Fake identities: Manti Te'o scandal and 6 other Internet hoaxes

3. Jesse Jubilee James: The fake firefighter

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    While only some Internet hoaxes are exposed, it seems that they are common on the Web. The perpetrators behind them often assume fake identities and trick people into believing the elaborate stories and characters they create.
    Jake Turcotte/CSMonitor
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Things seemed bad enough for Paula Bonhomme when the love of her life, Jesse Jubilee James, died suddenly of liver cancer in 2006. And then she found out he never existed.

The volunteer firefighter and single father that Ms. Bonhomme fell in love with on the Internet turned out to be a 58-year-old woman from Batavia, Ill., named Janna St. James, according to ABC News

In response, Bonhomme, 48, of Los Angeles, filed a lawsuit, alleging, now known as Ms. St. James-Priggie, fraudulently misrepresented herself by posing as James and his loved ones.

Bonhomme met "Jesse Jubilee James" through an online message board for HBO’s cable TV series “Deadwood” in 2005. Within months, they were sending each other love letters via e-mail, photos, and gifts. 

James told Bonhomme about his son, "Rhys," his  ex-wife, "Krista," and his sister, "Alice." They even corresponded with her via e-mail and phone, or at least it appeared that way. St. James also corresponded with Bonhome as herself, claiming to be a friend of James’.

James sent Bonhomme gifts like a kazoo, a rubber duck with a firefighter's hat, and a piece of wood in which he carved their initials. Bonhomme's gifts to James were somewhat pricier: an iPod, bath products, DVDs, and CDs, to name a few.

While they wanted to meet in-person, James ended up postponing their trips to see each other. One story Bonhomme heard was that he could not see her over Easter because he discovered his long-lost father and wanted to visit him in Pakistan.

The fictional James reportedly died in late 2006, according to ABC News. Bonhomme learned of his death through a terse e-mail from “Alice.” The real St. James-Priggie consoled Bonhomme and decided to travel with her to Colorado to see James’ favorite spots (the lawsuit calls them “Jesse-related sites). St. James-Priggie also gave Bonhomme a letter from “Jesse James,” where he expressed his last wishes and his love for Bonhomme.

Bonhomme’s friends did some research on James and his friend, according to ABC News. They uncovered the scam and traced it back to the so-called friend. When the Batavia woman flew to California to visit Bonhomme, they confronted her about the online persona on video camera.

In the video (which contains expletives), the friends ask if St. James-Priggie would apologize to Bonhomme, to which she responds “it wouldn’t be taken the right way." 

As they interrogate her, Bonhomme says that “I’m not ruining anyone’s life.” St. James-Priggie does not explicitly admit to the hoax. 

Bonhomme first filed the lawsuit in 2008, seeking more than $100,000 in compensatory damages and punitive damages to stop St. James-Priggie from devising future hoaxes. The case was dismissed by the trial court in 2008 and reversed in part by an appellate court in 2009, before reaching the Illinois Supreme Court in 2011.

In May 2012, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that Bonhomme could not sue St. James-Priggie for fraud because the relationship was personal and not business-related, according to the official report.

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