Dying to Be Ill Part 1: GoFundMe Scam Targets Dart Community
When a tournament player develops cancer, Darlene helps with fundraising, but begins to have doubts
Darlene Asher is the head of her local Minnesota dart league, a close-knit group of dart enthusiasts who rally around champion dart player Jeremiah Jon Smith when they learn he is dying from cancer. They raise thousands through fundraisers and a GoFundMe page, going as far as paying for Jeremiah’s wedding. It seems like they’re doing the right thing, so why does Darlene have doubts?
[00:00:01] Bob: This week on The Perfect Scam.
[00:00:03] Darlene Asher: I could hear people saying stuff, like, did you hear Jeremiah's sick? I went and talked to his fiance and she um, informed me that Jeremiah had stage 4 kidney disease, and several forms of cancer, um, that was incurable. Everybody was doing anything and everything to try to make the last months of his life memorable. Everybody was giving, giving, giving. I thought to myself, he, he looks pretty darn good for having less than six months to live.
[00:00:41] Bob: Generosity. It’s such a beautiful human quality, born out of a selfless desire to help other people. Even perfect strangers. And like so many human qualities, the Internet has supercharged our capacity for generosity. Now, we can help strangers across the world with a few clicks of a mouse – folks in need we might never have even heard about before. And tech tools make this even easier. One generosity website, GoFundMe, has facilitated 15 billion dollars – that’s with a b, billion dollars – worth of donations since 2010. That’s all very wonderful. But criminals are very adept at corrupting this amazing force for good – supercharged generosity – and turning it into something that’s pretty evil. Today’s story will probably send a few shivers up your spine, maybe even make you re-think about some donations you’ve made in your life. We don’t want to crush anyone’s generous heart but…we do want to make sure you understand there are people out there who will abuse your spontaneous acts of love. Here’s our story – Dying to be Ill.
[00:02:00] Bob: How’s the weather in Minnesota today?
[00:02:02] Darlene Asher: It looks a little gloomy out, I don’t think it’s supposed to rain, but it looks like it’s gonna.
[00:02:09] Bob: I have to say I could listen to your Minnesota accent all day long.
[00:02:12] Darlene Asher: I don’t have an accent.
[00:02:14] Bob: (laugh) I’m from New Jersey, so you can, you can hunt and peck for mine. I’ll swear I don’t have one either, but I’m a liar.
[00:02:22] Darlene Asher: Well my fiance’s from New Jersey, so I’m, I’m used to the Jersey accent.
[00:02:26] Bob: Then you know, you know the truth.
[00:02:28] Darlene Asher: Yes.
[00:02:30] Bob: That’s Darlene Asher – you can tell she lives in Minnesota – and you can probably tell she has a very big heart. So big that she has spent years managing the local pub dart league. And she doesn’t even play darts. Wait, a dart league?
[00:02:47] Bob: but for, for folks, for folks who don’t know how dart leagues work and why they’re important, go ahead and explain it.
[00:02:53] Darlene Asher: So uh, dart leagues are a great way for people to get out and meet each other. Um, typically you join a league that is a specific night of the week. Typically there’s a two person team. It’s the most common. And um, you typically put, play 12 games against another team. And it just is a great way to get out and meet people, um, it…
[00:03:23] Bob: And you, you have a season, right? I mean you meet every Tuesday night for three months you play each other, right?
[00:03:28] Darlene Asher: Correct, it’s typically, you know, every sea—, every season, every, every um, three months a new league starts. Um, you have people that will play one night a week, you have people that play five nights a week, and it just depends on how passionate they are about the darts. But yeah, um, it really once, once somebody starts playing a league, they just kind of get sucked in. It, it’s a community, and that’s part of the reason I love being a part of that community. It, it’s like a second family.
[00:04:03] Darts is a game of skill, and the games can get pretty competitive – if you ever walk into a full bar and there’s a hushed feeling about the place…followed by an eruption of applause .. you’ve probably stumbled into a dart league. But while the competition is serious, the game is mostly….an excuse to chat.
[00:04:23] Bob: Darts is a little bit like, you know, like golf or some of these other sports where, you know, there’s a time when you’re actively playing, but then there’s a time when you’re standing around catching up, right?
