Coco Berthmann says she’s a sex-trafficking survivor who was sold to paedophiles by her own mother – but after she admitted to faking cancer, is her story all it seems?

The lies of a cancer scammer who also claimed to be a survivor of human trafficking are unravelled in a gripping podcast exploring her manipulation of others.

Coco Berthmann, 29, originally from Germany but now living in the US, first began to gain fame and interest after sharing a horrific story about her ordeal as a trafficking victim in 2017.

During the height of her fame, the cancer faker hosted her own TEDX talk, appeared on podcasts speaking about the things that allegedly happened to her, and met survivors of human trafficking including Elizabeth Smart, whose case of being abducted, held hostage and repeatedly raped for nine months in 2002 made headlines around the world after she successfully escaped her captor.

But after Coco pleaded guilty to communications fraud in July 2022 after pretending she had cancer and raising almost $10,000 USD through a GoFundMe page for ‘alternative treatments’, a journalist from Florida began to look into other parts of her story on which people have cast doubt.

Believable: The Coco Berthmann Story, which was produced by Dear Media, charts the influencer’s rise to fame after moving to Salt Lake City, Utah, becoming a Mormon, and procuring a loyal following by sharing stories about being trafficked by her mother, sometimes in harrowing detail.

Coco Berthmann first appeared on the airwaves sharing her story about human trafficking in 2017, after moving to the US from Germany

The podcast is presented by Sara Ganim and produced by Karen Given. Over the course of a year, Sara travels around the world, between Salt Lake City and Germany, to speak to people with whom Berthmann formed close relationships.

Over the course of 11 episodes, Sara uncovers a pattern of people who say they tried to help Berthmann after being horrified by her story, in which she claims her mother, Renata, began selling her for sex to adult men when she was just a child until she finally managed to escape and run away in her mid-teens.

She also claims that she had a sister who was killed in front of her by her abusers. 

One of the people interviewed by Sara is Renata herself, who strongly denies her daughter’s trafficking claims and also insists the sister Berthmann claims died in front of her never existed in the first place. Renata has never been arrested or charged with human trafficking crimes. 

During Sara’s investigation and her visits to Germany, she also learns that Berthmann changed her name several years ago. Now Coco Berthmann, she was actually born Sandra Renata Ruff.

After repeated trips, Sara also tracks down Berthmann’s stepfather Gregor. The campaigner had also accused him of abusing her – something he denied to the podcast host.

He claims he was arrested more than a decade ago after Berthmann first made allegations of abuse against him, but that police decided not to take the case further after he provided an alibi for the time when she alleged an assault happened. 

During the height of her fame, Berthmann met kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart and was invited to speak at anti-human trafficking events around the world

During the height of her fame, Berthmann met kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart and was invited to speak at anti-human trafficking events around the world

Berthmann (pictured) has switched her social media accounts to private after she was accused of scamming people with a GoFundMe page

Berthmann (pictured) has switched her social media accounts to private after she was accused of scamming people with a GoFundMe page

Another claim made by Berthmann was that, after she escaped from her home and ran away, she met a psychiatrist named Sebastian, who invited him to live with her. 

During their two years living together, Berthmann claims the psychiatrist held her captive in his basement and subjected her to repeated sexual assaults. She also claims she managed to escape this situation before Sebastian was charged, convicted and confined to a psychiatric institution.

As Sara and Karen investigate this claim, they find no record of such a case involving a psychiatrist named Sebastian being tried in Germany.

During the investigation, Sara interviews several women living in Salt Lake City who are part of the Church of the Latter Day Saints; some of whom took in Berthmann to live with them after feeling an urge to help her when they heard her horrific story.

In the podcast, some of the women claimed Berthmann had a tendency to ‘black out’ and ‘faint’ when they were not able to give her the attention she wanted, and some told stories of buying her cars, paying for her food and footing her phone bill while she lived with them.

As Berthmann’s star began to rise and she became more well-known in the community of sex trafficking survivors, the podcast details how she began to share her ambition of becoming a singer.

In particular, she expressed how she idolised Céline Dion, and sent audio clips to her friends of a voice she claimed to be hers, singing covers of the Canadian star’s songs.

However, the podcast hosts, as well as Berthmann’s former friends interviewed, cast doubt on the authenticity of the recordings, and suggest the melodic sound is not actually Berthmann’s real singing voice. 

