Fakers Part 1 – Death & Illness

“What is life without trust?” he muses in his final blog post. He talks a lot about these intangible things we need in life recently. He has done ever since he found out about the cancer. He tells us how he could always trust his body to do what he wants, how he feels betrayed by it now as it rots from the inside out. He tells us how much we all mean to him, how he’s trusted us to keep him strong through the illness, how much all our cards and gifts have meant. He types one final word, and is gone…

A little melodramatic, yes. A little derivative, of course. A load of bullshit, yes it is. What you’ve seen above is a prime example of Munchausen By Internet. Most people are already aware of Munchausen Syndrome in real life, the strange condition that causes people to fake or induce an illness or injury in themselves in order to gain a medical professionals attention. Related to that is Munchausen By Proxy, where the sufferer induces an illness or injury in a weaker third party (usually a child or other dependent) for the same reasons, and it is that particular form that is usually seen on television or in films making it the most well known. Munchausen By Internet is similar in the actions of the sufferer, but rather than seeking attention from a medical professional the sufferer aims at online communities. Like the fictional Baron who the disorder is named after, Munchausen sufferers tell vivid and fantastic tales of woe to anyone who will listen and, on the internet, the entire world can be your audience with only one click. Just like people who exhibit the symptoms of Munchausen in real life, those who practice this disorder over the internet will tell detailed tales of their descent (or that of someone close to them) into illness. They will have detailed information on the symptoms they say they’re suffering from (something that people could only get from medical journals and encyclopedias before but now is available via a simple web search) and give enough of that detail in their postings that most people will believe them.

“They took him off the respirator, but I made them put him back on. I couldn’t stand there and watch my baby die. MY GOD he is my baby. I can’t do this.”

It starts innocently enough, as someone new joins a community and starts to make friends and you may meet them by yourself or through another common friend. They become popular quickly, seeming in hindsight to have catered their personalities to suit those of the group they’ve chosen to infiltrate. They may even have a whole supporting cast of characters in their life – family and friends that they talk about on their posts – and some of these people may already be online (the most advanced forms of these create several personalities, build friendships and relationships between them and focus on whichever turns out to be the most popular one while keeping the others going) or may claim to have met each other in real life since becoming friends online or talk every night on the phone. They gain peoples trust, become part of their lives, and become cared about. Sometimes it can be years before the trouble begins.

“I have never felt more loved and cared for in my entire life. I suddenly craved for everyone’s attention, love, care, concern and affection. People posted messages about how they were very concerned, they were keeping Sara in their thoughts and prayers, and so many things. It became very appealing to me. I decided to play with it more. I don’t know how or why, I just did.”

In most cases it starts slowly with the person posting about a strange recurring pain they’ve been having, and they eventually and unwillingly cave to peer pressure from their online friends to go see a doctor. They’ll anxiously await test results, with their friends so drawn into the drama that they may as well be waiting for their own results. The test results come back and the charade is in full swing as the person tells everyone the terrible news about how long they have left to live. They’ll be scared, but put on a brave face. Sometimes their bravery will even be inspiring to others. They’ll talk openly about their fears, sharing secrets with other people, slowly coming to accept their illness, fighting the valiant fight (some have had cancer go into remission then repeatedly return) but ultimately losing. The death is a simple affair. The blog goes quiet for a short time then a relative comes on and posts about the death just to inform the friends of the person. Sometimes one of their supporting cast will announce it to others as they’ve found out from visiting/calling their friend.

Case Study 1 – The Knitting Monkey
Gigi Silva was part of an online knitting community under the name MommaMonkey and definitely not the sort of person you’d expect to pull this sort of trick. She’d been a helpful member for years, gained many friends and shared thousands of her knitting patterns online.

When her death was announced at the end of January 2008, as a result of complications arising from Lupus, the people who knew her were distraught. Gigi’s husband started posting in her account, thanking everyone for their kind words about his late wife and saying her designs were now for sale with all the proceeds going to Lupus charities. People held knitting events in her honour using her patterns that they’d bought. This went on for almost a year until someone got suspicious.

