A FUNDRAISING campaign for a six-year-old boy to have a life-changing operation has been hijacked by online fraudsters.

James and Morwenna Gower set up Operation Elliot to appeal for £66,300 so their son, who has cerebral palsy and severe haemophilia, could have a selective dorsal rhizotomy at Great Ormond Street Hospital next year.

However, the couple were shocked to discover eight fake web appeal pages using Elliot’s story and pictures – one of which had apparently attracted around $495 in donations.

Mr Gower, from Tuckton, said: “We first discovered it about three weeks ago when a friend asked if we knew anyone in America who was fundraising for Elliot.

“We did a bit of searching on Google and found several websites with details taken from our old fundraising page, before we switched to Just Giving.

“We were in a bit of a panic at first, we were worried that we had been hacked.

“Some presumably fake names crop up again and again, and the founders of some of the pages seem to donate to themselves.

“It is sad and disturbing that someone is using people’s kind donations to a genuine charity to steal money.”

The couple, who have raised £10,000 in a month, contacted Action Fraud and also the websites hosting the pages, some of which have now been removed.

The host sites included fundly.com, fundmyteam.co.uk, fundraise.com, gogetfunding.com, donationto.com, volunteerforever.com, btplc.com and payitsquare.com.

The pioneering selective dorsal rhizotomy could make it possible for Elliot to walk unaided and enjoy greater independence as he gets older.

Jo Cowan, who successfully raised funds for her daughter Skye to have the procedure earlier this year, branded the fraud “disgraceful”.

“We haven’t discovered anything like this with our appeal but it may be that we just haven’t found it yet,” she said.

“The worst thing is it may put people off donating.

“Skye is doing amazingly well after her operation, but we wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for all the online donations we had.”

Alistair McLean is chief executive of the Fundraising Standards Board – the regulator for charity fundraising in the UK.

He said: “Although any instances of charity fraud are rare, they are deeply concerning.

“Such acts not only deceive supporters and divert much- needed funds from good causes, but carry an even greater cost of damaging public trust and future charitable giving. This has come at a time when genuine charities need the public’s donations more than ever.”

If you have concerns about charity fundraising contact the FRSB on 0333 321 8803 or visit www.givewithconfidence.org.uk.