As the podcast hosts delve deeper into the stories Berthmann has told many since she moved to the US, they speak to several people, including survivors of sex trafficking, who are incredibly sceptical of her claims she was trafficked by her mother as a child.

Several people report hearing different versions of Berthmann’s story – but a few of the people who became close to her recount a particularly distressing anecdote in which she claims she fell pregnant by one of her abusers and was subject to a forced abortion.

They reported Berthmann had told them she had been cut open by her abusers, who then ripped the foetus out of her and forced her to watch them kill it. 

Speaking on the Skinny Confidential podcast in January 2021, before people began investigating Berthmann’s story in detail, she mentioned an ‘illegal abortion’ that had been performed on her when she was 14 years old, which was the moment she realised she had to leave.

‘Physically, I nearly did not survive that abortion,’ she said. ‘It was really horrific.’ 

However, some people who became close to Berthmann say she was reluctant to ever show them the scar she had sustained from the alleged incident, claiming she did not like to show it to people.

Over the course of the episodes, several people once close to Berthmann claim she admitted lying to them about various aspects of her life, but she still insisted her overall story was true; that she was a survivor of sexual abuse.

Berthmann’s story began to unravel after a Utah-based journalist, Lynn Packer, began looking into the details in a series of YouTube videos. Remarkably, he discovered that none of the people who had given her a public platform appeared to have ever fact-checked her claims.

Meanwhile, sex trafficking survivors who followed Berthmann on social media (she had approximately 60,000 followers at the height of her fame) also began to question her story.

One such survivor, Jose Alfaro, speaks to Sara on the Believable podcast, where he reveals he had questions about Berthmann’s story early on as her social media presence began to grow.

Jose, whose abuser is serving a 30-year prison sentence, stresses he thinks it is important to believe people who say they have been victims of sexual abuse – but he added that something about Berthmann’s story didn’t add up for him.

‘It did not seem realistic,’ he said, recalling how he told a friend: ‘There’s something very odd about this girl and I don’t believe her.’

Jose claims the friend then told him that Berthmann had blocked them on social media after they had asked her for support within the sex-trafficking survivor community.

Other sex trafficking survivors who spoke to Sara accused Berthmann of ‘mining stories’ about what had happened to them so she could change and add to her own story. 

As more and more people began to question Berthmann’s story around the summer of 2021, she appeared to go quiet on social media for several months. When she relaunched herself on social media in January 2022, she filmed a clip of herself pulling at what she described was a lump on her neck.

She told her followers she had been diagnosed with a rare type of lymphoma which was unlikely to be cured with traditional treatments like chemotherapy. Shortly after she made the announcement, a friend of Berthmann’s set up a GoFundMe page raising money for ‘alternative treatments’.

But in February 2022, Berthmann was arrested after police received an anonymous tip from someone who did not believe her story.

The complainant on the arrest affidavit claimed Berthmann was a ‘habitual liar’ who claimed ‘she had been raped on many occasions’.  

At the time of her arrest, the New York Post reported police had said there were allegations that Berthmann was not really a victim of child sex trafficking. Police also said they could not verify Berthmann’s claims she had worked with the FBI on anti-trafficking work. 

After pleading guilty to a misdemeanour wrongful appropriation charge, Berthmann was ordered to pay back the nearly $10,000 that was raised from the GoFundMe page for an illness she did not have, Coco was allowed to walk free from court in July 2022.

Since her cancer story was exposed, Berthmann has switched her Instagram account to private, but she still has thousands of followers.

Many people who still follow the account are actually sceptics, and regularly take screenshots of her posts to share on other online groups to update others on what she’s up to, the podcast reveals.

According to the podcast, Berthmann’s Instagram posts in the last year have suggested she plans to act as a surrogate for a couple in Australia – something the podcast hosts question after she claimed she was left unable to carry a child after the forced abortion.

At the time the podcast was recorded, Berthmann appeared to be working for a non-profit called Golden Healer Service Dogs, according to Sara. 

During its year-long investigation, Sara says she and the producers of the podcast made several attempts to interview Coco and asked her for her side of the story, but she did not respond.

FEMAIL has attempted to contact Coco Berthmann through Golden Healer Service Dogs and on X.