[00:04:33] Darlene Asher: Correct. A lot of catching up.
[00:04:36] Bob: Yeah probably more talking than playing in a lot of ways.
[00:04:40] Darlene Asher: Yeah, dart leagues could be done in about an hour and a half, but typically they’re there for about three hours.
[00:04:45] Darlene spent years as queen of the local dart league – helping with schedules, making sure results are entered, the standings are updated, taking care of a zillion little details so everyone else can just enjoy themselves. I’m sure you know the type. More of a dart league mom, I’d say.
[00:05:04] Darlene Asher: Well I’m not managing dart leagues anymore, however it was about six years that I did it. Um, I’m still very involved in the dart community, but I no longer do that as a career.
[00:05:17] Bob: So six, six years, 18 seasons, I mean you’re with these people a lot.
[00:05:21] Darlene Asher: Oh yes. Very, very um, just very close knit, I could ask anybody just about at any time for anything. And I know that I’m going to have someone there for me.
[00:05:34] Bob: So it really is like a second family.
[00:05:37] Darlene Asher: Oh yes. It’s very, we call it our dart family. It’s very close knit.
[00:05:43] Bob: I know that sometimes your second family is more fun to be around than your first family, right?
[00:05:47] Darlene Asher: That’s a true statement.
[00:05:49] Bob: I bet it’s certainly a lot more fun that everybody’s day job.
[00:05:53] Darlene Asher: Yeah, I agree. That’s a, that’s why I enjoy doing it so much, um, for so long. I just really enjoyed the whole um, I don’t know, that feel good feeling of, of just having other people out there that I could have fun with but yet, knew that they had my back.
[00:06:13] Bob: I’m wondering if you can recall a time when somebody just came up to you and told you something important, like someone in their family died, or, or they lost their job or I mean and, and I don’t need specifics, but has anything like that, you know, happened over the years?
[00:06:26] Darlene Asher: Oh, many times. Um, you know that, that’s part of being the dart family is that, um, we are a community, and we are there for each other. So um, we’ve done many benefits. We’ve done benefits for dart player’s family members, um, and then uh, you know, for dart players themselves. You know, do anything we can to help in a time of need, and support all the people and their families.
[00:06:57] Bob: So if somebody had a sick relative or, or somebody had um, you know, some expenses they couldn’t cover, loss of job, you would raise some money for them.
[00:07:05] Darlene Asher: We would, we certainly would.
[00:07:07] Bob: I’ll bet there’s been more than a few times where somebody couldn’t, you know, buy themselves a couple of beers to play darts, and you said, don’t worry about it, we’ll cover it, right?
[00:07:14] Darlene Asher: Yep. It happens more often than not.
[00:07:18] Bob: Okay. So that brings us to Jeremiah John Smith.
[00:07:23] Bob: Jeremiah John Smith. He isn’t in Darlene’s dart league…he lives in a town a few hours away. But among dart players, well, the very good ones get a reputation. And Jeremiah John Smith has a big one. He’s one of the best players. And the way dart leagues work – well there are regional, national, even global tournaments once in a while, and eventually, Darlene gets to meet this bullseye legend.
[00:07:53] Darlene Asher: We were in Las Vegas for a dart tournament, and it was a world tournament, and we met some people from the Rochester area which is about an hour and a half from where I live and Jeremiah Smith was one of them.
[00:08:08] Darlene is anxious to see this mini-celebrity at his craft.
[00:08:13] Darlene Asher: We watched him, um, in Las Vegas, and then just through mutual friends that were there, we, we, you know, you typically if if you’re not playing you’re, you’re supporting or cheering on someone you do know.
[00:08:28] Bob: Would, would it be um, too much to say that maybe you were a little bit starstruck?
[00:08:32] Darlene Asher: Um, I’m always humble to the players that really put the time and effort into their dart game, and so watching someone that you know virtually can’t miss, I mean they, they do, but they, they’re on their game, you know, 95% of the time has always an awe moment, it’s always, especially for someone like me that can’t even hit the dart board. So I just, I think, why, how did they make it look so effortless, you know, how, how come their dart goes right in the bullseye and mine hits a coin box, you know. Like I, I mean it’s always a, a, a moment where I just kind of like, you know what a, what an incredible talent. It’s really a talent that they have.
