Opinion | GoFundMe’s oversight will affect medical expense donations

Medical expense donations might plummet in response to a fake cancer scandal that highlighted GoFundMe’s faults.


Katie Perkins, Opinions Contributor

You think you’ve heard it all, and then you find out someone your best friend went to high school with raised almost $40,000 on GoFundMe to treat her fake cancer.

Madison Russo, a 19-year-old Iowa TikTok creator, used social media to draw attention to the hoax where she claimed she had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, stage 2 pancreatic cancer, and a football sized tumor wrapped around her spine.

GoFundMe is a great platform where donations can be made seamlessly, but it needs to provide more oversight so instances like this never happen again.

Several anonymous witnesses, some of whom were medical professionals, informed police of the numerous errors in Russo’s fraudulent medical journey. This sparked an investigation that resulted in Russo’s arrest, and she was charged with a first-degree theft felony.

Her fundraising campaign stayed up and gained traction for almost a year. But following the investigation, GoFundMe was quick to release a statement ensuring the public they have a zero-tolerance policy for fraudulent fundraisers.

According to GoFundMe, a donation is made every second, and the website has raised over $25 billion for individuals and nonprofits.

Though GoFundMe reimbursed all 439 of Russo’s donors, the organization lost part of its legitimacy. Anyone with knowledge of this scam will forever be hesitant to donate to a GoFundMe for medical expenses.

In the U.S., one in two women and one in three men will develop cancer in their lifetime. Donations are essential for most families to afford treatment.

By no means am I saying GoFundMe should be held responsible for Russo’s scam — Russo was a con artist. Whether her primary goal was attention or riches, she manipulated the public by forging a tragedy that millions of Americans have a personal, emotional connection with.

GoFundMe is a fundamental space that makes it possible for families in need to receive financial aid by relying on the generosity of others. It is a platform like no other, one that makes the donation process as uncomplicated as possible with the simplicity of sharing a link.

This is why it is essential for GoFundMe to implement a verification process. If they are not actively dedicated to making their operation safer, the results could be detrimental for those in need of financial care.

Anyone can make a GoFundMe. Part of its popularity stems from the ease at which a fundraiser can come to life with the click of a button. All it takes is some basic computer skills to create a page and set a price goal.

Russo’s national news scam changed the fact that anyone can make a GoFundMe from something to be praised to something to be skeptical of. People will argue that GoFundMe shouldn’t take any further action because it is up to the individual whether they choose to donate. While I understand this perspective, I disagree.

I believe GoFundMe should develop an assessment procedure for medical fundraisers in which forms must be submitted with a doctor’s signature.

GoFundMe is a for-profit organization because it pockets a small portion of every donation. It is only right for them to administer more advanced safety procedures to ensure all donations are going to the right places, rather than collecting in negligence.

Though GoFundMe reimbursed everyone who donated to Russo, there is no way of knowing how many other scams are active on their site.

Russo took money and empathy away from people who truly need it. GoFundMe executives should do everything in their power to ensure this never happens again.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.