People online are faking illnesses for sympathy and money -- here's how to spot them

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How to Protect Yourself from a Virtual Scam

Tracy Dart was a hero in her Washington State hometown. She helped raise more than $414,000 for Susan G. Komen for the Cure while battling cancer multiple times — or so she led people to believe.
Years later, those who supported her were shocked to learn Dart never actually had cancer.

While this may seem unusual, Dart's story is far from unique. The Internet is full of tales of people suffering devastating situations or illnesses — and some are completely fake.

Taryn Harper Wright has dedicated her life to sniffing out the fakers. She is the woman behind the Warrior Eli Hoax Group, which identifies phony pleas for sympathy and sometimes money. The blog also confirms some stories that may seem made up, such as one about an Idaho father of five seeking unconventional cancer treatment in Mexico.

Wright began the group after debunking the saga of the Dirrs. For 11 years, an Ohio woman created an entire fake family — husband, wife and 11 children, including 5-year-old "Warrior Eli," who suffered from cancer. She also made Facebook pages for the Dirrs' siblings, friends and exes — more than 70 people in total, none of whom actually existed. In May 2012, she killed off Dirr matriarch Dana in a car accident, which ultimately led Internet sleuths like Wright to uncover the real story.

While the "Dirrs" never solicited donations, many online hoaxers ask for money to support their made-up battles. Wright told Chicago's WGN of an Alabama couple with a GoFundMe page asking for $45,000 to help pay medical bills for a number of conditions, including bone cancer, seizures, "rusty blood" and a future lung transplant. (ABC News even covered the story, prompting GoFundMe to remove the couple's page.)

So how do you spot a faker? Wright shared some tips with WGN.

"If you read something and it doesn't really pass the sniff test, and then you sort of look closer at it and Google the medical problem that the person is saying that they have, something will pop up that doesn't make sense — nobody that is faking these things has it 100 percent accurate," she said.

Wright also said to watch out for vagueness. Some of the people she confronted could not provide her with their doctors' names or even the types of cancer from which they supposedly suffered.

"And if it's just constant drama — if they're not talking about their cancer fight, they're talking about someone getting in a head-on crash or a preemie baby dying in the hospital or something," it could also be a sign of a fake, Wright added.

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