It describes a serious mental illness in which someone deceives others by feigning illness, actually making themselves ill, or inflicting self-injury-and the majority of people with the disorder are women in their twenties and thirties. Feldman describes it as a maladaptation for addressing unmet needs. “They may be dissatisfied with their lot in life, and have few resources and few skills, and this is something they can pull off brilliantly,” he says. “It validates them and gives them a sensation of mastery over their lives, which in fact are out of control.” Unlike men, who are more prone to inflict violence against others, Feldman says women who struggle with the disorder tend to internalize and seek attention in a more socially acceptable manner: “Men end up in prison; women end up in doctors offices. They act out in ways that tend to keep them within the normal social structures. We all feel sympathy for people who appear to be patients.”
Delashmit defies the convention of the typical GoFundMe scammer who targets their nearest and dearest. She instead has a pattern of infiltrating support groups and advocacy organizations-safe spaces filled with strangers who offer services for individuals who are often neglected. She preys on people who are both largely unsuspecting and have a proven reservoir of deep compassion and generosity.
“They may be dissatisfied with their lot in life, and have few resources and few skills, and this is something they can pull off brilliantly.”
Britta, who was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer in 2015 at age 33, met Delashmit through the Young Survival Coalition and spent hours on the phone with her, counseling her about available resources. “She told me that shed been diagnosed with stage IV, that her husband had left her, that she had kids, and that she didnt know how to go about telling her kids or family,” she says. “She wasnt sure if she could afford treatment; she wasnt sure how she was going to survive and take care of her kids. It came across as very painful for her to talk about. And I understood that because it was painful for me.”
Claire Simpson* shared a suite with Delashmit at Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 2003
Its no coincidence many victims of this type of fraud are women. And a 2019 study of GoFundMe contributions found that women donors express significantly more empathy in the messages left for fundraisers. “Theres almost a codependency that develops in some of these communities,” Feldman says. “Women have told me that they used to spend 12 hours a day online with the poser. And then you have to ask not only why the poser did it, but why the supporter had such a buy-in.” In these cases, the con artistvictim relationship can be complicated by the pleasures of generosity. Delashmit lied to and mistreated her victims. But she also gave them an opportunity to be their best selves-useful, helpful, and caring. When women talk about being abused by Delashmit, they often sound like the victims of romance scammers. After such a symbiotic relationship, after giving and baring so much, the humiliation is doubly powerful.
When people get sick, its disproportionately women who mobilize: According to a 2016 Pew Research Center study, women are more likely than men to give to crowdfunding campaigns to help someone in need
Along with her other two suitemates, they became fast friends. “She was just a regular, quiet, unassuming girl,” says Simpson, who still lives in Illinois. Delashmit told the group that she had had leukemia as a child and had attended a special camp for kids with cancer. Her father was a successful doctor, she claimed, who took her on elaborate ski trips. Delashmit said she was a premed student, hoping to follow in his footsteps.