[00:09:28] Bob: Turns out, when he isn’t hitting bullseye after bullseye, Jeremiah is really generous with his time. After one match, Darlene and her fiancé work up the courage to say hello and the three of them hit it off right away. Jeremiah even helps Darlene’s fiancé – who is an avid darts player -- tackle a bad habit he has… by showing how to be cool under pressure.
[00:09:53] Darlene Asher: He was a great mentor. My fiancé was, you know, probably five years into the, into darts, and still was learning a lot and, and that weekend Jeremiah kind of took him under his wing and, and mentored him and you know helping him get a little better and, and um, learning how to, to change his demeaner when he’s not doing good. You know, it’s a game, and he was very, Jeremiah was very even keeled, didn’t let, didn’t let a bad dart or a bad game even affect him in the least bit, and then my fiancé, of course from Jersey, he is very, I don’t want to say aggressive, but he’d have a bad game, everybody knew it.
[00:10:41] Bob: Well let’s, let’s be honest here. He swears a lot.
[00:10:44] Darlene Asher: Yes. So Jer, yes, he, he has a few choice words when he’s not doing good. So Jeremiah was try-, you know, he was like, you know, it’s just a game. Now there’s a game after this and if you’re upset, you’re not going to shoot well in your next game.
[00:10:59] After the tournament, they go their separate ways back to different parts of Minnesota, but they stay in touch. And they continue to see the famous Jeremiah at various dart tournaments from time to time
[00:11:11] Darlene Asher: Well, just about any major tournament that happened, mostly in Minnesota, uh, we'd only travel to Las Vegas to play once or twice a year, but um, any dart tournament that would be, typically they run from Thursday to Sunday, and typically it means going and getting a hotel room for that, that period of time. We would always be there and so was Jeremiah. So we would see him two or three times a year. Um, maybe, maybe a little more at uh, at actual dart tournaments that were happening around Minnesota.
[00:11:45] And it is at one of these tournaments when Darlene hears a terrible, awful rumor about Jeremiah.
[00:11:53] Darlene Asher: So in October of 2016, we were at a um, large dart tournament and um, I was working the tournament, and that the, vendor that I worked for was having, they do a, a, um, a player appreciation night, and so we um, rented a room at the casino and everybody that played in our leagues through our vendor, we did, you know, food and, and beverages and, and just kind of had a party. And um, Jeremiah and his, his fiance were there. And I could hear people saying stuff, like, did you hear Jeremiah's sick? And I was like, huh, what's going on with Jeremiah? So eventually um, you know you tell one person and then of course, you know, finding out that someone's sick, it kinda spreads like wildfire so I, I went and talked to his fiance and she um, informed me that Jeremiah had stage 4 kidney disease, and several forms of cancer, um, that was incurable.
[00:13:01] Bob: Jeremiah, their dart hero, has incurable cancer. It is the worst kind of news but….well, it’s even worse than that.
[00:13:10] Darlene Asher: You know, at the time devastating, just devastating. His finance was pregnant, due in December. Jeremiah had a, a son already and his fiance, Amanda, already had a daughter, and then they were going to have a baby together, so they were going to be a family of five with a father that, and husband that, as they got married, um, that was going to die within six months. That was his prognosis he said was six months.
[00:13:41] It was all unthinkable. Jeremiah was…quite literally … at the top of his game. All these wonderful life events on the way. And now, things at this fun tournament suddenly turn very, very serious
[00:13:57] Darlene Asher: I didn't say too much there because at that time it was supposed to be hush hush. He didn't typically he said he didn't want anybody to know um, and was only telling like his close friends, but by the end of the tournament, everybody knew. And so probably um, at the end of the, the weekend, I went up and hugged him and told him that I'd keep him in my thoughts and prayers, and that we were there for them if they needed anything.
[00:14:32] Bob: Um, did, do you remember how he reacted to you?
