Wednesday, January 11, 2006


While I'm tinkering with the blog, and we're getting bombarded by stories of liars in print, here's something vaguely related the latter that I've been pondering:

Shrinks tell us that when you're face-to-face with someone, changes in the other person's body language, eye movements, vocal intonations and even skin color and dampness are all signs that the other person is lying to you.

You can't see anything of these things in cyberspace, of course, unless you're into that whole webcam business. Assuming you're not, how can you tell when someone on the internet is lying to you?


  1. Anonymous6:28 AM

    Usually it's a Nigerian General who wants to give me $31,000,000,000 if I will just send him my bank details.... 8-)

    I found this link a while ago. It's the website of someone who tried to get his own back on a Nigerian scammer. The fake name and passport are excellent!


  2. I think everyone lies a little all the time, not maliciously or deliberately, but in the things they don't say, or in the way they chose to present themselves. This much is life.

    The big lies, the intentional attempts to deceive, are a different matter. Then we're left only with common sense and experience. The Nigerian scam is well-known, and yet still catches a lot of people, I suspect. Recently I've been bombarded by emails allegedly from Halifax Building Society, asking me to re-enter all my personal details. I don't have an account with them, and the email is so badly written it's not difficult for me to see the scam, but again, many, many people fall for it.

    The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, as I believe one of your presidents said (and it's a pity the latest encumbent hasn't taken that on board). I like to think the best of most people, particularly bloggers who are just looking to express their opinions. If they are lying, it doesn't really affect me. The purveyors of snake oil, offerers of publishing deals 'for a nominal outlay' and all the other charlatans I try my best to ignore.

    If it's too good to be true, it's probably a lie.

  3. Online I think it's in the words, the way concepts are expressed. You can get vibes from the way someone writes.

    I am usually wary of minor inconsistencies in statements or seemingly erratic behavior--either written accounts of events or actual online actions.


  4. Anonymous8:06 AM

    The first thing that came to mind when reading this entry was LiveJournal. Not long ago, a girl claimed her cat had been set on fire; people sent her thousands of dollars before a friend finally revealed her. The friend called all the vet clinics in town and found that none had the cat. She spent days making phone calls and doing some further investigation, and finally the original poster admitted she'd made up the whole thing. (Even then, she continued to lie about her motives.)

    Also recently, another female claimed to have been in a near-fatal car accident; she wrote about the details of her hospital stay, going so far as to scan in her hospital bracelet and ask the doctor to write an entry. In this case, many of us were able to recognize the falsehood, because some of the medical information she presented was flat-out wrong. The entry supposedly typed in by the doctor sealed it: if her doctor truly had posted that, it would have violated HIPAA laws. Not to mention it contained medical inaccuracies and just sounded fake.

    One of this person's friends called the hospital - and other hospitals - and all denied that OP was a patient. She did an online image search, and found that the hospital bracelet "scan" was actually a manipulation of someone else's previously posted image. And when she searched medical databases for the doctor's name? Nada. There is no licensed physician with that name anywhere in America.

    How can I tell if someone is lying? Well, too much detail, odd language, and "sounding fake" can make me suspicious, but I'm not ready to call someone a liar on that alone. I need something more concrete: factual errors, inconsistencies, claims that can be checked.

  5. Anonymous8:33 AM

    You can't. Though you can be suspicious of the anything with the shape of the standard con:

    [highly circumstantial account of something][prospect of reward for you][trivial by comparison request]

  6. Anonymous8:42 AM

    99% of the e-mails that hit my junk folder are lies - I don't think twice about the dozens of lotteries I've won, the Nigerian general (or some other person) who wants to give me money for safe-keeping, PayPal needing an update to my information (they might want my information in the first place), eBay threatening (for 6 months) to delete my supposed account, etc. It's pretty easy to tell the lies there, just because it's too good to believe (or I don't have an account, or a copy of the links into Notepad doesn't match the text - things like that).

    In a blog, though, it isn't as obvious all the time. It's entirely possible that people are always lying. Really, though, I think the same cues are there: sentences that don't quite work (and don't match the way they normally write), too much detail, images you really have to question (why in the world would someone post a picture of their hospital bracelet?), and those that are blatantly looking for monetary compensation via sympathy.

    And, sometimes, you just know.

  7. Anonymous9:00 AM

    If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If that miracle product works so well, why is it being sold through barely literate spam?

