"Things can be conveniently lost," Lucas says. "Voice mails get erased. E-mails go to junk mail. It was easy. In this town, in this industry, you make your own luck."
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal suggested that the tight job market makes people less likely to risk being seen as problem-makers, but Bennett doesn't think that's always the case. "Some people will be so afraid that they won't be able to find another job that they won't risk engaging in Munchausen," he says. "Others, however, might be further tempted to do so, because they may feel only the most heroic employees will be kept around."
But bad apples pop up under all circumstances. "I've seen this happen even when things were going great," says a 33-year-old architect in Denver who has blogged about Munchausen at work. "It's a lot of George Costanza management, walking around with papers in a folder, looking busy, blowing up small problems."
And the sour economy is spurring a sort of reverse problem. "Career consultants suggest that the role of an unemployed person can be similar to the sick or victim role," says Marc Feldman, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Alabama who runs munchausen.com. He has flagged a group of what he calls "job hoppers" as chronic examples of Munchausen at work. "These individuals are seeking attention, concern, and social contact rather than job placement," Feldman says.
Of course, Munchausen schemes vary in scale, and not all are effective. And even when Munchausen is uncovered, companies can be averse to taking action. The reason, according to Ben Dattner, an organizational consultant who has taught psychology and business courses at New York University, is self-preservation: "The kind of fog that fosters Munchausen behavior is often the result of absent management. Why would managers want to implicate themselves?"
Which means that if you unearth Munchausen in your workplace, you may only be exposing yourself to risk. "It affected my standing in the office," says Glen, the government consultant. "Superiors thought I was a complainer. I was given a warning."
The consolation is that these schemes can rarely be repeated. "Trust that this will catch up to people," says Sue Murphy, association manager for the National Human Resources Association. "Time spent scheming is better spent working. If you're the employee who is always at the center of these situations, at some point the employer needs to take action."
But only if you get caught.