[00:14:35] Darlene Asher: Yeah, teary. He definitely would tear up and, of course, I would tear up and he'd, you know, he was, he said he couldn't ask for better friends. You couldn't help but be sad because this was a person that always was there for everybody. He was, he as a mentor in the community, and so to think that we were going to lose such a good guy, at a very young age was, was devastating.
[00:15:06] And when Darlene leaves the tournament that day….she isn’t sure when….or if….they’d talk next.
[00:15:13] Bob: And also, at this point you were still only seeing him a couple of times a year, right?
[00:15:17] Darlene Asher: Yeah. Correct.
[00:15:19] Bob: So, so might have thought, maybe I'll never see him again if he's that sick, right?
[00:15:24] Darlene Asher: Yeah, it, I mean the thought crossed my mind. Um, of course, thank you to Facebook, um, you know, I kind of followed what was going on on Facebook through his fiancé and um, you know, he would post periodically of how he was feeling, what was happening in his life. Um, how sick he really was.
[00:15:46] Bob: Darlene doesn’t have to imagine how sick Jeremiah is. She’s following it all on social media. Here’s a post she saved from Jeremiah’s Facebook page during that time.
[00:15:58] Darlene Asher: Well it says, "As I sit here trying to think about where this game has brought me, it's crazy...
[00:16:04] Male voice: The past two days have shown me something about myself and this game. The dart family is as amazing as they come. Always there when you need them most. Thank you. As far as myself goes, the stupid disease is taking something else from me. I will always have memories of darts, and all of you who I have been ever so lucky to have met. This weekend I felt my disease taking something I love as much as anyone. Darts has been a love of mine for as long as I can remember. The amount of pain and being tired that I have tried to deal with is becoming too much for me to continue playing the game. I will always love the game and all of the people. Today showed me not only am I losing the battle, but I really don't have much say in what will happen next."
[00:16:47] Bob: Wow. That, that sounds almost like a Lou Gherig's speech as he're retiring from darts basically.
[00:16:53] Darlene Asher: Yep. Yes.
[00:16:55] Bob: What happens next is … the dart league community – well it does what any second family does – it kicks into action. Beginning with….making sure the growing family has some nice days to remember when the darker days come.
[00:17:11] They did get married very shortly afterwards. One of the dart players actually paid for their wedding so that they could be married before he passed away.
[00:17:21] Bob: Paid for the wedding, wow.
[00:17:23] Darlene Asher: Yes. Hmm-hmm. There was two or three dart players that twice paid to bring Jeremiah to Las Vegas for dart tournaments so that he could have a last hurrah per se. One time they paid for him and his fiance or wife at the time, and one time, um, just the guys went. I mean everybody was doing anything and everything to try to make the last months of his life memorable.
[00:17:54] Bob: And that includes doing whatever it takes to make sure he’s comfortable as the days….wear on him. He doesn’t really have the strength to play full-day tournaments anymore.
[00:18:03] Darlene Asher: They got him his own room because they wanted to make sure that he could go back to his room and sleep in, you know, quietness, nobody coming and going. But yeah, the, the, the Facebook posts were very much so his body can't handle it anymore. He's grateful to be there, but he can't keep it up, so tired, you know. His darts weren't great because he just couldn't do it anymore, he just didn't have the strength to be playing for you know 8 to 10 hours.
[00:18:42] Bob: Watching all this unfold…Darlene just can’t sit back and do nothing. She’s thinking about the baby, about the young family without a dad, so she sweeps into action. She decides to use her role as queen of the dart league to organize a big fund-raiser tournament.
[00:18:58] Darlene Asher: Well, and so Amanda, his wife, um, they actually got married in December, her aunt, um, created a Go Fund Me page. So when that kind of came up and the fundraising started, it was, we need to get this benefit done. So the planning began, and it came together really, really fast. And we were able to have the benefit that February.
[00:19:34] And Darlene, well, she gave a lot more than her time to the cause
[00:19:39] Bob: So tell me about the benefit. What did you do?
[00:19:41] Darlene Asher: So we had a dart tournament, silent auction, raffle. I think we raised about close to $20,000, between the silent auction, donations, people's generosity of just you know, we passed a hat at the tournament even though everybody was giving, giving, giving, you know, I think we collected like $1,000 in this hat that we passed just for extra– trying to, trying to receive extra funds, to help the family.
