Me, others are caught. Some are even arrested like Jeremiah John Smith, but Marc thinks the legal system hasn't really caught up to this very modern crime yet.
[00:26:21] Marc Feldman: Usually there's no prison sentence which is disappointing to me. In fact, the police aren't even interested unless the amount of money exceeds $5,000 or more. And when there is a conviction, they tend to order restitution, the judge does, but otherwise it's a slap on the wrist, and the restitution may never be paid. These people don't have the resources. They've spent the money they made through Go Fund Me, so it's exploitative, and I think there's every reason to feel angry because these people have kind hearts, and they've been exploited for that having kind hearts. That's a very distressing thing.
[00:27:06] Bob: While taking money from people under false pretenses is often a crime, is Munchausen formally recognized as a disease by the psychology profession?
[00:27:16] Marc Feldman: Well it's interesting that the American Psychiatric Association does consider Factitious Disorder to be a mental illness. That is, if somebody's after attention, sympathy, care, concern, and not after tangible things like money, the American Psychiatric Association since 1980 has said that's a formal mental illness, though treatment for it is still a bit up in the air. Um, most patients don't do well with treatment which is disappointing. A part of that is that there hasn't been very much research into what forms of treatment might work best. On the other hand, Malingering, where they're after money and drugs, is not a mental illness. It tends more to be a criminal justice problem, and we don't talk about treatment, we talk in terms of punishment. But again, as I stated before, the punishments tend to be slaps on the wrist.
[00:28:18] Bob: It's very, very hard to be with someone who claims they are sick and accuse them of lying about it. That's a very big step to be taken very carefully. I asked Marc what people should look for if they suspect something like this is going on.
[00:28:34] Marc Feldman: I always look for inconsistencies in the posts. It may take a while for those to emerge, but the stories start not to hang together, whether it's in real life or it's online. You may also find that the person posts descriptions of the illness that really emerges caricatures based upon the, the person's misconceptions of what the illness would look like. There is also excessive drama. So the person will be near death, then miraculously improve, then when people start to lose interest, the person gets extremely sick again, then they miraculously improve. You know, we have the saying, "Things can be too good to be true." But they can also be too bad to be true, and that's what these patients exploit. Some of the claims are really fantastic and they contradict themselves or are flatly disproved. Uh, in a number of cases people have called hospitals wanting to speak to the patient and offer them reassurance only to find out that the patient is unknown to the hospital they're ostensibly at. And there's a list of the warning signs that I published in "Dying to Be Ill," my latest book, and I think anyone who has concern that they may be misled should take a look at that list and it will help a whole bunch.
[00:30:04] Bob: Before we go any further, I want to make clear the vast majority of people you encounter in life are not lying about being sick.
[00:30:13] Marc Feldman: We have to bear in mind that this is relatively uncommon. And so I wouldn't want people to approach all such cases with a jaundiced eye. Most people who post on Go Fund Me or post on special interest websites or other forms of social media are telling the truth. And we needn't be caustic when someone tells us about their up and down story of cancer. We do need to be attentive, and we should probably only give money to those people we know personally, but I wouldn't want anyone to come away thinking that everybody who's soliciting money online is doing it just because they want to make a quick buck.
[00:30:59] Bob: I have an important question for you that I know is probably coming up in people's minds. This is a sensitive area, because we also know on the opposite end of the spectrum, that some medical professionals have a bad habit of ignoring patients who complain about symptoms, especially women, right? Dismissing things as being ...
[00:31:15] Marc Feldman: Yes.
[00:31:15] Bob: ...all, in their head. So how, how do I balance out the idea that some people are making things up and the, the bad habit of medical professionals to ignore things that their patients complain about?
[00:31:29] Marc Feldman: Well, again to quote the American Psychiatric Association, only about 1 percent of the patients admitted to general hospitals have any element of exaggerating or feigning or having self-induced their illnesses. So 99% are there because they're authentically ill. Um, there may, their symptoms may defy diagnosis early on, and they may never be definitively diagnosed, but they're not there because they're deliberately deceitful, only about 1% are. So we don't want to lose our perspective on that. And even I, as somebody who specializes in Factitious Disorder, assume when I meet a patient that they're telling me the full truth. It takes an accumulation of positive warning signs for me to start to doubt what I'm being told.
[00:32:27] Bob: But among these rare cases some of the stories can be really awful. There is Munchausen by Proxy, for example, where sometimes people say their children are sick. And in very extreme cases, actually make their children sick in order to get attention or money. In fact, some people do this with pets too.
[00:32:51] Marc Feldman: Yeah, we call that Munchausen by Animal Proxy, and for people who lack access to children, don't want to harm themselves, lack access to elderly and dependent people, they may induce or lie about illness in their pets. I can think of one case, and this sounds like I'm making it up, but it's true, the woman had 30 of her dogs die before a lab tech in the veterinarian's practice contacted me and said, "What do I do? A lot of vets in town are refusing to treat this woman, uh, but they're not doing anything about it." And I, of course, told her to go the police. My latest book does have a chapter on Munchausen by Animal Proxy, and it seems inconceivable and yet, it's a variation of what we call Munchausen by Proxy, where a caregiver feigns, exaggerates, or induces illness in a child typically in order to get attention for themselves. And the dog or cat becomes a child surrogate, uh if they don't have access to an actual child.
[00:34:06] Bob: So she essentially killed 30 dogs before someone called law enforcement?
