Quantum Entanglements: The Social Media Scandals

This is a guest post from kd kelly. kd kelly, aka dotlizard, who has learned a harsh lesson or two in her time on the internets, and wants to warn us about the dangers of social media as it relates to trusting relationships that end in lies, deception, and hurt. She’s a very social creature and is known as “dotlizard” pretty much everywhere.

Smile, I’m sending you some sunshine. Did your room just light up?

Kaycee Nicole What can you say about a beautiful girl who died? In the words of noted internet hedonist Halcyon Styn, from a Flash animation he created in her honor: “I want to introduce you to the bravest person I know / She is a warrior of the finest sort / She shoots sunbeams from her fingertips / makes rainbows shine on sunny days / and leaves a wake of smiles in her path / Kaycee, warrior supreme”. Kaycee Nicole Swenson brought her sparkly brand of wholesome, flirtatious courage to a wide audience on the internet from 1999 through May 14, 2001, when her mother Debbie announced that Kaycee had passed away suddenly. At a family gathering in celebration of her remission from leukemia, sometime around sunset, a blood vessel burst in Kaycee’s chemotherapy-weakened body; she died peacefully in the arms of her loved ones.

I can tell you that when I read this news, I cried off and on the rest of the day. I can also tell you that Kaycee Nicole did not, technically, exist. She was created and portrayed entirely by her “mother”, Debbie Swenson, a middle-aged Midwestern housewife with some serious issues. For nearly two years, thousands followed and supported this fictional construct as she fought a deadly disease, an astonishing run when you consider the challenges involved. Kaycee was a chat host at the now-defunct CollegeClub.com, she spoke at length by phone with many of her internet friends, she emailed, she sent gifts, and she blogged vividly and poignantly through the horrors of her chemotherapy, often closing with her trademark, “Smile, I’m sending you some sunshine. Did your room just light up???” She was quoted in the New York Times, and some of the most prominent internet personalities of the day considered her a close friend, and somehow none of them realized that she was a complete work of fiction.

Kaycee NicoleThis is not to say that no one doubted her. As early as September, 2000, there were suggestions that Kaycee was too good to be true, but they were shouted down by her ardent supporters. The final, successful inquiry started with Kristin at online conversation site Threewayaction.com, then moved to Becky-Says’ blog. In February of 2001, Becky was expressing her skepticism, and as you can clearly hear in the defensive tone of her subsequent posts on the subject, her theories were not well-received. By May 18, the MetaFilter community dared to ask the same, very unpopular questions Becky and some of her friends had been asking for months. The delicate tone of the MeFi post is absolutely uncharacteristic of that site, which tells you just how touchy a subject this was. The initial responses were mild and respectful, and even with that there were vehement objections from close Kaycee friend, web host, and confidante the BWG (Big White Guy, Randall VanderWoning). No one wanted to believe this lovely, tragic young woman was a lie.

The investigation on MetaFilter lasted the weekend, 309 comments that moved through all the stages of grief while slowly and painstakingly picking apart the whole story. There were inconsistencies in the medical aspects of the story, conflicting personal data on various websites including some question as to age and birth date, and a dearth of pictures, some of which were clearly photoshopped to remove logos from sweatshirts. The majority of the comments still expressed a belief that there were basic truths within the story, even if they acknowledged that some details were obviously altered. Debbie Swenson, who’d been living with her deception for years, finally broke down early Sunday on May 20, 2001, posting a confession on her blog. The discussion moved to this thread, where the posts ranged from expressions of grace and forgiveness, to rage and calls for federal prosecution.

Kaycee NicoleKaycee Nicole never came out and asked for money, although the subject of the financial burdens of her illness did surface from time to time in her posts. She did receive many gifts, and emails circulated frequently taking up collections: “We want to fill her room with flowers, buy her a digital camera, a scanner, send her to Disney World”. People did donate, and when the hoax came to light federal authorities were notified, but in the end no charges were brought. Some said we lost our innocence in the Kaycee Nicole scandal, but there still exists a vast network of potential support out here in the social networks, and from time to time scammers succeed in tapping into this resource. This happened last week on the tightly knit community on Plurk, which has a unique and friendly atmosphere as Tamar described a few weeks ago.

