5 warning signs of a fake identity: Internet Scambusters #973
Not everyone is who they say they are. And the impostors are not all after your money.
They may use a fake identity to stir up trouble or to attract sympathy in online support groups, or to pretend they belong to a different ethnic or other interest group.
The Internet has made them more numerous and more difficult to spot but we do have a few clues for you in this week's issue.
Let's get started…
Don't Get Abused By Attention Seekers' Fake Identity
A weird type of identity faking is sweeping the Internet. People are lying about themselves, not for financial gain but to win sympathy or kudos.
They may claim to have been involved in some sort of tragedy -- for example, they have cancer or they're a disaster survivor. Or, as documented in recent cases, they may pass themselves off as belonging to a particular racial or ethnic group when they don't.
You may not be duped into handing over money as happens in an impostor scam where crooks pretend to be someone they're not, such as police or a government official. But their stories may profoundly upset you or they may trick you into playing a part in their charade, which could damage your own reputation.
This behavior has become so common because of the widespread use of the Internet, particularly social media, it's earned its own name -- fake identity syndrome.
In the case of invented illnesses and injuries, it's known as "Munchausen-by-Internet." This refers to the medical condition where people talk and act as though their invented symptoms are genuine.
(Munchausen was an 18th century German baron noted for his outrageous tall tales.)
The motives of these identity hoaxers vary but they're mostly either an attempt to win sympathy or a desire to be someone other than who they really are. However, in some Munchausen cases, says the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR), the aim is purely to disrupt support groups in the way that Internet trolls do, cruelly for pure entertainment.
The tricksters use these Internet support groups to build their stories and in other cases online forums where they can project their chosen identity and, in some cases, claim a totally fictitious level of expertise.
"What is particularly worrying is the ease with which the deception can be carried out online, the difficulty in detection, and the damaging impact and potential danger to isolated victims," says JMIR.
It's like a personal and perverse type of fake news. Instead of making up stories about others, they create them for themselves, hoping others will give them the support and attention they crave.
There have been several recent high-profile examples: a white, Jewish professor who claimed to be black, the American wife of a well-known celebrity who suggested she was Spanish, a Detroit man pretending he was thrown out of Cuba, and a man who posted on Facebook that his pregnant wife had died in a crash while her baby was saved and another child in the family had cancer. All untrue.
Others claim fictitious military heroism or surviving the 9/11 tragedy. People have even published entirely untrue biographies of themselves and their supposed experiences. They lead double lives.
For these people, the Internet is a boon. Psychiatrist Professor Marc Feldman of the University of Alabama says that, in the past, people needed to be much more convincing for face-to-face identity faking.
"Now all you have to do is sit at home in your pajamas and click into a support group and make up a story," he told a TV station. As a result, he says, faking sickness has become more common than ever.
In fact, discovery and exposure of fakers is probably just the tip of an iceberg since, according to Feldman, most people get away with their scam. They're never discovered. Many of us may know people whose false stories and claims we believe without question.
Damage occurs when these tales prompt us to send money, alter our behavior, or spend needless time worrying about the storytellers.
Can You Spot Them?
But spotting them can be a challenge. While it's often possible to suspect someone's expressions and body language suggest they're lying, you generally can't see this behavior on the Internet.
There are, however, a few behaviors to look out for that might signal a faker:
- Small details of a story change between each telling.
- New, important "facts" are introduced that haven't previously been mentioned.
- Replies to questions are often vague.
- The story involves a drama that you find hard to believe and in which the teller is either the hero or a victim.
- The individual seems to have been involved in more than one of these events or dramas.
As always, we encourage readers to be skeptical when these behaviors show up or when facts simply don't seem to fit with a picture that is being painted
Think twice if you plan to donate money to, forward a post by, or offer your personal support to someone whose dramatic claims you haven't been able to confirm and who may be just the purveyor of another fake identity.
Alert of the Week
Refund checks are being mailed out to consumers who bought supposed anti-aging pills called ReJuvenation, after action by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
If you bought these pills and haven't received your refund yet, stake your claim at ftc.gov/rejuvenation. You have until August 31.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.