Munchausen By Internet

by admin on January 16, 2013

I was alerted to the following article by a moderator who knew a little of my online history on this issue.  It’s a lengthy article so be prepared to spend some time digesting the information therein.

“The Lying Disease :Why Would Someone Want to Fake a Serious Illness on the Internet?”   by Cienna Madrid

Munchausen is a personality disorder or at least a severe character deficit wherein a person fakes illness to gain attention.  Munchausen By Proxy is where an adult, usually the mother, fakes or even injures her own children to gain attention.  What is being proposed in this article is the recognition of “Munchausen By Internet” as a legitimate diagnosis so as to address the cases that arise on the Internet.  Author Cienna Madrid does such an exceptional job detailing the issue that I see no need for me to rehash her excellent work here. Go read it.

I have been online for almost 25 years starting with the CompuServe forums, then Usenet, email lists and finally blogs and forums.   Over those 20-something years I have seen, read, and been directly affected by some of the most bizarre people most of us would never encounter in real life.   The FBI has come to my aid in the case of a online sexual predator, and my attorneys over the years have done some serious butt kicking of people who took their obsessions to tortious extremes.  Like “Valerie” in the article, I outed fraudulent wedding vendors, usually photographers, on a web site I called ‘Vendor Hall of Shame” many years ago.   One photographer took great exception to being outed for client fraud, check kiting, a substantial Better Business Bureau complaint file, and court records of disgruntled clients who could not get their photos.  This photographer lied so  proficiently about her business and health woes that many readers of the forum not only believed her but at least one prominent wedding photographer came to her defense and readers continued to hire her to do their weddings.    Time has a way of wounding all heels and eventually  a handful of group regulars discovered to their horror that they could not get their photographs they had paid thousands of dollars from her either.  This photographer’s former male business partner would later create a web site using her name as the URL and document the numerous frauds she had committed and been convicted of.  At least one blog surfaced documenting further fraud of using fake names to get clients.

Back then I thought I could save people from being harmed online by outing obvious frauds preying on people’s gullibility and that belief garnered harassment that carried over into real life.    One thing I learned from this is that most people really do not want to be saved.  They want to believe the lies and they hold the delusional idea that they will be immune from the abuse others have experienced.  Women in particular want to believe the sob stories and react emotionally instead of objectively to factual data that documents a different reality than the one they want to believe.

With the advances in blog and forum software moderation, it is much easier to detect, eradicate and block those individuals who have crossed the line into being fraudulent and/or obsessive. One of the joys of being an administrator/owner of a site is that I  create the law and enforce it for the betterment of my online community.  My tolerance level for drama is quite low and I have no problems permanently isolating people who have too much invested in causing grief and trouble.  Life is far too short to be spending my thoughts on reforming them or wasting time managing them.  Over the years the dispossessed have written to me to warn of my site’s impending demise because I had the audacity to boot allegedly indispensable people from the Ehell forum.   Yet year after year, the site continues to prosper, probably due to the site being content driven, not personality driven.

On the Etiquette Hell forum, there exists the potential for Munchausen By Internet and after we had seen some possible examples of this occurring, I created a  forum post to address the issue.  The terms “troll” and “drama queen” could be substituted with “Munchausen By Internet”.  The major highlights:

1.  There are trolls on the Internet and Ehell is not immune from them.

2.  There are some seriously obsessed/disturbed people online these days.  Some of them have stated a life’s mission to troll Ehell.   The moderating tools available to admins and mods are quite sophisticated and we use them but sometimes a troll gets in.

3.  This forum is not a therapy support group.  It has been written in the rules and extensively in threads by mods over the years that we are not equipped to handle issues related to medical problems, mental illness, sexual advice,  legal advice and so forth.  We are not here to be a support group for any issues other than etiquette faux pas.  If a poster requires an inordinate amount of mental health, legal advice, etc that elicits strong feelings of sympathy, that *could* be a warning flag.  Your responsibility is to check your emotions, step back and reserve judgment until such time as you have more evidence one way or the other regarding the veracity of the story.

4.  Each member is responsible for their own emotional investment in other people’s lives.  The moderators cannot shield every member from ever being duped by some clever troll.  The moderators will remove trolls once it is determined that member is one.