LillyBarbIt began with a Plurker calling herself LillyAnn, who projected an image of sweetness and light, punctuated with occasional vague references to difficult circumstances in her life. Her bio states she is “Lilly Calandrello, personal growth expert, MS, MA, Ph.D, is a relationship, marriage, family therapist, motivational & inspirational speaker, spiritual intuitive counselor, and author”. It does not list links to her various websites, however from time to time she would post links to recent posts on her StumbleUpon blog, many of which are also featured on her business website, Whispy.com, a portal which offers a wide variety of spiritual and psychic services. The blog and the business site both feature many lengthy inspirational articles, some of which were copied and pasted, word for word, from their original authors. No one suspected any of this until Lilly Ann, aka Barbara Calandrello, made a desperate appeal to her social media friends for financial assistance with life-threatening medical conditions for which she was uninsured and being denied treatment until she could pay. Someone claiming to be her 17 year old daughter, Gabrielle, posted using her accounts on Plurk and Twitter with an urgent appeal for donations, which were accepted through her PayPal account. Gabrielle then (claiming someone helped her) set up a ChipIn account, which was promoted on Digg and StumbleUpon by Lilly’s very close friend, DaveJazzHound. They collected a little more than $350 on the ChipIn page, and a number of PayPal donations including at least two for $100.

We may never know why someone who (by her own claims on Google Groups) was pulling in $5,000/month via counseling fees, affiliate marketing programs, and essays posted to paying websites such as Squidoo, would risk it all in a scheme that only raised a few hundred dollars. Her image as a successful professional advisor with lucrative hobbies like raising sea horses was in direct contradiction with this sudden, urgent need for cash, and this is one of the reasons it took several days for the questioning to begin. No one wanted to think that LillyBarb, whose online persona was always warm and supportive, brave and kind, would deceive her friends for money. By the second day, the threads on her Plurk profile were still overwhelmingly concerned and gracious towards her plight, but at least one person came out and said that she would love to send flowers, and where should these go? There was, of course, no answer to this, but it sparked a private discussion that lasted until three in the morning, during which a long list of contradictory information came to light.

By morning of the third day, there had been one thread deleted, and the remaining thread had shifted in focus from kindness and worry, to doubt and frustration. I was at this point in possession of a growing list of disturbing information, but to be honest I did not want to be “that person”. I did not have the luxury, as Becky did in her initial posts about Kaycee, to make pointed but nameless references and know that people in the know would recognize what I was talking about – the social media world has grown by several orders of magnitude since those days. I waited to see if anyone else would take up the task of summarizing and archiving the information, but by the end of day three I knew I had to do something.

So I did, but I did it in the most apologetic tone, practically falling over myself saying I was being a horrible mean awful cynical bitch and I was probably wrong but here’s the information anyway. Like the first person to suggest Kaycee was a fraud, I came forward with information I felt needed to be shared, but you can see in both cases, these posts were made cringing and bracing for attack. No one wants to step up and accuse someone of committing fraud, only to discover one has just kicked the poor sick person while they were down. In fact this trait is one of the main reasons people will always use these kinds of heart-tugging stories, because they know it’s really difficult to be “that person”.

In the days that followed, the evidence built up. More and more instances of plagiarism came to light, along more and more conflicts in the stories we’d been told. LillyBarb’s daughter Gabrielle, who had been very active in the early stages of the discussion, stopped responding to the posts. This 17 year old girl claimed she wasn’t allowed on the social networks, but knew how to navigate them with uncanny skill for a newbie, and knew when to fold up shop when the consensus had turned against her. At this writing the pretense is still active on StumbleUpon, and all of the plagiarized content is still up on the commerce-based websites. Apparently the scam is still far from over in spite of the little teapot tempest we’ve had about it over on Plurk. The energy to pursue this fraud has dissipated a little, and the truth is that the amounts involved are probably not enough to compel a criminal investigation. The story is still developing, but there is nowhere near the intensity directed at it than there was towards the far more high profile Kaycee Nicole case. And let’s face it, the level of fraud and malice necessary to catch the attention of the federal authorities is significantly more than what we’ve seen so far with LillyBarb.

