Melanie Eversley, USA TODAY
Hundreds of Facebook users were duped for years by an Internet imposter who posed as a young man battling leukemia and his younger brother, who both collected online girlfriends and raised sympathy for cancer causes, according to the Miami Herald.
Cindy Choi, 28, a restaurant owner from Doral, Fla., concocted the scam in which she posed as a young man named Kevin San Roman, who purportedly lived in Spain and battled leukemia for three years, and Kevin's younger brother, Lucas, the Herald reports.
A Facebook page chronicling the lives of the brothers attracted hundreds of friends from the Miami area, according to the news organization. Several teens became their online girlfriends, talking by text and phone and planning to meet in person, the Herald reports.
Photos of purported family members were stolen from the Internet, authorities told the Herald.
The scam was discovered after a suspicious teacher whose daughter had fallen for Lucas, the purported younger brother, alerted police, the Herald reports.
"These predators are using Facebook and getting away with it," the Herald quotes Maria Masters, 49, as saying. Masters' daughter became embroiled in the scam.
"Your kid may think they know someone, but if they haven't met them in person, they may not exist," Masters told the Herald.
"Lucas" engaged Masters' daughter, Kaitlin, now 19, in an online relationship, speaking to her frequently by telephone. Time and again, something tragic happened each time Lucas was due to visit Miami.
Kaitlin told Lucas her mother was suspicious and asked him to call and reassure her. Within minutes, a blog and Facebook pages associated with the family vanished.
Of Choi, Doral detective Yvette Gomez wrote in an e-mail to Masters, "She is a very disturbed person."
Experts told the Herald that Choi most likely suffers from Munchausen disorder, in which people create illnesses to attract attention.
"The real motive is attention and sympathy over the power of others," Marc Feldman, a University of Alabama psychiatrist who coined the phrase 'Munchausen by Internet',' told the Herald.
"It does sound sadistic and predatory."