5.  Truth is stranger than fiction sometimes.  If I were to discuss a situation I’ve been going through this past year, I’m sure some would call shenanigans.  One friend said, “Jeanne, if I didn’t know you in real life and see this unfold, I’d never believe it.”   Be very careful how you call shenanigans.   It is very acceptable to ask people for clarifications on what you perceive to be holes in the story.  Outright claiming they are lying is not acceptable.  Ask questions in such a way that it becomes obvious by their own answers that they’ve hung themselves….that’s what we mean by giving people plenty of rope to hang themselves.  Some members are very good at setting up great questions and the stupid troll slams the ball right out of the ball park with their answers.

6. There are drama queens on the Internet.   But being a drama queen on Ehell means you are using this forum in a manner inconsistent with its mission statement.   Moderators have banned a few members whose drama queeniness seems to be a way of life and they contribute nothing of value to the forum other than an incessant whining about the miserable state of their life.

It’s an interesting topic which I am sure will elicit many comments.   Be cautious in your comments to not name specific people unless there is documented evidence to support your allegations.

{ 75 comments… read them below or add one }

Ginger G January 18, 2013 at 8:56 am

I know someone in real life who’s doing this, my boyfriend’s ex-wife. She has been telling people for over a year now that she had breast cancer and had a masectomy. She has never had cancer. She seems to have a problem with the truth though… a year before that she told my BF that I had gone on her Facebook page, and posted a bunch of stuff about how she’s a bad mother, etc. Totally and completely false, we’re not even FB friends so I couldn’t do that even if I wanted to, not that I would ever do something so juvenile. She proceeded to tell him that I’m such a b****, etc. This woman and I have never met, never even had a conversation, and my BF and I didn’t even get together until 5 years after their divorce (which she initiated and has since remarried). She knows nothing about me, but decided to completely malign me to him for some unknown reason.

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Chanley January 18, 2013 at 8:59 am

I think everyone at some point has come across a person like this. Hopefully not to the extent of Valeries experience, but this is part of the reason why we as a society are just so sceptical.
I learned my lesson in high school. A member of my circle of friends always had these sob stories about illness, problems with her family, even accusations of abuse about her father. Everyone rallied behind her and supported her, one friend even going so far as to let her stay with them. She continued to tell her “stories” and at that point everything went downhill, creating a rift between our friends as to who continued to believe her. Suffice it to say that at one point the police were involved in investigating some of her allegations which were found to be completely false. Once she was gone from all of lives (she conveniently moved out of state), we began to discover just how big her web of lies was. She had lied about her job, being pregnant and miscarrying, that she had been saying bad things/telling lies about our friends and on and on. Personally I think she was someone who was more of a pathological liar, in that I don’t know that she had the ability to tell the truth. I think we pretty much established that everything she had said was a lie.
Billions of years later, she popped up on Facebook, posting photos and reminiscing about old times. Out of curriousity and maybe out of the hopes that things had changed, I accepted her friend request. A few postings later, and a reading of a supposed update on her life thus far (plus some online research) led me to realize that she was continuing her web of lies and I defriended and blocked her.
If it a sad thing that there are people out there like this. I feel horrible for Valerie that she had to deal with such a poisonous person when she was only trying to get herself well and find support.

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Anonymous January 18, 2013 at 9:15 am

A little off-topic but Manti Te’o is a linebacker for Notre Dame, not the quarterback.

When I first heard his story on ESPN, I thought it was a little fishy. I turned to my son and said, the odds of his grandmother and girlfriend dying on the same day are astronomical. But as the story kept getting coverage and then he did an interview, I felt bad for thinking that. When the truth hit Wednesday, I thought wow, what nerve. He claims to be a victim like you see on Catfish, but I just don’t know. It seems weird that someone that high-profile, who apparently has a little bit of means, never tried to meet his “girlfriend” in person. But I’m old-fashioned. If I am going to date or see someone, I want it to be in person, not via the internet.

Continued health and happiness to Valerie.

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Wendy B January 18, 2013 at 11:18 am

This reminds me of a story I came across about 10 years ago…I’d nearly forgotten about it. I’ll try to keep it brief, but it was, and maybe still is, the most bizarre thing I’ve ever come across.