So, if the feds aren’t going to protect you from imaginary dying teenagers and psychic kidney patients, who is? Well, you certainly cannot count on the crowd wisdom in social media, as we’ve seen this is very much subject to the fears of individuals to speak out against tragic figures and risk being wrong. The common theme of “I thought there was something wrong about this but I didn’t want to say anything” repeats over and over in these discussions, telling us that the majority would prefer to hold their suspicions waiting for someoene else to speak up. And we know that it feels good to be generous, to give back to the world when we are fortunate enough to be in that position. Psychologically, this creates an atmosphere in which it is very easy to be deceived. Even the short-lived LillyBarb fundraising drive caught a lot of very kind-hearted, generous people before anyone said a word against it. The only protection you really have is yourself.

IN UR QUANTUM BOX - MAYBENow rest assured I am not suggesting you become hardened and cynical, disbelieving everything by default. I could never do this myself so I would never recommend it to anyone else. My solution, which I came up with after the day I spent intermittently weeping over Kaycee Nicole, is that I consider each story I encounter on the internet to be neither true nor false until I have direct knowledge supporting one conclusion or the other. I like to think of this as “Schrodinger’s Blogger”, referring to the famous thought experiment which explains to us the rather odd concept of the quantum state, in which an event exists only as a waveform of possibilities (1 or 0) until it is observed, and that the act of observation changes the outcome of the experiment. In reality we know that this is not the case – the cat in the box is alive, or it is dead, whether or not we know the answer, but in quantum reality, it is both until the very instant we lift the lid and have a look.

So, when confronted with situations in which you are being asked to invest either your emotional energy, or your money, insist upon opening the box. Ask for proof. Demand it, and do not be put off if offense is taken and excuses offered – when someone is asking for you to commit something of yourself to help them, they forfeit their rights to anonymity and privacy. You have the right to know who you are helping and exactly what your help will do for them. Stand firm, and don’t be afraid to advocate for disclosure in public, encouraging others to do the same before they chip in. Realize that no one wants to be the first one to speak up, and the longer this goes on, the more profitable it is for the scammer.

There are many good and deserving people who may find themselves in a situation where they must ask a community of online friends for help, and for the most part they will be very open and forthcoming with proof of these circumstances. There is almost no conceivable reason why any honest person would withhold verification and insist that help be provided on faith alone. As long as you make the effort to suspend both believe and disbelief, and to accept and enjoy your online interactions at face value until such time as it becomes necessary to look deeper, you stand a decent chance of not being taken to the cleaners by sweet and eloquent liars. Be observant! Oh, and smile, I’m sending you some sunshine. Did your room just light up?

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59 replies on “Quantum Entanglements: The Social Media Scandals”
  1. says: BarbaraKB

    Having worked with various non-profits & religious organizations for many years, I can attest to both sides of this issue: organizations being questioned & individuals asking for help who do not need it. There is a fine line in all of this. The main one: give to reputable non-profit groups and *steer* individuals towards these groups when in need. Peace.

  2. says: steaprok

    This is so damn sad! People hustling others on social media for a couple of dollars. I actually saw her postings on Plurk/Twitter and even considered giving some $. What bothers me the most about this ,is how she is destroying peoples trust and want to help ,with her petty lies.

    I have also seen both sides of this coin,as my wife has been working tirelessly on the Internet for the last year, trying to gain attention for her missing friend, a 24 year old mother who has been ignored by police. People like this make it much harder for others who might want to be help, they they kindle the flame of cynicism in everyone. How stupid to think that they can pull the wool over 1000’s of savvy Internet users eyes.

