Munchausen by Internet: Faking Illness Online

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This is a general FYI for the membership. Unfortunately, I have witnessed at least one case of this on BB's VNS Message Board. I hope this never happens here, but it is good for everyone to be aware that this happens and not to get too emotionally tied up in forum drama.

wikipedia said:
Munchausen syndrome is a psychiatric disorder in which those affected feign disease, illness, or psychological trauma in order to draw attention or sympathy to themselves. It is in a class of disorders known as factitious disorders which involve "illnesses" whose symptoms are either self-induced or falsified by the patient.

Münchausen syndrome

Marc D. Feldman said:
Munchausen by Internet

For decades, physicians have known about so-called factitious disorder, better known in its severe form as Munchausen syndrome (Feldman & Ford, 1995). Here, people willfully fake or produce illness to command attention, obtain lenience, act out anger, or control others. Though feeling well, they may bound into hospitals, crying out or clutching their chests with dramatic flair. Once admitted, they send the staff on one medical goose chase after another. If suspicions are raised or the ruse is uncovered, they quickly move on to a new hospital, town, state, or in the worst cases — country. Like traveling performers, they simply play their role again. I coined the terms "virtual factitious disorder" (Feldman, Bibby, & Crites, 1998) and "Munchausen by Internet" (Feldman, 2000) to refer to people who simplify this "real-life" process by carrying out their deceptions online. Instead of seeking care at numerous hospitals, they gain new audiences merely by clicking from one support group to another. Under the guise of illness, they can also join multiple groups simultaneously. Using different names and accounts, they can even sign on to one group as a stricken patient, his frantic mother, and his distraught son all to make the ruse utterly convincing.

Clues to Detection of False Claims

Based on experience with two dozen cases of Munchausen by Internet, I have arrived at a list of clues to the detection of factititous Internet claims. The most important follow:
  • the posts consistently duplicate material in other posts, in books, or on health-related websites;
  • the characteristics of the supposed illness emerge as caricatures;
  • near-fatal bouts of illness alternate with miraculous recoveries;
  • claims are fantastic, contradicted by subsequent posts, or flatly disproved;
  • there are continual dramatic events in the person's life, especially when other group members have become the focus of attention;
  • there is feigned blitheness about crises (e.g., going into septic shock) that will predictably attract immediate attention;
  • others apparently posting on behalf of the individual (e.g., family members, friends) have identical patterns of writing.


Perhaps the most important lesson is that, while most people visiting support groups are honest, all members must balance empathy with circumspection. Group members should be especially careful about basing their own health care decisions on uncorroborated information supplied in groups. When Munchausen by Internet seems likely, it is best to have a small number of established members gently, empathically, and privately question the author of the dubious posts. Even though the typical response is vehement denial regardless of the strength of the evidence, the author typically will eventually disappear from the group. Remaining members may need to enlist help in processing their feelings, ending any bickering or blaming, and refocusing the group on its original laudable goal.

Munchausen by Internet: Faking Illness Online
Several things I've found and discovered on
the Internet:

People that are lonely and that are craving for
attention, wanting sympathies, the spotlight,
focus on themselves.

If competition comes in - they will become furious
and livid and will attempt to "outplay" my illness &
disease & sickness" is worse than yours - right there
in the forums.

Then there's a NEW TREND RUNNING since late
2004 - taking those who are really ill, dying (or
are deceased), terminally ill - and making a sport
of such and running off and gossiping and thus,
making "mountains out of molehills" or "making
the situation far worse than it is".

It's really sad. Such people have way too much
free time in their own hands.
This syndrome is just RIPE for the internet. These people can move from forum to forum at an alarming pace creating multi personas.

This is where common sense, and some knowlege of human behavor is necessarry.
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I think after a few posts from someone who plays out illnesses like this can be spotted relatively quickly. People with a disorder like epilepsy usually have researched it enough to know some in depth topics about it. I guess some of these people probably have research it just to sound more knowledgeable but most of them can probably be spotted pretty quick. Its kinda sad to see someone stoop to that level. But like it was stated, Munchausen Syndrome is a disorder as well and they should be given direction too.

I think Dr's are trained to spot this nowadays. When I went in to see my neurologist she asked me if I bit my tongue and I said yes I did. She then asked me where I bit it and I told her I bit the sides of the tongue. She then explained that people who fake seizures for attention will bite there tongues in the middle. I was at first offended but then saw it as a necessary question to ask.
Dr. Phil had a show on this topic yesterday afternoon. Spotting people with this disorder is not easy for the casual observer. Munchausen is very difficult to treat because these people are in denial and don't recognize their behavor as unusual.

