It seems such hoaxers are common, and they tell their stories with such convincing details that other people are completely taken in, to the extent of sending money and gifts and giving regular emotional support.
What on earth possesses people to carry out such deliberate frauds on the unsuspecting public and feel no guilt or shame at what they are doing? Are they simply desperate for attention? Do they enjoy portraying themselves as embattled victims? Do they just like the idea of fooling gullible people? Whatever the motive, they are cynically exploiting our trust in the genuineness of onliners, whom we assume to be telling the truth unless we discover otherwise.
The syndrome has been named "Munchausen by internet" after those individuals who pester health services with imaginary but cleverly-faked illnesses that call for extensive treatments and hospital admissions.
One woman called Cara, on the American west coast, conned her internet visitors that she had cancer, HIV, anorexia and heart problems. She posted pictures wearing an oxygen mask and feeding tube, and a video in which she struggled to speak. She was eventually rumbled, and vanished.
Many women fake pregnancy and childbirth, stealing ultrasound pictures and baby photos, and even using ultra-realistic dolls.
But even if the motive is attention-seeking, it's a very convoluted and laborious way of doing it. Why not just get onto a bus and start ranting and raving? Why not just go out in fancy dress? Why go to such ridiculous lengths, and why the need for such bare-faced deceit?
* Information from the Macmillan online cancer forum, which "Anna" joined.
PS: I've had a complaint that I haven't sufficiently acknowledged the BBC article by Jolyon Jenkins which is the source of much of the information above. I freely admit to having reused information from his article, I'm very happy to explicitly acknowledge him as the source, and I'm sorry if he got the impression the post was entirely my own work.
I also freely admit that I lift material from all sorts of media sources, as do bloggers generally, but I hope I don't give the impression that it's based on personal research. Where I use outside material, I always link to the original source, though I accept this may not be seen as explicit enough.