  3. says: Connie Reece

    Thank you for this post (and thanks, Tamar, for hosting it). I filed a fraud claim with the FTC about this and also sent it to the local police department where Calandrello lives. Spammers and scammers are hoping we’ll stay quiet out of fear or embarrassment. But speaking out is the only way to combat their abuses.

  4. says: veronicaromm

    I am so glad you wrote this. On Plurk I came into the Lillyann situation first with shock and sadness and then with practical questions. There was mention of a rare blood type and I inquired further but got vague answers. I left the thread feeling something was off. My curiousity brought me back on the following day and the rumblings of suspicion had started. There was one outspoken person you did the necessary questioning and the onslaught of disbelief was amazing. By day 3.5 there were some angry people feeling pretty much screwed.

    When I joined SU there was a time in my bio that it clearly said I do not donate nor sign petitions as I saw some of the things that were happening. I took it down because I felt like it made me sound callous and b/c it had been up there for some time.

    This is sad b/c it can and does effect people if they learn that they played into a ploy. Kind people tend to do kind things and that is precious and should not be fooled with. So take the instruction in this article and think before you act on something that you are not sure of. Let some time pass and come backto see what is happening. Follow your gut, it tends to be pretty effective even with technology changing the way we communicate. I did, and unfortunately I was correct, which did not make me feel any better btw. It’s hard not to want to trust people, yet its important to use all the tools you have to access a situation. Thanks, Veronica

  5. says: Tomboys

    Excellent article. I’m really impressed with Kelly’s determination in regards to this. I think most people who are honest expect that everyone else in the world operates from that same position of honesty. That’s how we get screwed over.

  6. says: KatFrench

    Ick. Any you find out, whether online or in real life, that something or someone you believed was real wasn’t, it’s incredibly disturbing and disorienting.

    Wasn’t involved in the Plurk situation, but similar situations in the past have taught me to listen to my own inner radar. And you’re absolutely right–it sucks to be “that person” who has to call a spade a spade and look out for the best interests of the community. It doesn’t help that it seems like people who perpetrate these kinds of scams are almost invariably really charismatic people.

    A sad, but necessary and informative post.

  7. says: dotlizard

    @KatFrench true it is difficult to be “that person”, but in the end it’s very helpful and in fact necessary for someone to step forward. In the time that everyone sits and waits for someone else to say something, more harm gets done.

    You hit the nail on the head with the “charismatic” – that is the hallmark of a good scammer, and probably even a really good warning sign. The old adage saying, if it’s too good to be true it probably isn’t, applies.

  8. says: skateboard1

    Great job Karen! I’m so proud of the amount of time you put into researching this, that I don’t even mind cleaning up the pizza cartons and beer bottles you left in it’s wake.

  9. says: dotlizard

    oh, and if all this wasn’t bad enough, guess what? an old friend of mine who is in a managerial role in a large health care corp tells me: “NOBODY needs money for dialysis, or any related renal therapy or complications in this country. The federal government has been paying 100% since 1972 for anyone who needs it – no other insurance or financial criteria required.”

    this isn’t something that’s widely advertised, you pretty much have to either be in health care management or be a kidney patient to be familiar with this bit of info.

    but it does make LillyBarb’s deception that much uglier, doesn’t it?

  10. says: Temple Stark

    I missed most of the tempest of @lillyann so wasn’t caught and drawn in, so not motivated to get involved. But glad you were, glad you took it cautiously and really glad you wrote this.

    – temple

  11. Hello:
    Not sure what disturbs me more, the fact that there are people out there so willing to believe or so willing to decieve. I am a marrige and family therapist with a doctorate degree and have my own online counseling website. I here time and time again how hard it is to find a good online therapist and how do you trust someone that they are who they are. Well, this post clearly makes you question who to trust.

    I have been decieved by clients and how they pay me. My only answer to that is that they have there own conscience to deal with and I guess all of these other people do too.

    Jennifer Baxt, NCC, DCC

  12. says: dotlizard

    my deepest apologies. i wrote, researched (and proofed) most of this well past the time any sane woman would have gone to bed, and i was definitely woozy.

    that’s no excuse of course. i should not have made that error.