They are very knowable with the medical jargon, are very involved with medical people and treatment. Usually the hospital staffers are impressed with these people because they are so sincere!

It is a sickness of the very core of that person.
I just went to dr phills webpage and read about tracy who would make her child sick ... thats so sad.... the poor baby...:(

love angel
I don't know how much good it would do, but it would probably be a good idea to let the person know that you think they have Munchausen disorder (sp??)

They probably wouldn't want to hear it, but may research it and maybe recognize themselves eventually and maybe even get help for it. Who knows. But it would definitely be the right thing to do rather than just to snub them.

I know if I recognized someone doing this it would make me mad, ...but realizing it is a mental disorder.... well, it means they need help. All I could do is point it out, but that is better than nothing.
I don't know how much good it would do, but it would probably be a good idea to let the person know that you think they have Munchausen disorder (sp??)

They probably wouldn't want to hear it, but may research it and maybe recognize themselves eventually and maybe even get help for it. Who knows. But it would definitely be the right thing to do rather than just to snub them.

I know if I recognized someone doing this it would make me mad, ...but realizing it is a mental disorder.... well, it means they need help. All I could do is point it out, but that is better than nothing.

Sometimes it's best to leave things unsaid.
If such person confronts you; and You're busy,
then state you're busy or if you're not, then
just state you're not available at this moment.

Many times these people just likes to do this
because they like the "attention" they receive
from it. The "woe is me" type and the "pity parties"
aka sympathies they receive in return.

Then you have people who have issues that
are ever-growing. Remember, keep in mind, we're
discussing those who are faking these things, not
of those who are genuinely ill.

Then there are others when offered assistance,
they fight, argue, and it goes on and on and on,
and it becomes futile to detail with such party.

So as originally as I posted in the beginning,
it's best left unsaid and to leave them alone,
there's no way to come across or to deal with
them; for they will merely run off and find some
other people who have the time to listen to them
until they're tired of them, and it goes on and on
into circles.

There are ways to tell apart a person who's for
real and who's faking it online, but it can be
tricky, because some people are just shy. It took
me a long time to overcome my shyness and to
be more open.

I've been "accused" of being a fake; until people
saw my Medical Records, not one or two - but
quite a few, and not just current, but various
years - just to specific individuals whom I could
trust to be my line of fire in defense. Only a
handful (about 9 people - excluding the Medical
Doctors) have seen them, almost all of them
were sent via email. I rarely ever posted them
online via .jpeg, but when I did, it was only a
few; but only a partial excerpts and not as a
whole, because I do not trust the internet as
it is not like it was years ago - too many crazy
people out there.

And on the FINAL NOTE:

There are people who are in "COMPETITION"
with each other. Strange, but true. I find this the
most weirdest form, as we know the old adage
of "Keeping up with the Joneses" but this has
gone extreme. And it's usually between 2 or 3
individuals; and you'll know it, and you'll usually
find them in "live chat forums" ~ trying to outdo
each other.


If I had all that they had I would have been dead
4+ years ago, and yet, they're still at it - I DO
lurk, because I find them quite amusing and
entertaining and they make me laugh so hard,
and I know it's not funny ... but ....

The DSM-IV, the U.S. standard reference for psychiatry, includes Munchausen syndrome among its list of over 300 different manifestations of mental illness.
(I got this from

And according to

"The exact cause of Munchausen syndrome is not known, but researchers believe both biological and psychological factors play a role in the development of this syndrome. Some theories suggest that a history of abuse or neglect as a child, or a history of frequent illnesses requiring hospitalization might be factors associated with the development of this syndrome. Researchers also are studying the possible link with personality disorders, which are common in individuals with Munchausen syndrome."

Knowing this is a real mental illness doesn't mean we need to accept the behavior of the individual. But it helps me to not be so mad at these people.

I think you probably are right that it is better not to confront these individuals though.:agree:
The DSM-IV, the U.S. standard reference for psychiatry, includes Munchausen syndrome among its list of over 300 different manifestations of mental illness.
(I got this from

Thanks for sharing that but .....

Whoa! Some of those listed in the Psychiatry
300+ list of different manifestation of 'mental
illness' - quite a few of them are NEUROLOGICAL!

I am not amused with that list at all.

Asperger's, Down's, Tourette's, etc are not
Mental Illness - for example; and can be recorded
on EEG's - in fact Asperger's is closely tied to
Epilepsy & Angelman's. And they're currently
finding connections between the two and two.
(Not to mention CT, MRI, FDG, and other Scans
and Tests of validity and outward physical evidence.)

I have a friend who has Tourette's and she in
absolutely no way has any mental illness except
that Tourette's tic that she was born with (birth
defect) and is a NEUROLOGICAL condition.

