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Iowa Teen Allegedly Lied About Pancreatic Cancer and Spine Tumor to Scam $37K Out of Donors

Madison Russo is facing ten years in prison for alleged fraud.

An Iowa teenager is facing ten years in prison after reportedly scamming $37,000 out of donors by faking cancer. Madison Marie Russo used TikTok to claim to have pancreatic cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and a tumor on her spine the size of a football. Russo was arrested on January 23 after police spotted several red flags in her story, including the opinions of medical professionals who pointed out irregularities and inconsistencies in her TikTok chemotherapy videos. Here's how Russo got caught.

Russo Claims She Got Call From the Oncology Clinic


Russo previously spoke about her "cancer" to The North Scott Press, saying her journey started in 2022. "It was early in the morning, and I had been anxiously awaiting these test results," Russo said. "My phone rang, and it said, 'Iowa City Oncology.' I stepped out of the classroom and took the call. I was terrified, and I definitely still am. I was in shock. I didn't think it could be true. I'm so young, and I wondered how this could happen. I went through all the emotions, and I was pretty numb."

She Claims Doctors Told Her The Survival Rate is 11 Percent


Russo says doctors told her she had an 11 percent survival rate for the next five years. "I remember hanging up the phone, and I was a mess," she said. "I was literally bawling, but somehow I ended up getting the courage to wipe away my tears and went back into class, which now when I think about it, was pretty crazy."

Russo Reportedly Got Donations From Over 400 Donnors


Police in Bettendorf, Iowa, received a report on January 11 that Russo had accepted donations from 439 donors, including colleges, private citizens, local businesses, schools, and national and local cancer foundations. Russo reportedly used a GoFundMe account to raise over $37,000 as of January 19.

Police and Medical Professionals Noticed Red Flags

Maddie Russo/Facebook

While investigating Russo, police noticed that despite her severe illness, she still maintained a 4.0 GPA, was out in the sun, played golf, and was able to keep a part-time job at John Deere. Medical professionals noticed the chemotherapy videos Russo posted showed "life-threatening" inaccuracies. 

@drugstore_cowgirl why would someone do this? living a lie this big must be awful. #maddierusso #fake #fyp #fakecancer ♬ original sound – Beautiful Disaster

She Is Facing Ten Years in Prison

Scott County Jail

After obtaining a warrant to search Russo's apartment on Friday (January 27), police found several items, including a wig, an IV pole with cotton balls in the feeding pump, and nausea pills in the name of a relative. Russo was arrested on Monday (January 30) and released on a $10,000 bail. She is facing one count of first-degree theft, which is a Class C felony and punishable by ten years in prison. Russo will be arraigned on March 2.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more
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