  13. What a beautifully written summary of some very ugly events. My silver lining continues to be that so many people showed that they were generous, giving, and kind, and would go out of their way to help someone they hardly knew. I’m going to try and keep my glass half full in hopes that someday, that good will be used to help someone who really needs it.

  14. says: dotlizard

    thanks to everyone for your kind words. i just want to emphasize that i hope that this knowledge doesn’t create an atmosphere in which people decide against helping – just that we all agree to ask the right questions before we give, and not be shy and wait for someone else to ask.

    in this case it took extensive research by a good number of people (who contributed in threads on Plurk and on my research blog posts), to uncover the truth. it isn’t easy, but it is worth the effort.

    not everyone who has emergency needs is able to receive help from an organized charity, so there is still need for grass-roots community support. i just hope that people consider carefully all the factors before they commit themselves, either emotionally or financially.

    and thank you, Tamar, for giving me a platform to reach more people in the social media sphere than i could have on my own.

  15. says: QualityGal

    I’ve witnessed this sort of thing on a much smaller scale in an online game community I’ve been a part of for over 5 years. For reasons we can’t even begin to fathom, people decided to play on our sympathies and claim to have fatal diseases or debilitating accidents. We had to actually make a rule that we would not take up collections or send gifts to people because we’d been made fools that way before. While I was never able to afford to send financial support, I felt really hurt that I’d invested a lot emotionally… the first time.

    Now I’m always suspicious of a sob story. I hate being that way, but I am. If a teenager in the community claims his mother died, and his father is already gone, I ask him where her funeral is being held so that we can send a card and flowers. It’s a non-accusatory way we can get “proof” that we’re not being scammed.

  16. says: dotlizard

    that’s actually a really excellent way to expose a lie, in fact in the LillyBarb case, someone offering to send flowers was a catalyst for the discussion that led to us discovering the deception. i think it also played a major role in the outing of Kaycee Nicole, but my memory may be hazy on that and there is a lot of the original story that’s been completely erased from the internet.

    it is a very polite way to make sure there’s something really going on, and not another sob story.

  17. Just a small and related observation:

    Last week, after learning the details of this scandal, I asked DaveJazzHound, who I noticed was hounding (no pun intended) people’s profiles about helping Lilly via StumbleUpon, if he knew about the truth to her ailments.

    Dave said, and I quote:

    “Greetings Tamar,
    Yes, I know her personally. No, the Lupus disease of which she suffers from is not a scam. It is very real and usually fatal. You can read all about her long battle with this disease from her blog here on SU and the links I have supplied. Feel free to contact me if have any more questions.

    So I followed up with him, because yes, I did have more questions. I asked him if he’s absolutely sure of her illness and if he can give me proof that LillyAnn is in the hospital. I also linked him to the Plurk discussion where the truth was unfolding.

    That was on July 15th.

    I received no response and made sure that I published this blog post, thanks to Kelly.

    Silence often speaks louder than words. In this case, I think Dave proved that this is nothing but a scam, and I feel sorry for all those people who fell for it. I also feel sorry for Dave, LillyBarb, and anyone else who thinks it’s appropriate to manipulate the minds and take advantage of trust within such close knit communities. I hope this serves as a lesson for everyone, though it may be a rather rude awakening for some.

  18. says: dotlizard

    i have just finished typing a lengthy message to a kind soul on StumbleUpon who has taken it upon herself to speak up for LillyBarb. She has contacted Dave, and she has been copying his correspondence into messages to me, in which she is basically advocating for giving money to LillyBarb, because lots of people are uninsured, and she has real needs, etc etc. her tone in contacting Dave has caused him to open up in the most sorrowful terms, lamenting the ‘feeding frenzy’ on Plurk and why would these people attack poor LillyBarb?

    this kind Stumbler has likened this situation to giving a few dollars to a homeless man on the street, even though he might drink with the money, she does not judge. i wrote back in no uncertain terms that i often give money to panhandlers but i refuse to hand over my money, earned honestly, to someone who has been stealing the content of others for financial gain for years, and using it to represent her skills as a counselor. Not to mention posting articles on Squidoo, and receiving direct compensation for *stolen* essays. this is not a poor, pathetic soul crying out for help and a bottle of Thunderbird, this is a sophisticated scammer who got caught short.

    at this point the medical needs are a moot point to me. i’m sure the criminals of this world would all like it very much if honest, hard-working people were to take up the cause of helping them in their time of need, no questions asked. i fail to see any virtue in that sort of giving.