They need to start separating the Psychiatry
and Neurology in separate Departments. I'm

To me; it's like putting Cardiology Department
into the Oncology Department. Just because
the two and two can be associated to a degree
doesn't mean you have to hammer the entire
case into one Department.

While Neurology involves with the Neuroscience,
Nerves, Brain, Head, etc. Likewise Psychiatry
revolves with the Mind - but gee whiz, gimme a
break here.

(Please do not post or PM me asking me what
I would like broken? - :lol:)

I think my neighbor has Munchousens by Proxy (spelled wrong I'm sure) But seriously she takes her kid to the hospital for "imagined" illnesses on a weekly basis. Extremely weird. I've never heard of the "internet" form of this disease. OMG. How strange. Thanks for alerting me. s-j
Munchausen and munchausen by proxy is about more than just 'imagined' illness. If your neighbour is constantly taking her kid to the hospital or doctor because she thinks or imagines that her son/daughter has an illness then that is hypochondria. A hypochondriac fully believes they or their loved ones have a certain illness and they are not necessarily (as in the case of munchausen/munchausen by proxy) doing it for attention. Some don't even go for medical treatment because they worry about what people will think of them, but they just sit at home and worry. A person with Munchausen or munchausen by proxy feeds of the attention of others. They will put themselves or their child through intrusive and even painful testing and procedures, not to get out of work or to commit fraud, but that they may gain the sympathy and attention of family, friends and others. If you suspect your neighbour has munchausen by proxy then you need to report her to the child protective services in your area because whilst it is a mental illness it is also a serious form of abuse.
This thread reminds me of a situation I'm going through right now with another smaller, very private board that I'm a member of.

There was a member several months ago that we banned (the ONLY member we ever banned) because she just caused too much drama. Just by her posts and the things she said, we were pretty sure she had borderline personality disorder. She just caused too much hate and discontent on the board. She would also get on and post all the time about how she had issues cutting herself, and that she needed help. She would message members privately, seeking sympathy. Well a few weeks after she got banned, there was a "new" member, and her posts just didn't jive with me. I could tell just by her writing style, attitude, and by some of the topics she brought up, that it was that same member we banned. She was using more ip addresses then Carter had pills but after running them, knew for sure it was her. This time instead of cutting herself all the time, she begged for help with her heroin problem. She kept saying she was pregnant and couldn't stop the H. So of course, we banned her again, especially since we couldn't believe anything she said.

Well I just knew she would be back, and I was right. She rejoined again not that long ago. It only took a few days of her posting for me to realize who it was, even though she tried to make herself sound different. She also got caught in a few lies. For instance, she said she was 20 yrs old, but in a post said she voted for Bush in the last election. Just didn't add up. This time instead of confronting her directly, we gave subtle hints, which really messed with her. She finally messaged another mod and confessed everything. She said she didn't know what was wrong with her, that she had a loving husband and beautiful baby but that she hated people yet at the same time was desperate to make friends and be a part of something. Now that, I believe. Call us a group of suckers, but we decided to give her the option to make a public apology to the entire board, since she lied to all the members, and she needed to explain to everyone what she did. Because there are newer people there that think she's somebody she's not. If she does that, we'll let her rejoin and start fresh and hope this was a learning experience for her. I actually feel really sorry for her, I just hope she learned what it means to play nice. But this is her last chance.

Just goes to show, there are definitely people out there that fake issues for attention (and that other board isn't even a medical board, just a group of moms), and it's really not all that hard to weed out the "fakes" if you watch closely enough. People's words have a personality of their own.
I think that if you decided to give her another chance after she apologizes to everyone, and since you all recognize that she has a mental illness of some sort,...

then if/when she starts to do anything like that again (or you even slightly suspect) you should immediately confront her and point out to her (and other members at the same time) what she is doing.

If she immediately stops and apologizes, then fine. Since you decided to accept her knowing her problems, and if the rest of the group is ok with this, then in my opinion as long as she will stop and apologize immediately and if it isn't a disruption to your group, then it could work out.
It's not working out at all. She never did come back and apologize to everyone, she just went away and said nothing else. But all the sudden we have this influx of new members with intro posts that seem "different" all of the sudden - either they're very vague one-sentenced posts, or it's something that sounds very contrived. I feel like we're dealing with a psychopath or something. At this point we're not adding anymore new members until we get it sorted out. :ponder:
Troll, Munchausen or stalker... all different sides of the same coin IMO. :soap: that right!

As Mr B can verify, I've been dealing with one of the sickest trolls lurking the E sites for 4 years! These sick people just don't get it.

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