The case of Australian woman Belle Gibson is a crazy one. She got away with so much fraud and she literally scammed thousands of people.
Belle was born Annabelle Natalie Gibson on 8 October 1991 in Launceston, Tasmania.
According to interviews she has given over the years, Belle has said she moved to Queensland at some point and that she moved out of the family home at age 12. , She told the media that she left school in Year 10 but she has contradicted herself in other interviews, and said that she was homeschooled. She worked for some time as a trainee for catering supply company.
By Late 2008 she had relocated to Perth, Western Australia. There, she was involved in the skateboarding culture and actively participated in its online community.
Belle moved from Perth to Melbourne in July 2009. She gave birth to her son Oliver at age 18 in 2010.
Belle launched an app in 2013 called ‘The Whole Pantry’. The app was reportedly downloaded 200,000 times within its first month. It was voted Apple’s Best Food and Drink App of 2013.
Belle worked with Apple in September 2014 to transition the app as a privileged pre-installed default third party inclusion in the Apple Watch’s April 2015 launch. By early 2015, it was estimated that in excess of $1 million had been made in sales of The Whole Pantry app and book.
Part of Belle’s success was due to the fact that she claimed that she had cured her terminal brain cancer by making changes to her diet and lifestyle.
She had a blog at the time and she told her followers that at one point, she had been given just four months to live. By living healthily, she claimed she was then four years past that diagnosis.
In interviews, Belle told reporters that she had suffered from malignant brain, blood, spleen, uterine, liver, and kidney cancers,which she attributed to a reaction to the Gardasil cervical cancer vaccine.
Belle launched the Whole Pantry Book in 2014 and she wrote in it that When the book was launched in November 2014,she had been “stable for two years now with no growth of the cancer”.
Belle’s story began to unravel. Many noticed inconsistencies in her story. She told media outlets that the cancer had reached her liver and kidneys, and three months earlier had posted on The Whole Pantry’s Facebook page that her cancer had spread to her brain, blood, spleen, and uterus. She previously claimed that she had undergone heart surgery several times and to have momentarily died on the operating table.
Belle also said that she had suffered a stroke at one point. When asked, she was unable to name any doctors who had treated or diagnosed her. She also had no scars from all of these alleged operations that she underwent.
Most of Belle’s claims were pretty uncontroversial really. But when she got into promoting some dangerous alternative therapies, people got mad. She often spoke Gerson therapy, anti-vaccination, and the consumption of non-pasteurised raw milk.
If you’re not familiar with Gerson therapy, it’s based on the belief that disease is caused by the accumulation of unspecified toxins, and attempts to treat the disease by having patients consume a predominantly vegetarian diet including hourly glasses of organic juice and various dietary supplements.In addition, patients receive enemas of coffee, castor oil and sometimes hydrogen peroxide.
Jessica Ainscough was another Australian wellness blogger who ended up dying from cancer at age 29. She did not treat her cancer conventionally and also used Gerson therapy. Belle attended Jessica’s funeral in 2015.
The sale of raw milk for human consumption is illegal in Australia and, in Victoria (where Belle lives), one three-year-old died and another four children under the age of five became seriously ill after consuming non-pasteurised milk in 2014.
So for someone who essentially had no experience with any of this, she was preaching dangerously.
Belle and the Whole Pantry claimed to have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. Many people started to come forward and say that they had never received any of the money that had been promised from Belle.
Belle claimed multiple times in 2014 that The Whole Pantry had donated approximately $300,000 to charities, including maternal healthcare in developing nations, medical support for children with cancer, and funding schools in Africa. In late 2014, when The Whole Pantry app was pre-installed on the Apple iPad, Belle said on instagram that she was working with over twenty different charities. Her LinkedIn profile at the time said that she was a philanthropist.
Belle eventually admitted that she had seriously overstated the level of contributions that she had made to charity. Investigations in 2015 found that only $7k out of the $300k had been donated.
In March 2015, a family came forward and said that their child had brain cancer and Belle had allegedly been fundraising for treatment for the child. The family said they were unaware of what Belle was doing and that they never received any funds at all.
Once Belle’s fraud became more evident, questions were raised about the culpability of Apple and Penguin in not doing background checks on Belle’s claims.
Apple Inc., in response to media enquiry in March 2015, declined to remove The Whole Pantry app from sale, stating that it was only concerned about the functionality of the app. However, The Whole Pantry was soon thereafter removed from inclusion in the Apple Watch launch. Apple subsequently deleted the app from the Apple Store, and removed it from all Apple Watch promotional material.
Penguin Books removed the Whole pantry book from sale. The company agreed to pay A$30,000 to the Victorian Consumer Law Fund as a penalty for failing to validate the factual content of the book.
In late April 2015, Belle spoke to The Australian Women’s Weekly, in which she admitted to having fabricated all her cancer claims. She basically blamed her lies on her childhood and upbringing. She said that her now-estranged mother had made her take care of herself and her young brother since age 5.
Belle never apologised or admitted any guilt, In a May 2015 interview with the same magazine, Gibson’s mother Natalie Dal-Bello refuted several claims Gibson had made about her family, including the false claim that her brother was autistic.
In June 2015, Gibson was rumoured to have received A$45,000 for an interview with Nine Network’s 60 Minutes.
On 15 March 2017, Federal Court Justice Debra Mortimer delivered the decision that “most but not all” of the claims against Belle were proven. Justice Mortimer found that Belle’s claims had been misleading and deceptive, and that “Ms. Gibson had no reasonable basis to believe she had cancer from the time she began making these claims in public to promote The Whole Pantry Book and the apps in mid-2013”, but there was not enough evidence to prove that she was not acting out of delusion.
In September 2017, Belle was fined A$410,000 for making false claims about her donations to charity. As far as I know, as of February 2022, Belle has not paid the fines. In a 2017 letter later released by the Federal Court, Gibson had stated that she was $170,000 in debt, and had $5,000 to her name.
She told the courts that her income comes from Government entitlements and odd jobs on Airtasker.
One of the last public sightings of Belle was in January 2020. She appeared in a video claiming to be adopted by Melbourne’s Ethiopian community.
Draped in a headscarf and using the name ‘Sabontu’, Gibson spoke at length about the ongoing plight of the Oromo people.
The fraudster says she has been involved in the community for about four years through volunteering and has become “deeply invested” in it.
The president of the Australian Oromo Community Association in Victoria, Tarekegn Chimdi, stated that Belle was not a registered volunteer, “is not a community member and she’s also not working with the community,” and that he had only seen her at events two or three times. He expressed that nobody seemed to know who she was and he had only just learnt of her backstory, and expressed a desire for her to stop saying she is part of the community.
On 22 January 2020, the Sheriff’s Office of Victoria raided Gibson’s home in Northcote and seized items to recoup Gibson’s unpaid fines,which, due to interest and costs, exceeded half a million dollars.
Her home was raided again on 21 May 2021 to “try to recoup her unpaid fines”.
“Ms Gibson owes the Victorian public a substantial debt and Consumer Affairs Victoria will continue to pursue repayment,” a Consumer Affairs Victoria spokesperson said in a statement.
“A warrant of seizure and sale on Ms Gibson was executed today by Sheriff’s Officers at an address in Northcote.”
“I don’t want forgiveness,” Belle Gibson said in her confession interview with The Weekly back in 2015. “I just think [speaking out] was the responsible thing to do. Above anything, I would like people to say, ‘Okay, she’s human.'”