Essentially this woman in the Seattle area became friends with a person who claimed to be Elijah Wood’s cousin, during the entire Lord of the Rings craziness. I know it seems unbelieveable on the surface, but the entire lie/ruse/etc. was so well done that not only she but several others fell for it. The lies included things about the family being involved with the IRA and how Elijah had this “agreement” with the IRA that he not be involved and this “cousin” was in hiding… Additionally, this other person (who turned out, IIRC, to be the same person) started a fan site/charity called Bit of Earth that drew in more people, including Sean Astin. This person also had a THIRD personality that showed up on other sites…it was insane. Here’s a link to the original article: http://www.wweek.com/portland/article-3414-hobbits_gone_wrong.html.

Not exactly Munchausen by Internet, but just as insane. The internet does, indeed, allow people to do crazy stuff. Unfortunately, it’s too easy to get drawn in. I feel for Victoria.

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Wendy B January 18, 2013 at 11:20 am

Sorry to post again…I said Seattle, I meant Portland, Ore.

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The TARDIS January 18, 2013 at 1:04 pm

I don’t wish to go into any detail, however I once was burned by somebody claiming to need help for their sick baby. They were a scammer. Thanks to them I now won’t donate to people online for any reason, regardless of how true their story is. I refuse to let myself become that invested again after being hurt and used.

Munchausen by internet DOES cause harm. It makes people more likely to call fake and less likely to help when a real issue comes along.

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Library Diva January 18, 2013 at 2:02 pm

This reminds me of the book and film, The Night Listener. Author Armistead Maupin (a veteran of the 1970s gay liberation scene in San Francisco, and hardly a naive individual) received a communication from a young boy with a horrible story. The boy’s parents had made their living selling his sexual favors to some of the most powerful and influential figures in his region: congressmen, CEOs, the mayor, etc. He was rescued by his current caregiver, Donna, and the two were in hiding, but during his years and years of abuse, he’d contracted HIV.

Maupin struck up a friendship with Donna and the boy, but it wasn’t long before things began to seem “off.” Despite communicating nightly (I believe this occurred in the late 90s so it may have been phone-only, but possibly via email or IM too), they seemed standoffish when he brought up the possibility of face-to-face meetings. The boy kept repeatedly hovering on the brink of death, then coming back miraculously. Maupin’s partner noticed a marked similarity in their voices. Although the book ends on an ambiguous note, I believe that “Donna” was eventually outed as a fraud — there was never a sick, abused little boy.

I don’t understand these people, but it’s a fascinating phenomenon.

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Allie January 18, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Long before I came to the internet and learned what a “troll” was, I encountered many pathological liars. When I was younger I thought it unusual that I had encountered so many, but now I realize there must be about 10% of the population that has this “disorder”. The internet has just given them a new forum. The thing that always surprised me about these people is that they either don’t realize or care that their lies are so transparent. One guy I knew had about 5 different versions of how he received a sizeable scar, each more dramatic and unbelievable than the last. I only recall two: plane crash (he claimed he flew jet fighters in the military) and shark attack. My husband was present when he was telling one of the versions and his young son walked in and said “but Daddy I thought you got in a motorcycle accident (which is what actually happened). Another guy told us he was with the Canadian peacekeeping force in Golan Heights (we later had a chance to take a peek at his driver’s licence and he was 12 at the time). He would disappear for a few weeks at a time and then come back and tell us he’d been sent on a mission for the military, top secret and he couldn’t talk about it. We found out he had family out of town he used to go and stay with. Sad. I guess they just want to be special and different or think life should be like a movie.

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sv January 18, 2013 at 2:55 pm

I was on a year long MAT leave awhile ago and when I came back to my place of employment I met the new girl they had hired in my abscense. She was in her early 20′s. She claimed, among other things, to be actively going to medical school, in the military ( helicopter pilot), trying to join the police force, managing a bar, be in an abusive relationship and be pregnant with twins ( actually, first she was pregnant with just one baby, miscarried, then by the time I met her we were on to twins that she also miscarried. )All of this at the same time, while holding down a job where I worked!! This web of outrageousness had been so intricately designed that when I walked into it, a year after everyone else, many of my fellow employees could not believe she was lying. Not that they felt she was telling the truth, exactly – no one thought that – it was more that she was so believable they didn’t know what to think. It was almost as though she lied simply as a first impulse, the way most of us tell the truth as our first impulse.