    You can't cheat an honest person. All those Nigerian generals freely admit that they stole the money in the first place.

    Incredible claims require incredible evidence. House fires, car accidents, and other personal disasters leave trails in the form of police and fire department records, hospital records, news articles, etc. If it can't be independently verified, it probably didn't happen.

  8. Anonymous9:42 AM

    I guess I am just a cynic, but unless it is someone that I have found to be on the up and up over a period of time or I know personally, I tend to not believe it. Especially when they want to give me something of value for nothing. How many of you have received all that money or dinners at resturants for just forwarding the message on to a specified numbers of friends.

  9. I tend to take people at their word, unless they want something from me.

    Then again, some things trip my suspicions--grandiose claims, exaggerated stories of victimization.

    This applies more to blogs and discussion boards, which are somewhat personable, and not at all to what shows up from strangers in my e-mail...

  10. Anonymous11:26 AM

    "Click here to order now" is normally all the evidence I need ... ;-)

  11. Its the emoticons. Those :) are 8P are letting me know they have to stomp the feeling on their words, which might not have been all that sincere if they're not true.

    But I wouldn't know anything about that. ;D

  12. I don't know if you can always tell, but the first clue is whether or not the person stands to gain anything by your believing their story: money, sympathy, web traffic, whatever.

    After that, I generally consider that I'm making an investment; of time or money for example, and act accordingly.

  13. In my day job, I work with various journalists, tv producers, documentary writers, etc. I screen media requests very carefully to look for preconceived negative bias, flimsy focus, way-too-out-there stuff, etc. My gut instinct is good, but in phone conversations or email, when I've asked specific questions or voiced concerns, I "listen" for the degree of pomposity in the reply or the degree to which someone tries to intimidate me with their reputation, connections, what they can do for me, etc. These can be so telling.

  14. Anonymous1:17 PM

    I'll tell you first:)

  15. Anonymous2:42 PM

    Inconsistencies, mostly, but sometimes people believe what they say even though it's obviously not true. Those I mostly feel sorry for.

    It's the I'm so perfect, blah blah blah's that get to me. Perfect life, perfect body, perfect hair, perfect kids, car, house, bank account... everything, untarnished and sparkling.

    If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

  16. I don't tend to trust many people--period. If I'm speaking with someone in person, I watch for eye cues. If they're constantly looking down and to the left, I mentally put on my 'boots' so that my feet don't get dirty from all the crap. *ggg*

  17. I've worked on the Interwebs long enough by now that I doubt anything anyone says without knowing them or a half-zillion accredited sources.

    In my early days, I did a lot of debate on the Net. It was not uncommon to catch particularly idiotic being their own cheerleaders under assumed names and emails. Pretty much that's a matter of checking IPs and posting times, grammar and spelling, and so on. A bit like studying handwriting to detect forgery. People who can't determine its from it's and their from there will probably make that mistake no matter what name they sign in on.

    And there are lying patterns that instantly send up flags in my head. You wouldn't believe how many times people have handed me the line that either a) Their account was hacked! It wasn't them! or b) Their little brother did it!

    Silly little brothers.

    Several years ago I had to deal with a schizophrenic ex-convict who started out a charmer, and ended up threatening the life of myself and several friends. He ultimately violated his probation by going to a different state, got pulled over on a routine traffic violation, and committed suicide in his car. But I didn't believe claims of his demise until I found the obituary in the online newspaper.

    Experiences like that tend to make one very wary, very skeptical, and every unwilling to make netbuddies anything more than cautious friends. I don't give out my phone number, I don't invite them to stay at my house, and I don't meet them anywhere but public places. It's just too easy for the nutjobs to appear normal online.

  18. Also, I am typo city today. My apologies. That's what I get for writing this while working on something else :)

    But I should also mention that people who conveniently have bad things happen every time the spotlight swings away from them...? Another big, fat red flag.

  19. My mom watches Judge Judy every day. One thing she says that makes total sense is that if what the person is saying doesn't make sense, it's not true. That's one way because it doesn't rely on body language or other cues you don't have online.

    And I hope the poster above doesn't hold my smiley face against me. I always end posts on forums and in blog comments with a smiley face just because I'm generally a smiley person and you can't see that. :)


  20. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. In fact, I find people are often *too* honest on the internet. There's that whole computer buffer zone where folks feel like they can say any and everything, damn the consequences.



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