An active Twitter account was found that had used the same e-mail address as Gigi’s to sign up with. The Twitter user had a husband and children with the same names as Gigi had as well as the same interests. When the user started talking about her tattoos and posted pictures of them, people knew for sure. At some point Gigi, a beloved member of the boards had decided to fake her death so that her patterns would sell more. To this day no further explanation has been forthcoming.

Case Study 2 – The Curious Case Of Kaycee Nicole
Kaycee Nicole, the author of the Living Colours blog, was a 19 year old girl from Kansas who had been suffering from a string of health problems including seizures, blood clots, ruptured veins and extremely high fever. When she died in May 2001 from Leukemia the hundreds of people who read her page grieved for her. They had shared her high moments and been there for her in her pain, many being inspired to stay upbeat while fighting their own health problems. Many had personal contact with her, e-mailing each other regularly and sending her get well gifts. Some of them even spoke to her regularly on the telephone.

When Kaycee’s mother started her own blog as a tribute to her daughter many of Kaycee’s old readers moved there, regularly reading and reminiscing about her. It soon became clear that something was wrong though. Many of Kaycee’s friends wanted to pay their respects to her in real life yet her mother wouldn’t provide details of when the funeral would be or even an address to send flowers to. People who spoke to Debbie on the telephone remarked how similar she sounded to her daughter and pretty soon people were wondering if the girl had ever even existed.

People started going through her posts looking for clues and noticed how fond this 19 year old blonde girl was of including lyrics from the 60s and 70s in her posts. The posts that had previously been regarded as particularly well written suddenly seemed to have been written by someone older than 19. With suspicions raised others started sleuthing in real life and found that not only could no obituary be found for Kaycee Nicole, but no-one of that name could be found living in Kansas. The final nail in Kaycee’s coffin came when the photo of herself that she put online was found to be a photo of a local basketball star who had no idea her image had been taken. Finally confronted with all the evidence, Debbie admitted that everything written was by her, as were all communications with people, in order to gain sympathy and affection, and that she’d killed “Kaycee” off so that people could start to know the real her.

Case Study 3 – You Think You Know Me?

Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated. You thought you had irretrievably lost something; that something is now returned to you. If I hadn’t made you sad by pretending to be dead, I wouldn’t have been able to make you happy by jumping out of my coffin. Forgive me for putting you through the emotional roller coaster ride, which I hope was a healthily cathartic experience for you.

The first reported case of a faked death on the internet was M Otis Beard (quite a well known name on the web these days) and actually has nothing to do with Munchausens. Otis perpetrated his fraud to teach people the lesson that they don’t know people online as well as they think they do. His return from the dead was joyful, but only for him, as he explained how he’d fooled everyone and mocked them for mourning someone they never really knew.

I’ve said a lot of things in this post and given examples of, and quotes from, different people who have willingly and, in some cases at least, maliciously perpetrated these kinds of frauds on people they claim are their friends. It’s a lot to take in, even if you are familiar with these sort of people and their activities. Who can you trust? Should you shun everyone to be on the safe side, or distrust anyone who gets ill? Do you question the death of a friend or everyone who talks about a personal tragedy or drama? The answer of course is a resounding no. All I warn is that you be cautious and not take everything at face value because a small minority of people will try to take advantage of you. For the most part the people you have interactions with and start to care about online are exactly what they claim to be and to mistrust everyone would stop you from having some wonderful friends. Don’t stop giving people the benefit of the doubt unless they prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can’t be trusted. After all, what is life without trust?


55 thoughts on “Fakers Part 1 – Death & Illness

  1. This is a very interesting article and one that gets you thinking. Unfortunately it will spark some form of trusting people you know a tad less maybe or maybe not at all.I would like to take all my friends at face value and not believe there's one that would do such a thing.Then again by taking someone's word for whatever I live a life more easier in some twisted sort of way that only makes sense in my head right now.