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Drawberry January 18, 2013 at 5:11 pm

When I was very young, around 13 or so, I had another same-aged friend (or so it is assumed to this day, as I am sure we know I can never be sure) who I spoke to often. She was more outgoing then myself and I thought she was ‘super cool’ at the time. Then she started acting weird. Acting out as if she was trying to express depression but was acting based on cue cards and not genuine emotion. One day she claimed she cut herself and was bleeding on the keyboard. She gave me an address and told me to call the police. I was scared and crying because it just felt like this wasn’t true and if I called the police and gave them this address what if I ended up sending them out to some poor persons home who has nothing to do with this girl. It was one of the scariest days of my life having her telling me that she was bleeding everywhere (while seemingly able to type with no problem) and saying I should call the police.

Deep down it felt wrong and fake but I was scared and anxious and didn’t know what to do. A day or so later she told me that her mom found her and took her to the hospital so she was okay now. I knew it was a lie. I knew that if she had been bleeding as much as she said that there was no way she’d be able to sit around and type for 20 minutes. I knew that if she was taken into the hospital with self-injury wounds like that they wouldn’t just send her home after giving her a few stitches.

But I’ll never forget sitting at my computer crying and scared because someone I thought was my friend told me she cut her wrists. I wonder sometimes what would have happened if I really called the police and gave them that address and I am glad I listened to my gut and didn’t do it.

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Twik January 18, 2013 at 5:32 pm

The most compulsive liar I ever met was someone who rented a room where I was living when I first started working. I realize that, for many people, this is, perhaps, as much an illness as OCD. Except, instead of straightening things or counting, they are compelled to tell untruths in situations where the truth would do just as well or better.

This particular young woman had a non-existent (but wealthy, handsome, chivalrous, etc.) boyfriend. Several times, she went to the trouble of cooking dinner for him, only to come up with an excuse why he couldn’t show (and in the days before everyone had cellphones, the rest of us knew she hadn’t received a call from him). I was torn between thinking she actually had convinced herself he was real, versus she knew very well it was an act, but something forced her to go through with it.

She also claimed to have six younger siblings, who she was prevented, by an order of the Supreme Court of Canada, from having contact with. Because she smoked.

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Yarnspinner January 19, 2013 at 1:04 am

People who prey on others’ kindness and naivete are evil and their evil is not of the “harmless” variety. For starters once the good and kind person realizes they have been had, they often begin to harden around their edges until they are cold to any cries of drama, real or imagined. What these scammers do is kill another person’s soul and their capacity for kindness and charity.

I’ve not dealt with it via the net, but in real life there have been at least two scammers in my life and I often wonder how the scammers’ behaviors affected their families.

In grammar school, middle school and high school I was friends with someone like this. Her last name happened to be Jagger, so guess which rock star was HER cousin? There was always major drama of some sort going on that we in her circle of friends bought into. And now, so many, many years later, another friend and I met up with her on facebook where she has been describing her many procedures and health troubles…and both of us said to each other “While I am sure that what she’s saying is the truth, I am having a very hard time believing any of it.”

Another scammer managed to destroy the relationship between his wife and her circle of friends. This guy was always having some horrible thing happen to him. Before they were married, he would discover that money he had placed in his wallet had disappeared while at work. While WE asked “Who in their right mind tosses their wallet into an unlocked drawer” Friend would defend him and pay for his bills. He was horrified when the checks he wrote to pay her back bounced, and then “discovered” that “someone” had gotten hold of his check book and taken several checks out of the middle and used them.

Later on, he was tapped to be part of a very prestigious and well known event. He was packing up every weekend and leaving wife and kids behind to attend to this event. He’d call her from his “regular” job and say he wouldn’t be home that night, he hd to fly to France/Spain/Hogwarts to attend an Event Conference. When it was pointed out that people who headed up this event usually did not have regular 9 to 5 jobs, Friend got angry again. And then, shortly before the real work for Event began, he was kicked off the committee because he was so honest he had caught other committee members with their hand in the till and reported them. And don’t you know, everyone was in on the conspiracy?

Over the years we have heard tales about how he saved this famous movie star’s life, how he came to the aid of two young women stranded in their town by giving them the money his wife had saved up for their much needed vacation and so forth. He seems to have her under his thumb and our friendships all crumbled several years ago when she decided we were all evil for not choosing to vote for her husband’s preferred presidential candidate.

