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Anyone following her updates online could see that Mandy Wilson had been having a terrible few years. She was diagnosed with leukaemia at 37, shortly after her husband abandoned her to bring up their five-year-old daughter and baby son on her own. Chemotherapy damaged her immune system, liver and heart so badly she eventually had a stroke and went into a coma. She spent weeks recovering in intensive care where nurses treated her roughly, leaving her covered in bruises.

Mandy was frightened and vulnerable, but she wasn't alone. As she suffered at home in Australia, women offered their support throughout America, Britain, New Zealand and Canada. She'd been posting on a website called Connected Moms, a paid online community for mothers, and its members were following every detail of her progress – through updates posted by Mandy herself, and also by Gemma, Sophie, Pete and Janet, Mandy's real-life friends, who'd pass on news whenever she was too weak. The virtual community rallied round through three painful years of surgeries, seizures and life-threatening infections. Until March this year, when one of them discovered Mandy wasn't sick at all. Gemma, Sophie, Pete and Janet had never existed. Mandy had made up the whole story.

Mandy is one of a growing number of people who pretend to suffer illness and trauma to get sympathy from online support groups.

via The Guardian.

Jeanette Navarro is one of the few fakers who's prepared to talk about what she did. She's 24 and runs an online business from her home in the Philippines. She describes herself as an outcast, alienated from her family, with few friends. Jeanette does have a real medical condition – a rare autoimmune deficiency – but when she joined a worldwide online support group for fellow patients in 2008, she found herself exaggerating her symptoms and fabricating other personas to draw attention to herself.

"I was good at first. I didn't lie then," she says. "Everyone felt for me. Everyone was very sympathetic. It felt wonderful." Somewhere along the way, she says, she got "lost" amid the affection the group showed her. "I have never felt more loved and cared for in my entire life. I suddenly craved everyone's attention." After two months, she fell genuinely ill and took a break from the site for couple of weeks. "When I went back online, I found people were looking for me. That's when I posted as another person and told the group Jeanette was in a coma."

Her first lie was met with a deluge of compassion. Jeanette became intoxicated. "It made me feel so good, spending time with people who genuinely cared for me, even if they didn't know I was a fake." Once Jeanette started to lie, she found she couldn't stop. She'd spend 15-20 hours online a day, answering the 50 or so emails that arrived from concerned well-wishers, and ultimately invented five different characters to embellish and sustain the deception if attention moved away from her.