  19. I am in complete agreement with you, Kelly. Please do send this blog URL to the “kind soul on StumbleUpon” so she knows what we think of her plight.

  20. says: dotlizard

    correction: the aforementioned kind soul on Stumble has clarified that she is not trying to advocate for giving money, which i inferred from her previous message. i just wanted to make that clear, i would never want to misrepresent someone’s intentions.

    i’m beginning to think that a concerted effort needs to be done to notify the copyright holders of the stolen content. i know a few people have sent a few emails here or there, but the very fact that LillyBarb’s close associate is quietly reaching out to people he perceives as sympathetic to his cause tells me that this unrepentant fraud is going to continue until someone makes it stop.

    the fact she’s not made the effort to take down any of the stolen content suggests she has no intention to change the way she makes money. am i just being reactionary and fussy right now?

  21. No, you’re being perfectly rational. Copyright theft is copyright theft, whether it happens before or after a scandal is unraveled.

    I’d also talk to the people where the content is located and have the content (specifically those that are making her a profit) removed.

    Either way, it certainly is a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Agreement (DMCA) and if the rightful owners of the content come up, she can be held legally accountable in a court of law.

  22. says: dotlizard

    i think some of the folks who helped uncover this have made a few preliminary contacts, but nothing organized. and to my knowledge, nothing’s been taken down yet. (sigh)

  23. says: Beamer

    “in this case it took extensive research by a good number of people (who contributed in threads on Plurk and on my research blog posts), to uncover the truth. it isnt easy, but it is worth the effort.”

    I’m tired, so I hope this comes across the way I mean for it to: The above quote, the amount of energy and time and human thought and thinking that goes into such an endeavor, both the “good” side and the “evil” side, just staggers me.

    I don’t find it much different in the fact that someone spends countless hours becoming a great software wiz only to create a virus that will wipe out countless hours and gigabytes of much needed data from hapless victims.

    I mean, we are in the year 2008. Did our parents or grandparents live their lives having to worry about such crap? (Viruses and scams) I don’t think so. We are making progress here right, on this great invention of Man called the Internet?

    We are creating a better environment for our children, right? Or are they going to have to be even more consumed with keeping a wary eye out for the works of their fellow human being?

    I really sometimes wonder about the deep thinking processes of some of my fellow human beings, Scary stuff at times. And you don’t even have to pay admission to a horror movie.


  24. says: dotlizard

    (sigh) oh, Beamer, i’m sorry the world has got so complex. used to be, if a con artist wanted your money he had to be right there, up close and personal. this doesn’t mean our ancestors had less to be wary of, they just had different things.

    see back in the day, it was the archetypical “snake oil salesman” who roamed the wild west selling magical potions and elixirs off the back of his buckboard — the townspeople were still taken in, but it took a LOT more effort. perhaps i shouldn’t have implied that doing due diligence on LillyBarb was such hard work, when you consider the trials and tribulations endured by the con men and the sheriffs who would run them out of town, back in those good old days. that was hot sweaty work for all involved, and all we did was sit at our computers and click things.

    but, the fact is, technology does make it easier — it doesn’t require taking your show on the road in order to find fresh, unsuspecting victims. maybe because we can just sit at our computers, we’re lowering the threshold, and more people will cross it and become scammers? possibly.

    when you contrast this with the benefits: the availability of information, the connections, the amazing friendships that are made possible by the technology of the new millennium, i’d say it’s totally worth it.

    just be as careful as you would if someone sidled up to you on a bus bench and said, ‘hey look i won this lotto ticket but i’m not a citizen. i’ll sell it to you for half the winnings, and you can go cash it in!’. you know? be careful out there. we’ve always had to be careful out there. we just have to adapt, grow, and evolve in the ways we take care.

