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The feted war photographer who never existed

Fraudster created false identity and stole images, duping netizens and renowned news agencies


Max Hepworth-Povey is a 32-year-old British surfer who travels the world finding big waves, seeking thrills and teaching yoga.

Daniel C. Britt is a US photographer who covers wars and conflict zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, and whose work has appeared in various reputable news agencies and Getty Images.

Two men, worlds apart in location and interests. So what do they have in common?

In the past week, it was revealed that these two real people were cobbled together to create the fictitious Brazilian war photographer Eduardo Martins, who had amassed more than 120,000 followers on Instagram.

It is a textbook case in illustrating how easy it is to dupe netizens and renowned news organisations into publishing your works if you can figure out the formula to gaming the system.

How did Martins, only the latest such scammer, carry out his lie so well?

Fictitious Brazilian war photographer Eduardo Martins, who amassed over 120,000 Instagram followers, was created by a scammer who cobbled together the identities of two real people - British surfer Max Hepworth- Povey and US photographer Daniel C. Br
Fictitious Brazilian war photographer Eduardo Martins, who amassed over 120,000 Instagram followers, was created by a scammer who cobbled together the identities of two real people - British surfer Max Hepworth- Povey and US photographer Daniel C. Britt. The identity of the person behind the scam still remains a mystery. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM

First, he created a backstory about how he had been abused as a child and had survived leukaemia after being bedridden for seven years in Sao Paolo.

Second, he presented a narrative as a dashing young man who had turned his life around and had found meaning dedicating his life to exposing the atrocities in Gaza, Iraq and Syria.

In an interview with Brazilian surfing website Waves, Martins said his turning point came when he accompanied the Free Syrian Army in its fight against President Bashar al-Assad. "It was a very intense experience, and it was then that I became a photographer of conflict zones," he said.

In time, Martins' works were published in The Washington Post, The New York Times, BBC, The Wall Street Journal and Time magazine, among others.

But BBC Brasil contributor Natasha Ribeiro became suspicious after finding out that not one person in the small pool of Brazilian journalists had ever met Martins in person.

It turns out that Martins stole images from legitimate war photographers like Britt and photoshopped the image of Hepworth-Povey in them to make them seem authentic.

In many cases, he inverted the images he stole to make it harder for news organisations to detect the plagiarism.

Ribeiro got in touch with his supposed employer - the United Nations - which confirmed that he was not part of its staff.

Other organisations that the fraudster claimed to have been working for around the world also told a similar tale - his works were used but he had never been seen.

The news organisations have since taken down articles about him.

His deception did not stop there.

To keep up his lie, he conducted several interviews online with various websites about himself.

Each time, he pretended to initiate a video conference call but, citing connection issues, reverted to a text-based interview over messaging apps like WhatsApp.


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That way, he reinforced his ruse to those who did not bother to perform further verification checks, especially for a story that seemed too good to pass up.

Along the way, Martins also found the time to leverage on his popularity to strike up online romances with at least six women. None of them ever met him in person.

Once his game was up, Martins immediately deleted his Instagram account and erased his digital trail. His last message to an interviewer claimed he was in Australia.

"I made the decision of spending a year travelling around the world in a van. I will cut off everything, including the Internet, and I deleted my Instagram account," he wrote. "I want to be in peace. We'll speak again when I'm back."

And because he has been savvy about how he has conducted his fabricated life, his identity still remains a mystery.


Unless you are passionate about competitive eating, you might not have recognised Matthew "Megatoad" Kai Stonie walking the streets of Singapore this past week.

Stonie, just 25 years old, is somewhat of a celebrity in the scene.

His first video in 2010 saw him chugging 3.8 litres of sports drink Gatorade in 37 seconds.

To put things in perspective, an average person would find it difficult to drink a litre in a minute.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Stonie gushes about his second visit to the little red dot and says it was the highlight of his travels.

"The country is great," he says. "This time around, I got to really see how vast the country is, how great the people are, and how delicious Singaporean food is."

Make no mistake, the full-time competitive eater and YouTuber is serious about his eating.

He is ranked No. 3 in the Major Eating League and holds numerous records. His top video shows him quaffing down an 11,000-calorie ice-cream sundae. That racked up 19 million views.

This trip, he went for the Beast Burger - a 7-pound burger consisting of slaw, pork and fried chicken over beef patty sandwiches between two buns and accompanied by sweet potato fries.

"That was a really fun challenge and I managed to beat the challenge's record. In the next trip, I think I'll attempt the 3kg chicken rice," he says.

So what's his secret to keeping trim?

Stonie says when he is not wolfing down insane amounts of food, he diets and exercises regularly.

As for the local competitive eating scene, he says, "They love what they're doing, they're growing competitive eating in Singapore, and they have talent that could easily compete on an international level."

Local notable competitive eater Zermatt Neo, who accompanied Stonie on this trip, says he admires Stonie's discipline in dieting and exercise to burn the calories.

"I'll get there one day," he says. "We made a promise to see each other at next year's annual hot dog eating competition held in New York. I'll be working hard towards that."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 10, 2017, with the headline 'The feted war photographer who never existed'. Print Edition | Subscribe