If you’ve ever donated to a charity without giving a second thought to your money’s use, you may have reason to start thinking now. Ashley Kirilow, a 23-year old Halton resident, faked four terminal cancers and disappeared with over $20,000 she raised to allegedly donate to the University of Alberta for a new drug treatment. Kirilow was arrested in early August and is now expected to face fraud charges in late September.

After racking up more than $30,000 in debt, Kirilow shaved her head and even starved herself to look like a chemotherapy patient in an effort to con donation money out of sympathetic individuals. In October of last year, Kirilow created a group on Facebook called “Change for a Cure” which quickly amassed a large following who empathized with her and her supposed battle with cancer. Kelsey Ann, a second-year student in the Criminology program at Laurier Brantford, was a member of the group.

“I think it’s really upsetting what has happened,” says Ann. “I didn’t know Ashley personally, just through Facebook, but I think what she did was disgusting and will impact all the people who were trying to help her reach her goal.”

All the money given to Kirilow was in cash. No requests for receipts were made. The charity was never registered as a legitimate organization, but Kirilow convinced friends, local businesses and even one legitimate Toronto-based cancer awareness organization, Skate4Cancer, to join her cause.

“There are so many legitimate charities that could benefit from this money and from the energy that was put behind these fundraisers, and unfortunately I think they will miss out,” says Ann.

Like Ann, second-year criminology student Gowthamy Dhushy also had strong feelings about the incident.

“It’s sad to know that people like Ashley Kirilow think that chemotherapy is a joke,” says Dhushy. My aunt went through chemotherapy and it was definitely not an experience that brings back good memories,” said Dhushy. “What upsets me most is that Kirilow used the money for herself rather than give it to the people she said she would.”

Ashley Kirilow was arrested on August 6 and held at the Vanier Center for Women in Milton, a maximum security facility. She appeared in court on August 20 but was released on $5,000 bail and is not expected to return the money she raised. Kirilow will return to court once again on the September 29. She is charged with three counts of fraud under $5,000 and one count of fraud over $5,000.