[00:34:12] Marc Feldman: I don't even know that they've called law enforcement yet. But yes, that's what was quoted to me. Now, it may have been a little hyperbole, but still, I know of many cases where several dogs, horses, cats have died under suspicious circumstances, and the only evident reason is for the caregiver to enjoy in a perverse sense the bereavement rituals, the putting the, the dog or cat down, the burial if there's a burial. They seem to delight in all of that. So these can be very perverse individuals.
[00:34:56] Bob: Marc, I've got to be honest. There's shivers going down my spine hearing you describe this. How, how do you study this all the time?
[00:35:02] Marc Feldman: I've been studying it since 1989 which dates me, but also shows how interesting the topic can be. And I think part of it is, I've had unusually good success in treating these people, if they're willing to get treatment, and that's the big barrier. And so I feel more hopeful about the prognosis in these cases than most experts do. It's also fascinating. It's just amazing to study the human condition and see how extreme it can get. I've written over 100 articles about it, written four books about it, and I never get tired of learning more and more about it. Now my goal is to train the next generation so after I'm gone, people are entering the field and making advances based upon the early work that so many of us have done.
[00:36:03] Bob: So what did happen to Jeremiah John Smith? As Marc said, most criminals who fake an illness for money don't serve jail time. Smith pled guilty to Theft by Swindle, a felony in Minnesota. He was sentenced to 10 years’ probation.
[00:36:20] Bob: And you think that's not enough.
[00:33:24] Darlene Asher: It's definitely not enough. He needed jail time.
[00:36:25] Bob: He's a free man basically, right?
[00:36:27] Darlene Asher: Yeah, he is. I don't believe his sentence was strong enough. I don't think that someone who ended up, upwards of $50,000 between fundraisers and the Go Fund Me, I just don't think that the punishment was sufficient to the crime and what he did to everyone.
[00:36:50] Bob: Smith hasn't reached out to any of the victims, Darlene says.
[00:36:54] Darlene Asher: Like, there was no, I'm sorrys. He fell from the face of the earth as far as no more Facebook posts, no more communication. The only reason I knew more is because his wife was living in my basement. And even then, I mean I would babysit the kids for her so she could work a double shift. We charged her $100 a month for staying here just because we wanted to make sure that she could support her kids.
[00:37:27] Bob: Darlene says the episode is still very raw for her.
[00:37:31] Darlene Asher: It's still very painful and sad to me to think that he did this and that he used all of us and used our generosity and used the dart family to satisfy his urge for video games and drugs. And I just couldn't wrap my head around it. I just... again, Jeremiah, when I was around him, humble, sweet, kind, asking about my grandkids. Just never in a million years would I have ever expected that someone with his demeanor, his kindness would ever take advantage of people. It just, I still can't honestly wrap my mind around it.
[00:38:26] Bob: And it's left her with doubts about her entire generous nature.
[00:38:30] Bob: When you think about all the people that have been hurt here and all the sort of ripple effects of it, it's really devastating.
[00:38:35] Darlene Asher: It is. It's like, I feel like I'm grieving, like I'm grieving this event that happened that shouldn't have happened. It's like feeling like you've lost a loved one, but you didn't. It's still very hurtful. It's caused a lot of doubt in, for instance, I have another grandchild now that has been born with cystic fibrosis. A friend of mine is putting on a benefit and it makes me nervous. It makes me, you know, I'm like, let's not do a benefit. I don't need people questioning you know why are we doing a benefit for my 1-year-old grandchild. You know I just feel like everybody has that fear now of is this really necessary or not? You start questioning everything. It just, I mean even right now I'm in knots inside. It just angers me so much that he did this, that he took this generous offer that we put out there to help him and fake the whole thing. It just blows my mind that somebody could do that.
[00:39:59] Bob: Naturally, the entire episode has left her a lot more cautious.
[00:40:04] Darlene Asher: For me, I have been limited involvement in any fundraiser since. I, myself, have decided unless I see physical proof that there is something going on tragic in their life, that I will not participate. The reason that I am talking to you is because I want people to know that people are capable of doing this. And I just wish that maybe I would have done a little bit more investigating of his illness and known a little bit more before I dedicated hours and hours and hours of my time to, to pulling this benefit together. Please, just, if you are doing a fundraiser, make sure that it is for the right reasons and that the person you're doing it for is really what they're got going in their life is really going on. Like I said, now looking back, I feel like if somebody has something so tragic going on in their life, typically there's posters or pictures, there's posts made from the hospital. This is what we learned at the doctor's visit today. Be cautious I guess is what I want to say to anybody. I am, I am skeptical of any and every benefit right now. I probably always will be. But it doesn't change the fact that I, if I'm certain that there's good reason for this benefit, I, I'll be the first one there donating, but I am definitely more cautious about what I do and, and, and to be honest, the benefits have fallen by the wayside for the most part in the darting community because of this.
[00:42:10] Bob: Darlene is naturally a bit more skeptical now. But it was also obvious talking with her that despite this awful experience, I'm quite certain there will be many more friends in need who she will help for years to come.
[00:42:26] Bob: Your heart is so generous and, and I, I know nothing can actually really overcome how generous your heart is.
[00:42:33] Darlene Asher: Thank you.
[00:42:44] Bob: If you have been targeted by a scam or fraud, you are not alone. Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Their trained fraud specialists can provide you with free support and guidance on what to do next. Thank you to our team of scambusters; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; Researcher, Haley Nelson; Associate Producer, Annalea Embree; and of course, our Audio Engineer, Julio Gonzalez. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.
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