06/09/2017 10:22 PM IST

War Photographer Revealed To Be Fraud After Scamming Media, Fans

Frank Abagnale, Jr. has nothing on Eduardo Martins, the pseudonym used by a person who fooled news agencies around the globe into believing he was an intrepid United Nations war photographer from Brazil.

Fans of Eduardo Martins’ work would likely tell you that the accomplished photographer was not only handsome, but also a skilled surfer from Sao Paulo, and a survivor of childhood leukemia.

They probably didn’t know, until now, that the 32-year-old is who had amassed more than 100,000 followers on his now-deleted Instagram account wasn’t Eduardo Martins at all. There was never an Eduardo Martins.

The face of “Eduardo Martins” actually belongs to that of British surfer Max Hepworth-Povey, who doesn’t shoot war photography at all.

So, who is the real person behind Eduardo Martins? Well, no one really knows.

The whole facade came crashing down after war photographer and Waves site columnist Fernando Costa Netto published an interview with Martins, with whom he had developed an online friendship. The interview, published in July, lauded the photographer’s work. Shortly thereafter, Costa Netto received calls from BBC Brasil and an unknown English publication indicating Martins was a fraud. In an attempt to get the real story, Costa Netto questioned Martins, which led to Martins deleting his Instagram and WhatsApp, according to SBS. 

Prior to deleting his accounts, Martins told Costa Netto that he was “in Australia.”

“I’ve made the decision to spend a year in a van,” he said. “I’ll delete everything online, including internet. I want to be in peace, we’ll see each other when I get back. For anything, write me at A big hug. I’m going to delete the zap. God be with you. A hug.”

That exchange led Costa Netto to publish a follow-up report with extremely damning accusations in August. Additionally, the BBC had previously published a long profile of Martins and his life story, which has since been retracted after Middle East-based BBC Brasil contributor Natasha Ribeiro became suspicious. Martins had contacted her and she realized that no one she knew in the region had ever actually met him, the BBC reported Wednesday. 

Ribeiro was able to confirm with the United Nations that no one named Eduardo Martins was ever employed by them.

No one, between authorities and non-governmental organizations in Syria or Iraq, said they had ever seen or heard of [him],” Ribeiro wrote.

BBC Brasil also discovered that the images passed off as Martins’ face were of surfer Hepworth-Povey. The mystery fraudster had inserted Hepworth-Povey into dozens of photographs depicting war zones. Hepworth-Povey told BBC Brasil that “it’s crazy that some random guy decided to use my image among so many options across internet.”

The false persona would be bad enough on its own, but when you factor in how widespread the images were, the con takes on a new significance.

The mystery person doctored images from photographers all around the world, inverting and retouching them so they’d become unsearchable, then shared them on “Martins’” account.

The phony images, taken in places including Gaza, Iraq, and Syria, were picked up by Getty Images, The Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, Al Jazeera, Deutsche Welle, and other outlets. 

So far, Getty has since taken down all of the fraudulent Martins photos they had in circulation, and HuffPost has reached out to them for comment. 

Daniel C. Britt, one of the real photographers behind some of the stolen images, told Mashable that he was most disappointed that Martins “bastardized” his work and “gave people yet another reason to distrust the news”.

As for Martins, the real identity of the fake photographer is still unknown. For now, this mystery is unsolved.