Today I wonder what is going on with them and if he has ever told the truth. I guess I will never know.

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Enna January 19, 2013 at 5:08 am

I think there are some people who are truely confused and mixed up and therefore need professional help with their mental condition but I also think there are some people out there who are just maniuplative liars or “trolls”. The hard thing though is trying to work out which one they are and I think at times it can do more harm then good trying to find out.

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--Lia January 19, 2013 at 10:27 am

62- In case anyone else is ever in a situation like the one Drawberry was in where you don’t know if you should call the police, the answer is to call and tell them why you’re uncertain about calling. You could say “my friend has asked me to call the police because she says she’s bleeding, but I’m not sure if she’s telling the truth. Here’s why …” Then let the people who have tons more experience make the decision about what to do. As long as you tell them the truth about what you’ve seen, what you’ve heard, and what you’ve been told, the 9-1-1 operator will thank you and not accuse you of making any sort of crank call.

My experience with this sort of lying isn’t as extreme as most recounted here, but I have remembered something that happened in high school. The girl in front of me turned and whispered that she wasn’t feeling well. She indicated that she might have eaten the wrong thing and that her stomach hurt. I told her to tell our teacher and ask for a pass. (This was the sort of class that no one tried to get out of on purpose, and the teacher was extremely kind and reasonable.) She went up to the teacher’s desk, whispered to him, and he did write the pass. We all saw her walk out of the room. The next day I heard that she’d told everyone that she’d been carried out of the room on a stretcher. Quite the lie considering that 20 people observed her walk out quietly!

Mostly these stories make me wonder about motivation. I guess somewhere deep inside I think it makes sense to lie for financial gain or to lie to hide immoral behavior. That doesn’t make it right, but I sort of understand. What makes all this bizarre is the idea of lying for sympathy or lying because real life is dull and wouldn’t it be more interesting if a mere stomach ache turned out to be serious condition requiring hospitalization. (I’ve had both. Believe me, the stomach ache is preferable.)

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Mabel January 19, 2013 at 1:11 pm

My chat room got trolled by one of these Munchausen by Internet people a couple of years ago. He came on using the handle tazman43m and claimed to have been grievously injured by a rack of servers falling on him (an odd accident, sure, but possible I guess–a rack of servers falling would definitely leave a mark). But he was claiming brain injuries that if true, would have precluded him from even being conscious, let alone able to type or even use a computer. He was 1) recovering, then 2) hospitalized again, 3) underwent extensive brain surgery during which he posted as his mom, Betty, and 4) was back in chat after only a couple days post-surgery. We all fell for it until the hospitalization, when the stories got a bit too outlandish. One chatter who lives in the area where he said he was hospitalized called his bluff by offering to come visit him. He disappeared from chat and has, to our knowledge, not returned in any other iteration. Lucky this stopped before anyone sent him any money.

I’ve run into two embellishers in real life, although they weren’t faking illness. One was a girl in my first stint in college who invented a boyfriend with Mob connections who gave her expensive jewelry and was “so dangerous to be around, I shouldn’t even be telling you this.” The other was more recent, in grad school, and was a guy who appropriated an actor’s name and told so many stories about his novels, etc. I got suspicious after talking to him after class one night. I went home and googled the heck out of him and could find NOTHING to back up anything he said. He was one of those charismatic people who liked to be the center of attention. I never even spoke to him after that, and when someone else asked me about him, I told them he was full of it.

It is truly sad (and frightening) to think what people will do to get attention. ANY kind of attention, even negative, is better than nothing for them. They’re like little kids who act up to be noticed. Only when they become adults, the tactics become more sophisticated and insidious.

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Drawberry January 19, 2013 at 1:32 pm

@Lia; as an adult now I would be able to handle the situation much better, and have actually been faced with it again.

