This afternoon I posted a warning on the journal post concerning the supposed story of a 10 week old dying in a friend's care over the weekend in which the mother came directly online (did not pass go, did not collet 200 dollars) and relayed the tragic story. Anyone who cried fowl (and I do mean big fat turkey) had their posts immediately deleted while the said poster was supposed to be offline making funeral arrangments. If that didn't confirm the fish story what would? Well apparantly there was still an outpouring of sympathy even though the poster wasn't even supposed to be online in the first place.
So how can you not be gullible? First, one must know the perptrator and what they look for. I've been on the Internet for more than a dozen years and I've seen all this before and it plays out the same way. There is always a pattern. It isn't always about money (sometimes it is) mostly it is about being the center of attention and gathering up a following.
Identify the Nature of the Attention Hound
1. They are nearly always new members. A tragedy relayed to the public board at large within a few weeks of posting is the first sign of a fish story.
2. They seek boards in which the population is trusting and always forthcoming with the virtual hugs and sympathy and prayers. In other words, an atmosphere of nearly blind trust. It is much easier to infiltrate an enormous loose community like Cafemom than it is to wheedle one's way into a private group of a closeknit community.
3. They always say that the Internet is how they are "making it through" and that it is the "only thing keeping them together" and that "without the support of all the people they would be a mess"
4. They will claim to be "gone" to take care of whatever situation it is they are claiming, but they are active elsewhere and clearly online and posting in another place.
5. They seem to have Internet connections in the strangest places. Internet connection in the hospital, for example, or the house of their sister's cousin's father's former roomate.
6. Mysterious "relatives" seem to pop up to defend them and use the same IP address or the same username and claim that so-and-so gave it to them and "OMG all this stress and negativity is causing her to have a stroke."
7. They take on the guise of the sweet and innocent but tragic life. Something is always going wrong. They join a lot of groups and post nice things though never enough to really get to know them, but just enough to get a small backstory going. Some even go so far as to post other people's pictures.
8. Their "bad luck" gets progressively worse and worse until it culminates into a death or terminal disease.
9. The non-ameteurs are good. Very good. They are experts in manipulation. They have their stories well planned out with verifying details, pictures carefully chosen, and they first make close, tight knit friends over the course of MONTHS or a YEAR or more to suck them in before dropping the first in a line of tragic events. These people are hard to spot. It is only when a few people start to put two and two together that the story begins to unravel, but not before they are ganged up upon for being so mean to the longstanding member going through such a hard time. Again, a real story is easy to confirm. A web of lies that is well woven is hard to break apart.
10. They use real stories and real emotions to play upon. An attention seeker is more likely to choose death or disease to relay than a story that requires them to keep playing or coming up with new information as time passes. That isn't to say that they don't do so, but death, illness and disease are much more convenient and shocking for that immediate gut reaction. That is what you want from an audience because if given to much time to think there is no effect.
How to Identify a Fish-Story
1. Inconsistency and unbelievability: It can be hard to keep track of the trail of lies that inevitably goes with a fish story. The ameteurs generally do this quite early on. Ages not right. Medical impossibilities. Backtracking.
2. Post tone: A person who has truly gone through something tragic will have a certain tone to their posts, a way of writing, things they say that lend credibility to what they say; and are generally private and not sent to the community at large unless a significant amount of time has gone by. Posts of a lie are contrived, have an eerie balance and have certain elements in this pattern in the present tense: Dear Everyone--Opening sad statment--followed by very vague details--and a closing of 'how am I going to get through this', punctuated by a 'send thoughts/prayers'. A short while later update posts are produced. Real tragic events are nearly always spoken about in the past tense as nearly all of the time it is hard for the person to talk about it and a significant amount of time has passed since the event.
3. Online Activity: Pay attention to when events are supposed to have occured and see if they are possible. If the person is supposed to be in the hospital why are they posting on a thread on a similar site? The reality is that these people are members of multiple boards and don't think they are known.
4. Newspapers and Funerals: Any tragic accident is going to be in the local paper. If there is a death there will be funeral arrangments or a funeral announcement. There was one incident I witnessed in which the story was so good and the member a LONG TIME member made up a story and when someone took up a collection and tried to send flowers the fake story's cover was blown.
5. Passwords: Who gives their online password on their deathbed to their sisterunclemothercousinunclebrother just to come online to post a defense or to relay tragic information updates every half an hour!? No one except liars. There was one real story that I remember on another community in which a husband logged in to relay information several days after the fact under his own name becaues he knew the community (he knew his wife spent a lot of time there) and wanted to say thank you for the letters and flowers. The truth of the story had already been confirmed.
6. Recycled stories: It is not unusual for people to use stories they have read on the Internet or in a book and change a few details. When a prolific community memember or prolific reader says they have seen the story or picture somewhere before, you may want to consider the possibility.