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Social work professor at University of Minnesota analyzes scams, Maddie Russo case

Dr. Marti DeLiema spoke with News 8 about Maddie Russo and what the motivation behind the alleged scam may have been.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — A 19-year-old Bettendorf woman remains out on bond after allegedly scamming donors of tens of thousands. News 8 spoke with a professor of social work to get behind why someone may pull off this type of scam.

St. Ambrose student Maddie Russo claimed she had cancer and allegedly scammed donors out of nearly $38,000. She remains out on bond after Tom Bouland, the man who started her GoFundMe campaign, bailed her out, according to court records.

News 8 spoke with Dr. Marti DeLiema an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Minnesota who specializes in fraud victimization by scams and fraud. She also studies what makes us susceptible to them.

"Scams are increasingly sophisticated," Dr. DeLiema said. "They are really difficult to fact check and we're so distanced from the perpetrators, they're able to target so many people at the same time."

"I would say that the majority of fraud perpetrators are doing it for financial gain," DeLiema explained when asked why Russo could have allegedly pulled off the scam.

"People might feel this sense of anonymity and protection when they post false things about themselves on the internet, you know, they aren't meeting these potential donors face to face, they aren't door knocking, it's just information on the internet that's put out into the world."

Statistics from the IRS state that charitable organizations see a 5% reduction in their revenue each year due to fraud.

"Building an early career as a fraud, and scam artist is probably not the smartest career choice for this young woman."

Dr. DeLiema has conducted research about the impact on fraud victims, finding that shame and embarrassment are the main experiences people feel. 

"When in doubt, it's probably better to give to the society or the organization or the nonprofit that treats that rare disease," Dr. DeLiema said. "Or maybe it's not a rare disease."

"I think there's probably a more tangled web behind this case," Dr. DeLiema added, hoping for continued investigation into the case.

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Watch more coverage of the Madison Russo story on News 8's YouTube channel

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