Internet dating a web of deceit

When the symptoms of another person, such as a child or an elderly parent, are purposely induced by the caregiver, it is called factitious disorder imposed on another, or Munchausen syndrome by proxy.Feldman noted that the advent of online support groups, combined with access to vast stores of medical information, enabled individuals seeking to gain sympathy by relating a series of harrowing medical or psychological problems that defy comprehension to misuse the groups.The observations of each fraud examiner, drawn from years of practical experience, provide readers with invaluable perspectives, many of which have never before been conveyed publicly.An absolute must-read book for anyone considering using Internet dating websites.Frequenting virtual communities that have experience with a medical problem, Feldman notes, is easier than going through the physical pain or illness that would be necessary before visiting a doctor to get the attention sought.By pretending to be gravely ill, Internet users can gain sympathy from a group whose sole reason for existence is support.The names in some categories have been changed to protect the identities of the people involved - but their stories are 100% true.

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The development of factitious disorders in online venues is made easier by the availability of medical literature on the Internet, the anonymous and malleable nature of online identities, and the existence of communication forums established for the sole purpose of giving support to members facing significant health or psychological problems.

Feldman, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, gave a name to the phenomenon in 2000, but he co-authored an article on the topic two years earlier in the Western Journal of Medicine, using the description "virtual factitious disorder".

Factitious disorders are described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV-TR (DSM) as psychological disorders involving the production of non-existent physical or psychological ailments to earn sympathy.

Several high-profile cases have demonstrated behavior patterns which are common among those who pose as gravely ill or as victims of violence, or whose deaths are announced to online forums.

The virtual communities that were created to give support, as well as general non-medical communities, often express genuine sympathy and grief for the purported victims.

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