I Get the Feeling a Friend Is Making Up the Details of His Life -- How Can I Find Out the Truth?
February 2, 2005 3:10 PM   Subscribe

A friend from junior high tracked me down by phone a few years ago (we'd been out of touch for about 15 years), which jump-started our friendship. We’ve never met up again in person (I left our home town years ago), but we stayed in touch via phone calls and email. For various reasons, however, I’ve begun to suspect that I’m being hoaxed in some way. I don't mean that I think this a stranger impersonating my friend, or that I’ve been swindled out of any money or anything. I've just started to get the funny feeling (due to inconsistencies, odd details, explanations that don’t always add up, etc.) that the story I've been given about where they're living, their career (supposedly a high-powered, adventurous one), etc. is just that -- a story that was made up, for some reason, to fool me after all these years.

My amateur detective skills pretty much begin and end with google, however, which has turned up nothing useful. I thought of checking military records (this person claims to have served after college) as a starting point, but I'm a civilian and so can’t access them. Of course I'm wary of the "find out the truth about anyone -- just $39.95!" online ads. Are there any (legitimate) resources I’m overlooking? Any other suggestions with how to deal with what has become an uncomfortable situation?
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (18 answers total)
So look up someone else who knows both of you (maybe any junior high buddy), and ask if your old friend really is who he says he is.

My guess: he's embroidering things a bit, to make himself sound more "successful" because he feels he hasn't done as well in life as he might have.

But, hell, my poodle tells me he's a Mongolian Wolf on his mother's side; I nod and go along because it makes him happy and is no skin off my ass.

(In truth I don't own a poodle, much less a talking fabulist poodle, but I hoped you'd think more of me if I said I did.)
posted by orthogonality at 3:25 PM on February 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

orthogonality's post wins on so many levels.
posted by rafter at 3:46 PM on February 2, 2005

Why is it uncomfortable?

I have a friend who I've stayed in touch with longer than any person aside from family members. I, my wife and other mutual friends are convinced the guy lies like a rug. But damn his stories are entertaining! We've never been able to pin him down on any thing and in the end, we really don't want to -- we are endlessly entertained and he is a good and generous person.
posted by Dick Paris at 3:52 PM on February 2, 2005

IMO, there's quite a difference between not letting the literal truth get in the way of an entertaining story and a full-blown lie about where somebody's career, whereabouts, family, etc. It sounds like anonymous suspects it's the latter -- which, frankly, I would find creepy as all get-out, especially if someone called me up out of the clear blue sky after more than a decade just to tell me. (I dunno -- I just get a Kaycee Nicole vibe from this, even if it's not actually an impersonation situation.)
posted by scody at 4:06 PM on February 2, 2005

Just don't front him the cash for his/her airline ticket, so that he/she can come visit!
posted by ericb at 4:21 PM on February 2, 2005

posted by ericb at 4:21 PM on February 2, 2005

You might run a thought experiment here - you spend (say) $200 on a private detective (who has access to a lot of systems, starting with a credit history) and find out that your friend indeed is lying. Now what - confrontation?

Perhaps a better question is - if this is uncomfortable, why continue? Your funny feeling is probably right; your friend is probably lying (to some extent; quite possibly to a very large extent). Do you enjoy the conversations? If you have better things to do with your time, then another strategy is just to let this thing die - you don't call back, you can't talk for long when your friend calls, you reply - eventually - to emails with something quite brief. Your friend will get the hint, sooner or later.

For what it's worth, I've known (peripherally) two pathological liars (both gainfully employed), and I didn't enjoy the experience. And I'm not sure that this illness is something that can be easily cured.
posted by WestCoaster at 4:30 PM on February 2, 2005

Unlike Dick Paris, I have an ex-friend who is a compulsive liar. It sounds like your friend is cut from similar cloth. It's up to you whether you can deal with it or not. I did, for a while, but no longer. But then, I require a higher-than-normal level of honesty from friends.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 4:39 PM on February 2, 2005

His military service is a way to do a quick reality check. There are those who make four years manning a floor buffer sound like hand-to-hand combat. Ask him what he did, and run his answer past somebody who knows.
posted by atchafalaya at 5:23 PM on February 2, 2005

If they're such a fancy pants, find someone with a lexis/nexis account to do a media search.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 5:26 PM on February 2, 2005

I agree with WestCoaster; if you are uncomfortable with this person, you have no reason to continue the correspondence, whether or not your former friend is lying. What if you find out s/he has done military service, will you completely believe everything else s/he says? Or will you continue investigating every little detail of his/her story? That doesn't sound like the start of a healthy relationship...
posted by muddgirl at 6:18 PM on February 2, 2005

Actually, military service is public record. This page says limited amounts of information can be released without a veteran's permission.

You do need his Social Security number and his service number, which is a bit of a hurdle.

My question is, why the hell would someone from junior high look you up after all this time? Is he just really, really lonely? Were you two the Dynamic Duo of 7th Grade study hall, or what?
posted by sacre_bleu at 6:25 PM on February 2, 2005


you can also use lexis/nexis to check property records, professional licenses, car boat & plane registrations, etc. my company's lexis account changed and I no longer have access to these or I would look him/her up for you.

if you know any, law students have free, unlimited Lexis accounts (or at least they use to) .
posted by probablysteve at 7:33 PM on February 2, 2005

I was gonna' say just what probablysteve said but I'll just add that if you have journalist friends, they too may have lexis or westlaw or some other kind of public records database.
posted by leecifer at 10:27 PM on February 2, 2005

Some people have stories that don't quite add up, but the parts you think are untrue are the true parts, and the parts you don't think of are the fibs, told to cover some sensitive detail (EG: He/she is gay). I can easily imagine having this appearence myself. I've had one hellova life, and it sounds largely impossible!

But if I looked up an old friend, I might choose to keep quiet about being gay, if I needed to capture something from that individual as a link to the past. And the person who would be in this situation is that gay person who left home years ago, and now has a desperate need to link back up with their roots. (being totally disconnected can really hurt!).

The person who tells the bigger lies about their life is almost certainly just suffering a lack of self esteem, assuming there is no grand scheme to do some harm, financial or otherwise.
posted by Goofyy at 3:02 AM on February 3, 2005

His social security number is his military service number.

Identity theft due to easy access to social security numbers is a problem in the military. Unlike the university I attended in California, which allowed me to choose my own 9 digit student id which would have defaulted to my SSN had I not done so, the U.S. military forces you to use your SSN as your service number, and there're a lot of pieces of paper out there with soldiers' names, service numbers, and birthdates on them.
posted by cactus at 3:18 AM on February 3, 2005

As I was saying to my wife, Morgan Fairchild...whom I've seen naked...sometimes old friendships are the hardest to give up on because they remind us of the promise of what life had in store. If these made-up details are on the same order as the Christmas-card letters that people send where everything is always "Super!", let it go. If they're leading up to something more sinister, let the friendship go.
posted by briank at 6:07 AM on February 3, 2005

My question is, why the hell would someone from junior high look you up after all this time? Is he just really, really lonely? Were you two the Dynamic Duo of 7th Grade study hall, or what?

I google random people from my past when I'm bored. Occasionally, I'll try contact one if we weren't on bad terms, the contact info is available, and it doesn't otherwise seem like a bad idea. Of course, a lot of them don't pan out (too weird? outdated email?), but occasionally it works.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:05 AM on February 3, 2005

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