A TikTokker has GoFundMe | uses CNN


Madison Russo reportedly used social media to raise awareness about her battle with cancer and raised nearly $40,000 on GoFundMe — but the entire operation was a scam, according to Iowa police, who have accused Russo of theft.

Russo, a 19-year-old TikTok content creator, raised more than $37,303 from 439 donors by falsely claiming she had acute lymphocytic leukemia, stage two pancreatic cancer and a tumor the size of a soccer ball spreading wrapped around her spine. According to a press release from the Eldridge Police Department.

Police said anonymous witnesses with “medical experience” alerted the investigating officer to “medical discrepancies” in Russo’s social media presence. A subpoena for medical records revealed that Russo “had not been diagnosed with any type of cancer or tumor at any medical facility in the Quad Cities or surrounding towns,” according to the press release.

Russo, a Bettendorf, Iowa resident, was arrested Jan. 23 for theft by deception, the publication said.

Police said they are still working to identify alleged victims of Russo’s theft. In addition to soliciting donations on GoFundMe, Russo also “accepted private donations from other businesses, nonprofits, school districts, and individuals,” police said.

GoFundMe told CNN they removed the fundraiser, banned Russo from using the platform, and refunded all donors.

“GoFundMe has a zero-tolerance policy for abuse of our platform and is cooperating with law enforcement investigations into individuals accused of wrongdoing,” the organization said in an emailed statement. “All donors have been refunded and we have removed this fundraiser. The beneficiary was also banned from using the platform for future fundraisers. GoFundMe’s Donation Guarantee offers a full refund in the rare event something goes wrong; this is the first and only donor protection guarantee in the crowdfunding industry.”

Russo has spoken openly about her alleged battle with cancer, conducting interviews with local press and sharing her story on social media. In October 2022, she spoke to Eldridge-based North Scott Press for a profile that focused on her experience with cancer. She also spoke about her cancer journey as a guest speaker at St. Ambrose University and the National Pancreatic Foundation in Chicago, according to the police press release.

Andrea Jaeger, Russo’s attorney, told CNN she has no comment at this time.

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