Joe Doe – demystifying a conmen trick

Do you believe you have lost money in an online trading scheme, online securities or investment fraud?

This is one of the fastest growing areas of white-collar crime in Europe and around the world. International criminal gangs have become increasingly adept at creating fictitious companies, websites, social media accounts and other materials that look legitimate, even to the trained eye.

Many hire experienced sales staff to work out of call centres (‘boiler rooms’) selling securities and investments such as blue-chip stocks or cryptocurrencies. They promise high returns for low risk. After they’ve gained your trust and you’ve invested an initial sum, they often use high-pressure tactics to get you to invest more, and make excuses about why you can’t access your money.

In this article we want to have closer look into forged and fictitious other materials, like used passports, that look legitimate, sometimes even to the trained eye.

Some weblinks in this article must be considered as threat and harmful to your computer. Artefaktum does not take over any liability whatsoever for any damage arsing in case you visit those website.

Trust building made by conmen – The Passport

Based on prepared and standardised scripts of those boiler-room conmen, the broker (aka. Loader) will send victims a copy of “their” passport as trust building procedure, mainly in case a victim shows signs of jumping off the rope or remains in “not interested” mood. The principal concept behind sending such a private document like a passport is to manipulate and convince the later victim that the calling Broker is legit and a reputed person with contacts and experience. In one of the cases of our investigations almost all victims have received such copies. the following shows to examples.

For the individual victim each passport alone looks legit at the first view. A supposedly copy of  real British Passport by a person named, Charles Winters, resp. David Harper.  Would victims know about other copies, they would immediately recognise the fabricate nature of those fake documents by the identical orientation and overall look and feel.

The UK passport is one of the most important documents a British national can hold, giving them the freedom of international travel and a means to prove their identity. This trust is built on not only the document’s physical and electronic security features that help to retain its integrity and meet strict international standards, but also the rigorous process that a person must follow to obtain a passport.

However, this also makes the passport a valuable document. Fraudsters will attempt to abuse it to commit crimes like identity and financial fraud, which can have devastating consequences for the victims. Fraudsters create false passports, or tamper with existing ones for criminal gain.

Protecting the public from these crimes is paramount. To stay several steps ahead of the forgers and fakers who may want to abuse the passport for criminal gain, the design is regularly updated. This ensures that it utilises evolving security technologies, and mitigates the risk of fraudulent activity.

The British passport has improved physical security features, which keeps the UK passport secure from forgers and counterfeiters, making it harder to copy or tamper with.

Many of these features are top secret to prevent criminals from knowing all of the security details used in the passport.  For this article we refrain from uncovering any security measurement, but look at one of these two examples, to find out who this John Doe really is.

Its easy to buy a forged passport

Most people believe that is very hard to fake a official document like a passport, you need to meet discreetly very bad people in shady pubs in dangerous places at night, pay a lot of money to get the dirty work done. Well, that’s just wrong. Sure you can find and buy them is shady places some are  readily available on forums, marketplaces and automated shops in the deep web and Darknet. The passport in question is just a picture, thus, to use it for fraudulent activities, you just need to find a template provider. The above shown passport costs $34.00 USD and can easily been purchased from websites like 

ID-psd via, 

Worldfakedocs via or the 

Everythingallhere website via

Forgery refers to the production of fake documents such as passports and other forms of identification, which are sometimes used as “breeder” documents—administrative documents such as birth certificates, marriage records, and work and residence permits, that can be used to obtain other identification documents fraudulently.

Who is this David Harper

There is an exciting Mark David Harper from Croydon Surrey, born in December 1955, so this can’t be our David Harper, as, based on the passport infos, “our” David Harper is born Jul 21 1967. One more finding is Mr. David Harper from Herts Carpets Ltd. in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, well also wrong age. Let`s check the famous BBC bargain hunt expert David Harper, who has a close visual look, like the person on the passport picture, again no match, too old. We have found a lot of David Harpers but no match at all. Neither by age, not by place of birth.  

After checking the birth register, we now know, no David Harper was born in Croydon on Jul 21 1967. This guy is a fake. But to reveal his true identity we need to connect the dots and follow the visuals.

We need to clear this picture used from its background and create a clear HD rendering.

The first step to look after the POI (person of interest) we uploaded the picture to Images Search engine, which is a very handy and fast tool for standard searches. The output brought to similar pictures to light. One was first seen  Jan 4, 2016 and the other one Oct 22, 2019.


We have a visual 

Both picture are proof, that this picture is way older then the passport and it must have been stored for other reasons at other places.

Thispix Photography is a Manhattan Midtown based Photo and Headshot shop for to-go pictures for passports, driving license or any other purpose. Let`s check the website and with no surprise we found our David Harper as existing customer.

Opening the picture with an EXIF reader clarifies this question. The original picture was taken 9:49 in the morning on Jun 20th 2013 with a NIKON D200, manipulated with Adobe Photoshop CS5 Windows Version at 16:45 on Apr 22nd 2014 prior uploading it to this website at 15:41 on Jul 7th 2015 with manual change of the upload date to Jun 2015.

Once we knew the pictures is available to the broader public, we fed the pictriues into our Deepcrawler engine to look even deeper into the internet, deep and dark web. 

The headshot was used for several websites and “templates”:

The person now can be, based on the Ukraine blog and visual findings, identified as Odessa Regional Council from the Opposition Bloc Vitaly Sautenkov.

Note that Sautenkov, together with his colleague-deputy Viktor Baransky, are “champions” in the ownership of offshore companies – they have 79 of them. Among them is the infamous Sonic Star Navigation Co., which owns the Aliot tugboat, which was arrested in 2015 for entry into the occupied Crimea.

For the CbwP account, it contributes the largest amount of bitcoins into the 5oC account. In fact, if we take a look at the blockchain just for 15, June, 2018, we can see that several hundred bitcoins were sent to the 5oC address on that one day. That’s more than $4mill in one day.

The Security Service of Ukraine conducted searches at enterprises associated with Vitaly Sautenkov and Viktor Baransky. At that time, Sautenkov headed STS Shipping LLC, was a co-founder of Inbud and the Stronger Together and Vilna Osvita charity foundations. 


The person on this fake passport is identified, and for sure not a British citizen named Mr. David Harper.

The investigation is still under way. Part II to be released soon.

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