  2. I trust people entirely. Of course, for me to really trust people they have to earn it with me, and I always check facts to the best of my ability anyway. Harsh I know, but I've experienced enough on the web to develop this way of doing things.When I joined MoPilot there was a tribute on the frontpage for a member who went by some variation of the name Tigger and who had recently died. As I became part of the site I learned more about the situation, how her ex husband had been abusive, how his release from jail had seen him hunting her down and stalking her, all of which she'd shared with her increasingly worried friends. When she disappeared for a while one of her friends, worried about her, shared her real name with a police officer who used the site and asked him to run a check to see if she'd been hurt. He returned with the news that her ex had killed her and her months old baby.Time went by and more things eventually came to light. The police officer, in contact with the victim's family, had arranged a collection which members happily contributed to. I didn't know the girl so no-one approached me about it but my friends gave loads between them. Long story short, it became clear that Tigger had never existed and that the police officer helping her online friends out was the same person, faking the entire thing for profit.

  3. Mm, this is why research on shocking news is important. Of course, illness is not often reported in the media.. It is hard to trust contact which consists of text only, but it's not too different from offline stuff… Just easier for the con-person. It's easy to even impersonate someone else just by typing a little differently. Of course, some people have dead giveaways by the way they type and thus are spotted under different usernames. You've gotta be wary of stuff like this and take news with a pinch of salt until proof, I guess. But it's hard to err on the correct side. You've gotta trust people, too. I'm rambling.

  4. Cois is dead and needs money for his funeral. :left: ok shit joke but I guess this would be what you're talking about.What perplexes me is that all this is so well thought out. Is it a stroke of 'guess what I'm gonna do today?' or is it something that developed through time where the person from the very start decided that this would be a money making scheme?

  5. Maybe these people only got attention paid to them as kids when they were ill. Doesn't matter why but they've learned that people do pay attention to them in those circumstances. The ones suffering from Munchausen join sites like this, usually with pure intentions, but fall into faking illness as a way to stand out from the crowd. As the "illness" they're faking progresses and gets worse it signifies their need progressing and people losing interest in their smaller illnesses. When they fake their deaths they're either trying to control it by cutting all ties to the people they've been conning, or going for the ultimate high. Unfortunately they need to come back in order to see the results and benefit from them, so they create a friend or family member to talk about them. Those that have family members and friends on the site already have usually done this a few times before and are setting up their plans beforehand so they have less chance of being found out.As always the people suffering from this problem aren't the only ones pulling this crap. There are those that like to mess with people's emotions as it gives them a feeling of power. These are much more likely to have invented various other accounts and created friendships (sometimes romances) and family relationships between them in order to back their stories up. In extreme cases you'll see entire groups of people go into decline with one death upsetting someone so much that they get ill and creating a domino effect.:irked:

  6. Repeated lie becomes a truth. Luckily, there are smart people in Internet jungle and some of the lies appear on surface. What bothers me is how many lies stays hidden, now and/or forever? There are a lot of sick people on line.This is one of the best posts I have ever read.

  7. Undoubtedly some of these things stay hidden, with more people believing than disbelieving, but I'm sure you remember the Kite Geek debacle here and on Tils' page. They can't just leave, they have to announce their deaths and it makes it easier to catch them.Thanks for the post compliment. This is the sort that I know I'm capable of but haven't been doing recently, and it's made me feel like I'm letting my readers (and worse, myself) down. Felt good to get writing again. I'd have added more links to it so that some things were better backed up and explained but ran out of space in the text boxes.There are a couple more parts planned to this series of posts that should be a similar size and quality. After that I'll taking the time to write and post at least one thing with this level of detail every week, which will make up for most of my posts being five or ten minute jobs.

  8. I dated a loser a lot like your friend πŸ™„ lied about everything. Said his dad wasn't his actual father, that his aunt had a tumor in her hand… What a pathetic way to be.

  9. The people who lies online, do also exist in real life. I had a girlfriend at school, who (at 15) claimed that her boyfriend was incurably ill from cancer. Months after,she told at school that he was dead. The week after I saw his "ghost" on a moped when I went to visit her. :left:Shortly after she said she had cancer herself, and that she'd only have 6 month left to live in. Just for the record: She's still alive.So yeah, they do exist. But of course, it's much easier to swindle online, because it's so much easier to just disappear.