[00:20:12] Bob: Now what was the big ticket item for the silent auction?
[00:20:15] Darlene Asher: Uh, we, me and my fiance, actually donated a stand-up dartboard. They're about $3000 at that time. Um, so we sold raffles for that and auctioned that off, or raffled it off. And then we had um...
[00:20:33] Bob: But that means you donated $3,000, right?
[00:20:36] Darlene Asher: Correct.
[00:20:37] Bob: Wow.
[00:20:38] Darlene Asher: Yeah. It was kind of the, it wasn't hard to do. This family needed help and we were trying to think of everything we could to help raise money so that when Jeremiah was gone, his wife and children would have a little bit of something to, you know, help him stay from being buried in bills, from all the expenses of a funeral and, and all that. So, you know, Jeremiah quit his job because he said he was in so much pain, couldn't work.
[00:21:16] Bob: It was an emotional night for everyone. Jeremiah is even able to make an appearance.
[00:21:22] Darlene Asher: People that had just came into the, bar was joining in, just you know, heartstrings being tugged every direction. Lots of tears. I mean Jeremiah cried several times at the benefit. And also you know was very, my body's getting weak, my body can't handle this.
[00:21:45] Bob: Meanwhile, as the group spends their time trying to do all they can for Jeremiah, to keep his spirits high, Darlene focuses some of her energy on Jeremiah’s new wife, Amanda. This is all…incredibly hard on Amanda, too.
[00:22:00] Darlene Asher: That was probably the first time that we probably bonded and built a little bit of a friendship. So I talked with her that night, and she expressed how difficult this was for her, working two jobs. Their, their, their newborn was two months old, and Jeremiah couldn't take care of the baby because he couldn't hold his weight. It was too painful, and um, she was, she actually probably looked worse than Jeremiah just from trying to take care of him, take care of their newborn, and the, their other children. Um, and she worked, she worked and worked and worked. I mean she worked her butt off to try to have income for their family.
[00:22:49] Bob: Darlene listens and hears just how hard things really are.
[00:22:52] Darlene Asher: So talking to her was trying to support her but also realizing how kind of messed up and crazy things were at, at home. He couldn't get out of bed. He couldn't help out with the kids. He would yell for her to come bring him something everytime he wanted something. She was burnt out. She was absolutely, I don't know how long I can do this.
[00:23:21] Bob: ‘I don’t know how long I can do this…’ It is a cry for help, and … who wouldn’t cry for help, dealing with a newborn, a newly formed family, and a husband who can’t work, facing a terrible illness. While Darlene listens, the fundraiser goes on to be huge success – everyone has a wonderful time, and the group raises a lot of money to help the young family. But Darlene’s conversation with Jeremiah’s wife leaves her very worried. And there’s something else nagging at Darlene after that night.
[00:23:54] Darlene Asher: I will say that even talking to her at that time I felt a little inkling, or a little gut feeling that maybe things weren't as they were. And that maybe she also was, I got the impression that she felt like he wasn't as sick as he was, but all's he did was demand her help.
[00:24:26] Bob: Darlene let herself imagine, just for a moment, that maybe Jeremiah was exaggerating how bad things are, putting his wife in a really tough spot, taking advantage of his diagnosis. No, no, that’s a terrible thing to think about someone dying of cancer. But the thought wouldn’t leave her alone. And then….another darker, much more sinister thought, keeps pressing into her mind.
[00:24:51] Darlene Asher: I will say, I do remember at the benefit thinking to myself for a man who has all these um, you know, forms of cancer and kidney disease, he hadn't lost any weight. He didn't look, I thought to myself, he, he looks pretty darn good for having less than six months to live. And you know, no, no signs of, you know, no, no hair loss, no, no losing weight, just in, in a sense he still looked, he looked the same as he did the first time I met him. However, you know, it was a quick thought in passing because I would have never imagined that he wasn't sick.
[00:25:46] Well, as we often say at The Perfect Scam, sometimes that little voice inside of you has something very big to say. And when Darlene listens to hers, she learns a very dark secret. What is it? That’s next week on The Perfect Scam.
[00:26:07] 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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