  25. I guess we can never really rule out this one especially that we are not really meeting the person face to face…that’s why we have to be extra careful before we trust persons we just met online.

  26. says: Ramts

    I am too one of the SU persons who reviewd the LillyAnns doughters plight page. I saw the review of it in some of the friends blog, and requested even my other friends to contribute to her. I feel very sory for it now.

  27. says: opergal

    @Beamer – but that type of scam has gone on for at least 100 years – I have old copies of Delineator magazine where there are similar “sob story-mail 10 cents to help” type adverts in the back.

    Around here, we see an amazing proliferation of very high-quality posters of sad-looking children. Supposedly local, with please “visit XYZ site and donate so Tommy/Janie/Susie can see another birthday”.

    And I always wonder – if you are SO hard up for $$, who paid for the fancy 11×14 glossy posters, and the hosting, and the web dev? Prove to me it all was donated, and then we can talk.

    I hate having to be that cynical.

  28. says: Beamer

    @ Opergal – Allright, I will Give you the very real possibility of the scam artists plying their F’ed up trade for a very long time, but you have to give me the fact that the Virus is a trend that would have never seen the light of day if it hadn’t been for the Lovely Internet.

    I know quite a few College students with semester long reports with proper footnotes and references duly noted that didn’t help them one bit, due to the fact that they were totally screwed by some damn virus.

    Still, that doesn’t give some one in this day and age the right to play on our fears STILL. When, or do we ever, evolve past screwing royally our fellow man?


  29. Thanks for this post. I saw the messages pass by on Plurk and my initial reaction was to want to help. I replurked things a couple of times and had thought of donating, but the more I started thinking about it the more things didn’t add up.

    I kept wondering why a personal growth expert seemed to fall apart emotionally in every message and I also knew no medical treatment would be denied. The worst case was someone would be saddled by bills after, but it was clear no one needed my money in order to have life saving surgery.

    I stopped replurking and deciding against contributing any money and figured I’d wait to see what came of things. If it had turned out to be true the money would be needed down the line anyway and not right away.

    After a few days and no more mentions I kind of assumed the whole thing was a scam. I’m glad to see this post shedding more light on the situation.

    We all know scams like this exist and will continue to exist, but it’s still sad to see people preying on the sympathies of others to make a few bucks.

  30. says: caile-girl

    Thanks so much for the in-depth article and the advice to wait until one has evidence either to support or negate someone’s claims online. I usually follow my gut (it’s there for a reason, I think) and I almost instantly reacted against the Lilly issue, and she was one of my “mutuals” on SU. As much as I’d have loved to help had I felt she was truly in need, there was just too much that was immediately and obviously strange about the whole thing.

    I get upset, however, when people abuse others’ compassion and trust, so that truly honest, sincere and needy people may end up paying the price in the future.

    Thanks again for such a great article.


  31. says: Liz

    From an outsider’s point of view, an interesting blog post about Internet deception…I didn’t know about the Kaycee Nicole incident.

    I am a little confused by the fact that some people call this woman LilyAnn and others LilyBarb….is this the same person?

  32. says: dotlizard

    she called herself LillyAnn but a little digging by a helpful commenter on my original research blog post revealed that she was not, in fact, a 44 year old woman named LillyAnn, but a 51 year old woman named Barbara. LillyAnn would be a nickname/alias/whatever.

    my usage of LillyBarb was entirely snarky.

  33. says: Karen Swim

    Thank you so much for this post. This breaks my heart but I am also wiser for reading. Is this the same woman who was kicked off HARO for nasty behavior? Her name sounds familiar but maybe that’s just from Plurk or Twitter. Since I would never lie about who I am or my needs this kind of stuff always surprises me.

  34. says: Marianne

    I went to Homewood Flossmoor HIgh School with Barb Olson, aka Barbara Calendrello aka Lilly Calendrello. She turned 45 in December and graduated in 1982. . .

