This one didn't take place on a public forum, but in private email, so there's a limit to what I can say without infringing my friend (the victim of this fraud)'s privacy. But I suppose I can give you a general sketch impression.
So, my friend's friend, X - also an acquaintance of mine - is supposedly in business. (I say "supposedly" because the details of the company he allegedly owns reek of bullshit to me - but I can't go into details.) My friend got an email last week from X's "assistant" at "work", claiming that she was on the shortlist of people that the assistant should contact if anything happened to X. Apparently he had collapsed at work and was in a coma. But he was also described as being "stable" and in "good condition health-wise". That would be where my alarm bells started ringing, and I promptly spent a few hours with the Merck Manual to check things out.
Here is the Wikipedia entry for coma. It's light on content and not very helpful. The Merck Manual, a major diagnostic manual aimed at doctors, goes into a lot more detail in its article Stupor and Coma.
Notice the list of ailments that can cause coma: apart from trauma and stroke, they include Brain tumor, Drugs and toxins, Infections (meningitis, encephalitis, sepsis) and Metabolic disorders (eg, diabetic ketoacidosis, hepatic coma). Some of these can be immediately discounted - no one would say a person with meningitis in a coma was in "good health"!
Diabetic comas simply do not last that long (days). The impaired blood sugar level is treated and the patient comes round. This would always be the case if a known diabetic collapsed and was taken to hospital promptly. The only time diabetic coma can lead to a long-term coma would be if the person did not receive medical care in time and permanent brain damage sets in - but again, you wouldn't describe a person in this state as in "good health"!
Hepatic comas are caused by very serious liver disease. A person in this state would also not be in "good health".
This only leaves brain tumo(u)rs and drugs & toxins as possible causes. Could someone with a brain tumour advanced enough to cause random collapse and coma also be healthy enough to be running a business? I'm inclined to say no. Drug abuse could well be a possibility (let's face it: business execs have the money and connections to acquire & take all kinds of crap to keep going when working crazy hours), but keep reading for how that one gets discounted...
It gets worse. My friend, quite distressed, emailed the "assistant" to ask for a hospital or other address where she could send flowers. She was told "While cards and gifts would be touching under normal circumstances, they could prove unsettling for him should he experience memory failure." Erm... I read the full text of the two emails together as implying that X knew there was something potentially wrong with him, and had left instructions in case the illness flared up. Even if that implication - that he knew about the illness - is wrong, we are talking about a single condition causing both coma and amnesia together.
Um. There's rather a shortage of those. The Merck Manual article on Amnesia suggests possible causes as traumatic brain injury, degeneration, metabolic disorders, seizure disorders, or psychologic disturbances. Other sources of information are the Australian Better Health Channel and healthAtoZ. I went through each of those one by one.
Leaving aside trauma and progressive deterioration due to aging or Alzheimer's, and ignoring forms of amnesia that are neither retrograde (affecting memory of events that happened) nor global (affecting memory of all events), we're left with seizure activity or migraines. Now, seizures and migraines are things a person would usually know they had, especially if they were serious enough to cause disorienting memory loss, don't you think? So I looked up Seizure disorders to see whether it was possible to have a seizure then go into a coma. The simple answer is no. There's a condition called status epilepticus where someone has a fit and basically does not stop, but it's both very severe and not much like a normal coma. Drug abuse can cause a type of amnesia, but it's very specific, and only retrograde in that you forget what happened while you were intoxicated. (It doesn't make you forget who important people in your life were.)
So... I simply cannot find a real illness that would cause coma and amnesia and not be associated with organic brain damage. Brain tumours could do it, so could strokes, so could being in a major accident that caused brain injury - but nothing where you were previously healthy and just collapse at work. Some serious illnesses like meningitis and encephalitis could do it - but you wouldn't be described as in "good health" in that case! If there is no real illness that could cause this, then my mind says it must be fake.
But it gets worse. My friend managed to find X's postal address that he'd given her once. We checked it out and obtained a phone number. She called the house and asked to speak to X. The housemate said "just a minute" then "I think he's still at work". As I said to Richard "you ring someone's house, ask to speak to the person, their housemate says "just a minute" then "I think he's at work", that means he's probably not in a coma, right?".
Richard asked "Where's he supposed to be in this coma? In the house?"
I said "No, in hospital."
Richard said "Is this a recent thing?".
I replied "No, supposedly it happened last week."
Richard thought for a brief moment, and told me "Then it's fake. Even a useless housemate like Gavin [*] would notice if you were in a coma for a week." Also, when my friend told me the email address X and the "assistant" had used to send the emails, I googled it along with "2007", and discovered that X had managed to make multiple posts to web forums despite being in a coma. The text of some of the posts were cached on Google, and they were apparently perfectly normal posts from him - and not his sockpuppet "assistant" posting on the forum to tell people he was in a coma.
What angers me about this is the sheer level of contempt that X had for my friend. He has totally underestimated her intelligence and resourcefulness, and the resources she has available. Once I had all of the information, it took me less than 5 minutes to discover that, far from being in a coma, he was still making posts on fecking Warcraft forums. But I still had the courtesy to take the time and effort to check up on his story, to make sure I didn't accuse him of lying when it was real.
Why do people play these kind of games? We have no idea what made him do it. They had been close friends, then they hadn't talked for a few weeks, then he pulls this stunt. I've read a lot now about "Munchausen by internet" and attention seeking behaviour on online forums, and I understand that some people find manipulation of real-life people's emotions fun. But I just can't fucking fathom it. It's bad enough when people do it to whole forums, but in private email? Why do that to someone who you previously called a friend?
I have some advice for the internet fake deathers. Go and play with sims. This kind of manipulation is for pixel people, not real ones. Even better, go make some friends in real life that you actually care about, rather than looking for attention online.
One day, you'll be on the receiving end of a prank like this, and it's going to hurt.
[*] Gavin. The stories I could tell about this boy. They include the time the house was on fire, and he was on the phone to his internet girlfriend in the US that he'd never actually met. This was in ye olde days before we all had mobile phones as a routine thing - hell, it was before Richard & I were even a couple! I picked up the phone downstairs to call 999, found he was on a call, and said "the house is on fire, I need to call the fire brigade". He didn't get off the phone. I went upstairs, knocked on the door and yelled at him. Took about 5 minutes for him to get off the damn phone.
Some time later, he came downstairs, most disgruntled to have been forced off the phone even though he'd called the girlie straight back, saw the blackened kitchen and the departing firemen and said "Oh! The house really was on fire!". Yes, and sadly you didn't burn up with it.
I should, perhaps, also mention that the fire was his fault. He left a transparent plastic chopping board on top of the overhead grill. When hiddenpaw put the grill on to make sausages, the chopping board melted and ran through the ventilation slots on the top of the grill. Once the plastic got into the grill itself it caught fire, making horrible sooty choking plastic burning fumes. Niiice.