“These days when you speak with Amber, you would never know she is fighting for her life,” reads the October 2015 article on SmileBait.com. “She’s a spunky Southern woman who is every bit a Steel Magnolia if there ever was one.” At the very top of the article, a picture of Amber Buskirk stretched across the lap of her husband Jeremy, sharing an embrace in the sand. Amber’s head is recently shaved, covered in a 5 o’clock shadow not at all unlike that of her husband’s; we are to believe from this that she is a cancer patient struggling to stay alive as an inoperable tumor expands in her brain.
We are to believe she is brave, and, as SmileBait described her, a proud Southern woman. We are to believe that Amber is seeking experimental treatment at Duke University and we are to believe that she is in desperate need of funding as she is no longer able to work due to the cancer that has supposedly ravaged her body since 2013.
As it turns out, the entire thing appears to be a poorly-manufactured lie. And now the West Virginia woman is being called out as a fake.
In an exclusive story, 13 News WOWK in Charleston started asking doctors Amber claimed were treating her for proof of her claims, only to be told Amber wasn’t a patient.
13 News reporter Hillary Hall confronted Amber on these findings (rather, lack thereof) in an interview embedded below.
“I asked them (DUKE) specifically about your treatments and they emailed me back and said that you are not a patient at Duke and you haven’t been,” said Hillary.
Amber paused a moment and then explained: “Yes I am. I am underneath the, umm, I am underneath the trial so therefore I am considered a patient and I am a number. I do not, they do not, they are not allowed to give you my name.”
When reached via video chat, Deputy Director of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University Dr. Henry Friedman said that absolutely isn’t true. “It has never happened that a patient has only known by a number. We would have a name. A chart with that persons name on it, the name would be in all of the medical records at Duke which are electronic now. There is no way that a patient could be on a trial at Duke without a name,” he told 13 News.
Amber claimed that a PET scan on Halloween of 2014 revealed Stage 4 Glioblastoma. On May 15 of 2015, she created a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of $25k to pay medical bills.
In October of 2015, former WOWK reporter Jessie Shafer shared a smiling photo of Amber on Facebook, along with a link to Amber’s GoFundMe campaign and an urgent plea [Ed. note: the public Facebook post linked above was found by a Google search, it has since been removed or is otherwise inaccessible]:
My good friend Amber is fighting a brain tumor, and is having success with a clinical trial. But financially, she can’t continue fighting without our help. She needs to raise $1500 by Monday to continue, or she will have to tell her son that this mommy isn’t going to make it. Please donate and share. Please.
This is life and death! THIS MATTERS!!
But fast forward to current day and 13 News says it took a mere 15 minutes of questioning Amber about her claims before her GoFundMe campaign was taken down. We were unable to find a cache; all that remains is a dead URL and remnants of impassioned pleas for help across social media.
“Fraudulent campaigns make up less than one tenth of one percent of all campaigns. With that said, there are rare occasions where individuals try to take advantage of others’ generosity and commit fraud. In those cases, we take action to protect donors,” said a GoFundMe spokesperson to 13 News. Although Amber’s campaign was made long before the new GoFundMe refund policy was enacted, the site says “if it’s determined that the campaign is fraudulent, [they] will work with law enforcement officials to ensure the GoFundMe donors are made whole.”
The Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.
Special thanks to Hillary Hall at 13 News for her investigative work and for providing screenshots of the GoFundMe campaign used in this story. This story also appeared on the GoFraudMe podcast ep2: Cancer fakers are GoFundMe’s tumor.