  35. says: Casey

    I’ve personally know Barb Calandrello for many years and just came across her facebook and her myspace and her websites and can’t believe that this isn’t considered fraud altogether. But in reviewing her facebook page, all her personal info is valid. Her children’s names, ages, hometowns are valid as well but 3 of the four children are from her first marriage so their last name is different. The photo is a fake, of course as are her credentials but is this something the feds need to look into? Did Gabrielle set up the scam herself or did her mother? Unfortunately, her children have had a diffucult upbringing and none of them have not been part of a sound family unit. Their living conditions are far below what Lilly would have everyone think. So all of her followers are being duped except for the fact that she definitely has a talent for marketing to those that are in emotional distress. It is a widespread business that is collecting millions of dollars and not just by Barb/Lilly.

  36. says: dotlizard

    Offhand, I’d say this is the single best bit of information we’ve gotten in this whole mess. I’m sure that it is fraud, but it is extremely difficult to get a fraud prosecution started on something like this, where the evidence is scattered across the internet and many of the victims may not even realize they were victimized – such is the nature of crimes that take advantage of the emotionally fragile.

    I’d say that Gabrielle and LillyBarb were involved, unless Gabrielle set up all her mom’s profiles and handled them up until the time things switched to the “I’m logging in as my mom and she needs help” etc. Seems likely that it’s turned into a family business at this point.

    I think the most challenging aspect of trying to prosecute such crimes would be the majority of victims not wanting to identify as victims, since in doing so they forfeit any illusion of benefit they may have gotten from the situation – and illusory benefits are important to the emotionally distressed.

    Your direct personal knowledge would be a great help towards putting together a case that would have the possibility of being prosecuted.

  37. says: Phoebe

    I am ashamed to say that I am a victim of that lilly’s scam. I have trusted her and thought she did suffer from Lupus! I’ve given her some money in february 2009 but that was the last. this lady is in facebook, linkedin, everywhere! I dont know about the children but i feel sad for them. I dont think I’ve interacted with her children.

    This is disgusting! I do not believe this! I am very embarassed!

  38. says: Mark

    Apparently this is still an ongoing scam, as I was just recently friended by LillyAnn on Foursquare. I almost fell for this too. What’s remarkable is that in doing a Google search, no mention of this scam appears until about the third or fourth page of search results (that is where I found this blog post and the Connie Reece article). Usually when I use Google to investigate scammy items, I will typically see references to its fraudulent nature on page 1 of results. Instead the first pages of results all show this scammer’s various social media sites.

    I saw a previous comment above referencing a trust index site, but it seems to me unless the internet community can “out-search engine optimize” the scammers, they will continue to perpetrate these falsehoods.

    The other alternative is to create a Snopes-like site that independently verifies, or posting a page to high-authority sites like Wikipedia, or even a twitter page.

    Anyway, be vigilant out there!

  39. says: Elizabeth Van Horn

    This person or people are pulling the same scam in Second Life. I just cam across a Second Life profile that looked suspicious. It’s also soliciting money for someone who is supposedly in “end stage cancer”. The exact same picture is being used as the “Lilly Calandrello” one above. Same MO all around. She says she’s a “Giving voice to the ineffable™ Psy.D Relationship Therapist & Traumatologist, Psychic Empath, Forensic Psychology/Astrology student, Spiritual Intuitive Sage”. The Second Life name that person/people is using is “lillyann.lewsey”.

    She/they put up a fund raiser on Indiegogo:

    Looks like they also took in a lot of money through Second Life fund raisers.


  40. says: Pam Kouza

    I have been talking to Lilly for over a year now big scammer ! Don’t trust her! She gains ur trust n feeds on ur emotions I almost gave her another sum of money.. Thank god I came upon these reviews I caught her in a lie through email.. When I brought it to her attention she went nuts on me told me that my ex boyfriends gf is putting curses on me and doing voo doo to kill me wishing me dead.. This women needs to be stopped!!

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