The individual in question was an out-of-country young man who frequented a forum where he described thoughts of suicide and being depressed. I spoke with him, got his address from him and informed a particular organization in his country that I was told could handle the situation. The organization contacted me later and said they’ve spoken with the young man but the rest of his ‘case’ was confidential so they where just thanking me for the help and letting me know he was being spoken to. I don’t know if he was legitimate about his suicidal thoughts or not because we’ve never seen him back. He may have gotten help, may have never thought that I’d actually call them up and freaked out when they contacted him. Who knows. e

But as a child, home alone, and now that I think about it probably closer to 11-12 years old, I had no idea what to do. It was a situation that I never heard of before. My family was new to computer technology and my parents had never thought that I would be faced with such a situation so we’d never discussed how to handle online emergency’s. I believed, being young and scared, that if I called the police about something happening in a different state to someone I didn’t know in person and if the girl was lying that I would be in trouble too. I thought the police would sue me or arrest me if the girl was lying (which she was, just in case I wasn’t clear).

My mother had worked as a dispatch officer prior to my birth and I’d heard various things that happened to her that led me to be distrusting of police as a child. It isn’t something my family likes to talk about but for some time she had an obsessed stalker..the Chief of Police at the department she dispatched at. He was married with one child with his wife currently pregnant again. It got so bad that my mom was afraid if her current husband was alone with the Chief that the Chief would shoot him and claim self-defense. It was a bad time for her and her husband (she remarried to my father many years later).

So when I was young I thought that the police would do something bad to me for calling them. I thought that they could put me in jail or make my family pay money. I’d heard that my mother was mistreated and thought I would be too. Police where scary people to me.

Clearly as an adult, and having handled a similar situation fairly recently, I can control the situation a lot better and with more e knowledge and capabilities. But as a 12, maybe 13, year old child? I was terrified.

I think we’ve got to prepare children on how to handle emergencies that come up online. What if someone is saying their home is being broken into? What if people are threatening suicide? How can that young person handle such a situation? I wish that more information on this was out at the time it happened to me, because I cannot imagine how another young kid would feel being put in a situation of emergency where it ‘s actually genuine.

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Ergala January 19, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Man this got me thinking. A few years ago I was playing a game and we’d all talk on Voice over IP using a program called Vent. It’s like talking on the phone except you are on your computer. I came into a channel and heard a new voice. I swear to this day it was a man. I mean a deeeeeeeep man voice. But the name of the person was Susan. I messaged our guild leader and asked if the person’s name was indeed Susan or if they had another name, I didn’t want to call them their sister’s girl name if they were indeed male. He told me that Susan had her voice box damaged in a bombing in Iraq. That she was a veteran and had been injured and is now on disability because of the damage she had to her voice box. My BS radar immediately went off and I very carefully asked our leader if he knew Susan in real life or even had video chatted with her. Nope, he was going on what she said. Susan was given lots of in game items, sympathy and every was bending over backwards to make her happy because of her story. Everyone but me that is. I didn’t call her out publicly or privately, but I did avoid her like the plague. Just her mannerisms (which she attributed to being in the military) were very masculine, her voice absolutely sounded like a man’s….there was no doubt in my mind she was lying.

I also know someone who told me that she was pregnant with my ex boyfriend’s baby. She then said she was having twins and gave birth. A few weeks later she said one of them died. I asked if my ex knew about the babies and she said no, that she didn’t want him knowing. I called her home to chat and see how she was doing a few months later and she wasn’t home. But I did chat with her roommate and asked how the baby was doing and he was confused….she’d never been pregnant and didn’t have kids. I haven’t spoken to her since.

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NotCinderell January 20, 2013 at 4:43 pm

I do want to reiterate Ms. Jeanne’s comment that sometimes odd things really do happen to people. My husband’s father, aunt, and uncle all sufferered from a rare, hereditary form of muscular dystrophy. In addition, his aunt and uncle were very reclusive. His aunt went into a nursing home in April or May of 2009, and one evening at around midnight some 4 months after she’d gone into nursing care, we got a call that she’d passed away. They had tried to speak to her brother, DH’s uncle, who was her emergency contact, but he was not picking up the phone. In fact, none of us had reached him in days.

I’m sure you can see where this is going.

The next day we went by his house and he was deceased in the house. We had thought he was the healthiest of the three of them, but apparently he was not. My father-in-law passed away from complications from the same disease in April of 2011. My husband had already lost his mother in 1998 from cancer, which meant that by the time he was 32, he had no parents, no grandparents, and had lost both of his father’s siblings as well (and they had no spouses or children). He’s also an only child and has no siblings of his own. His only remaining close family is his mother’s sister and her family. The rest are all distant cousins. Sometimes, people do lose lots of family in rapid succession and in a dramatic fashion.