  10. There was a girl in my high school who managed to be pregnant for 18 months before someone exploded at her about her being a liar. It saddens me that people become like this, that the world makes people feel they have to be like this.Although I've met some fake illnesses in real life I've never seen a fake death. Never known anyone who thought they could get away with it, I suppose. I suppose it's easier for them to get away with online because everyone online is looking to make a connection, while everyone in real life is more guarded.

  11. Not just that, but it's easy to "not be seen" online. To say you're in great illness or distress. To impersonate a grieving loved one.

  12. You guys do know I'm not talking shit when I say my operation gets moved alot and health care in South Africa really is fucked up beyond comprehension right? :left: right?? :insane:.On another note.. When it first got moved it seemed pointless to make a crap post about when next they were gonna just gonna move it again as I'd seem like a attention-whore in the end.

  13. I trust most of the people I'm in contact with on here to tell me and others the truth, although I didn't believe the whole dressing as grandma routine you tried last time the cupboards were bare. :left: Some people though have situations that are so recognisable as the start of this sort of thing (and they seem to always have an excuse about not being able to end those situations) that I can't bring myself to trust them, even if I want to. It probably isolates some people who're actually telling the truth but we all have our rules on trust and which lines we're willing to cross.

  14. *gives Clint the hug he's been after*What's that? Your operation suddenly got carried out by a band of roaming surgeons? :left:

  15. Clint, never had a doubt. But what Mik said about some others… I feel the same way. It's a little unfair to those others, but you can't trust everybody..

  16. Well, if anything did happen to me, there's not much chance of anyone figuring out how to activate my blog anyway! :awww:.But at least I'm not suffering from any terminal illness. And my health problems are minor annoyances rather than tales of impending doom!BTW, I know way too many people irl that just seem incapable of honesty! :insane:.I'm not at all surprised when I find it online! :left:.

  17. Yep, perfect 10No matter how bizarre your blog gets you just can't hide your talent.I don't subscribe to many blogs but this is why yours is on the list. Hope everyone remembers these kind words when I am gone. I did mention I am expecting to die one of these days. It has been a long slow death. I am only expected to live another twenty or thirty years. But please… don't pine for me. I am strong.

  18. I had 84 characters left in one text field and 76 in the other. Didn't have room for more links although I've got a few dozen that I pulled together for interesting examples. :awww: But the post isn't going to be the last on this subject and I'll try to fit more links and less styling into the next one, although the post itself may well tear ones sanity away in its weirdness.

  19. All in all I'm quite happy with this post. It marks a return to form for me, and a return to my occasional style of cyclic posts that end with the same words they begin with – a trademark of mine over the past few years that I've been writing here.I'd have preferred to have added more examples and a smattering of extra links as well as a better opening paragraph, but this isn't a bad start to me concentrating more on my content so I'll give it 7/10. I think I'll have to wait for more space in the text boxes on Mini or full time PC access before I can really hit my stride.

  20. πŸ˜† Twenty or thirty years is a decent amount of time to milk the sympathy and get a few get well soon presents from your readers. :up: And if you get caught out, try the excuse that you were trying to be closer to God because Jesus faked his death then came back. :left: What? Read the bible, it's in there.For further reading on the subject might I suggest this bizarre story. While the faked death and attempted recovery is usual in these circumstances, the fact that she wants people to write fan fiction in her honour where Lex Luthor impregnates Clark Kent isn't. :insane:

  21. O Maria, Maria! πŸ˜€ Mik, I also want to know how do you manage to do this stuff? Excellent post, I also have to say.

  22. Great post, Mik. I've never given this much thought. I missed the Kite Geek thing, but I have witnessed some other attention seekers. It's amazing what some people will do just to get attention. Not to mention the amount of time some seem to put into it!

  23. Some of them are ill, others like to play silly buggers with people. I suppose everyone's got a hobby. My problem with these things is that they can tear communities apart. People start not trusting others just in case.

  24. Of course, I'm obviously Kim with her fake beard drawn on. Using photoshop on our phones we managed to make it look like we were together. πŸ™„

Have Your Say:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s