4 Ways to Spot an Internet Bullshit Artist

I've long been fascinated with Internet fakers: the people who hang around forums and social media sites, vomiting lies out of every orifice like a drunken frat boy who's also possessed by a demon. A few now-defunct communities once cataloged these filthy, filthy liars, but apart from that, Internet fakers really don't get the attention they deserve. And that's weird, because over the years, I've noticed that they share a bunch of bizarre similarities. Like ...

#4. They Often Aren't After Your Money

You've probably heard a lot about Nigerian princes and romance scammers, who for years now have been kindly separating naive computer users from their money. And you've probably also heard of "catfishing," where people pretend to be someone else for the purpose of a fake online relationship, which honestly is almost as bad as a fish pretending to be a cat.

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They don't even have fur! Why won't science listen?

Catfishers and Nigerian princes are bad people, it's true, but at least these scammers are clearly after something: your lonely aunt's money, maybe, or a sexy nude chat session with your unsuspecting grandpa. Other fakers on the Internet have much murkier motives. For a start, there are sickness fakers, people who join online communities devoted to chronic illnesses and chime in with stories of their own fictional sufferings. These fakers can go to extremes: in 2012, a college student admitted she'd pretended to be a man whose son was suffering from kidney cancer, a scam she'd been running for 11 years. Cancer fakers in particular are so widespread on the Internet that one woman who started a cancer blog was befriended by three unconnected women who all turned out to be pretending. Three.

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And you thought it was bad when your friend lied about not using a "sierra" filter on their Instagram lunch photo.

At first glance, these fake-sick weirdos seem like the online version of people like this man, who claimed to have terminal cancer to get donation money. But here's the weird part: a lot of the fake-sick people online aren't after money. That college student with the nonexistent cancer-son? She did collect thousands of dollars in donations ... and they were all forwarded to a legitimate charity. Many other fakers, like the women who scammed the real cancer victim, never ask for money in the first place. On the surface, at least, these people don't seem to be gaining much at all.

Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images
"I've been saving a fuckload on shampoo."

This habit of faking illness for no apparent reason even has a name: Munchausen by Internet. It's thought to be a form of Munchausen Syndrome, a factitious disorder in which patients deceive doctors and loved ones by feigning symptoms of an illness. What exactly causes Munchausen Syndrome is still unknown, but we can all agree that, if nothing else, it allows a person to get all the attention and sympathy that comes with being sick, minus the sucky "being sick" part. Another thing is ...

#3. They Don't Even Try to Make Their Lies Realistic

Personally, if I was going to lie on the Internet, I'd put some effort into it. If I wanted to pretend to be, say, a world-renowned expert in monkeys, I'd buy books on primatology and memorize monkey-related facts and make sure that all the pictures of me holding monkeys in my LinkedIn profile were Photoshopped just right. But apparently I'm in the minority, because most people who decide to start lying on the Internet just don't bother. Take military fakers: guys who pop up on social media claiming past or present military service that only ever happened in their head or on their screen during a particularly devoted Call of Duty session. You'd think they'd take the time to learn some basic military shit, like the thing about how if you're a man in the U.S. military, you usually have to shave your beard before you put on a uniform:

Via Guardian of Valor and Fake Military Via Guardian of Valor and Fake Military
"It's a Sikh religious exemption. A freak windstorm tore off my turban moments before the photo was taken."

Military fakers also inevitably claim to be elite special forces, even though "claims to be elite special forces" is now listed absolutely everywhere as one of the most common warning signs of a fake, and if they really wanted to slip under the radar they'd be better off saying they were a cook. Hell, even if your lie about being a cook was exposed, people would probably at least give you credit for being original.

But choosing the extreme over the mundane is something that Internet fakers in general just can't resist. Sickness fakers, for example, might put a lot of work into memorizing symptoms, but they blow everything by having no sense of restraint. One fake Internet sick person wasn't content to remain a single mother suffering from leukemia: she also announced that she'd picked up a seizure disorder, peritonitis, and was losing body parts to a staph infection. A migraine sufferer soon started claiming to also be a hemophiliac who was defying his abusive parents by skateboarding to medical school every day, despite being 15 years old.

Ting Hoo/Digital Vision/Getty Images
"And this is me after I challenged those terrorists to a skate-off."

Why don't these people even try to keep their lies realistic? I think it's because, for the most part, they don't need to. Most of us don't want to believe that someone we trust is lying to us, so we'll give others the benefit of the doubt. It doesn't help that these people usually start their stories small and then ramp them up later, so by the time their victims do get suspicious about their Internet buddies coming down with cancer of the Ebola while tracking down terrorists during a secret mission in the jungles of Syria, they stay in denial because they don't want to believe they've been fooled.

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C. Coville

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