Anyone who knows me from this site (and a couple of you even know me IRL) knows that I’m not prone to telling whoppers. The story of going to inform someone of the death of his sister only to find him to be deceased as well is an odd story, but it really happened to us.

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Angel January 20, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Wow, that is one crazy story! I belong to a lot of breast cancer support groups on FB, since taking part in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day this past October. It was a wonderful experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world, and it did help me heal from my grandmother’s death from the disease. I had put a lot of my mourning on hold for many years to avoid dealing with it, but those groups were great. To think that any one of the members of the group is completely lying about being a breast cancer survivor or being diagnosed or having lost a family member–is sad and sickening to me. I couldn’t imagine misrepresenting yourself online to the point where nothing is the truth–and you are playing around with people’s feelings. Very sad. I feel terrible for Valerie. I certainly don’t blame her for shutting down her blog. But at the same time, it could be a wonderful source of support for her provided everyone is representing themselves honestly. Too bad there is no way to really check :(

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LonelyHound January 21, 2013 at 10:24 am

What I find the most frustrating and appalling is that these people then make it a hundred times more difficult for people really going through something to get help or support. I am going through something right now, and, while it is no where near the playing field of cancer or other severe medical problems, it is one that is emotionally scarring. I have contacted several support groups targeted for my need asking for books, groups that meet in person and any other advice. No one is answering me. People like this ruin it for others because now the webmasters and webmistresses are more distrustful. this prevents people with a real need of friendship, support or just looking for advice from getting any. It makes me feel even worse to think that someone like Valerie, a person with a real need, will be less likely to get help.

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FerrisW January 21, 2013 at 6:22 pm

I’ve been involved on livejournal and online fandoms for more than a decade, and none of the hoaxers baffle me as much as Amy Player/Victoria Bitters/Jordan Wood/thanfiction/Andrew Blake story (those personas are all one person)- I’m naming them because Amy Player was charged and convicted for fraud and they’re someone that people should be aware of. Possibly it was because I was on the outskirts of LotR fandom at the time, but I remember this going down so vividly and am horrified that this person is still scamming people today- even people who know the history of what happened. If you ever had the time or inclination to read up about this person, be prepared- it starts out ridiculous and scamming for money, including well known actors, but ends with three people dead. Absolutely horrific.

That being said, I’ve met some amazing people on the internet, including my best friend who I’ve known for 5 years now and she currently lives with me (after moving across the world to do so). Good judgement is really important when dealing with people online- trust your gut, and if you do decide to meet someone, do it in a public place. When I met my best friend in real life, we’d been talking on line for six months, including via skype, and when she flew to my city to see a band play, we met at a restaurant and had a lovely time, but she checked into a hotel for the night, rather than stay with me. Safety first!

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crella January 22, 2013 at 5:33 am

Wow. That article is just horrifying, that people will go to those lengths to get attention. I’m astounded.

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Bottlecaps February 5, 2013 at 3:49 pm

I’m a member on a forum where I’ve seen this happen way too many times. It’s part of the territory with the type of forum that it is (a support forum), but many times members come up with stories that are just a bit too ridiculous to be believable. I personally had to deal with one of these people a few years ago, who always had a crisis going on, she was constantly suicidal, constantly posting that she was going to cut herself or kill herself, constantly needing/seeking attention, and really taking away from other members who really did need the support. Eventually, we had to ban her. I still see people like that on that forum, to this day. The only problem is, because of the situation with the aforementioned girl, they are a bit more subtle about it and because it is a support forum after all, it’s hard to call them out on it. I just remember to limit the amount of support that I give to those people, because I don’t want to become too emotionally invested in them. Even then, I’m not sure I could become too emotionally invested in them, because quite frankly, the annoy the living bleep out of me. I just can’t imagine why someone would fake constant crisis (when there are people who really are going through crises) to get attention. The issue with the forum I’m on is that any post asking for support is addressed, so there’s really no need at all to exaggerate. I think what it comes down to, in this particular case anyway, is wanting – no, needing – to be the sickest. In doing that though, they take much-needed support away from fellow members who do not exaggerate their circumstances. And that really is just sick.

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