On the 30th of July 2021, the US “executive life coach” Deano Sutter published the same post on Facebook and Instagram (where he has 22.2K followers) with a passport image. The document was Irish, and the name on it was Elbert Raie. But the picture on the paper was of the same Sutter. Someone stole one of his public photos.
It wasn’t the first time the coach suffered identity theft. “And here we go again. Today I am Irish …” he wrote in his post description. “Was contacted again by someone saying this guy Elbert Raie is pretending to be me (photo wise). This is like the 4th time different women have told me about this special human”.
“But this is new”, Sutter concluded in the post. “An Irish Passport he sends to the women to prove he’s real … wow”.
Using someone else’s details (including photos) to gain financial advantages or obtain strangers’ trust is a pervasive crime. And it is a problem for public figures that expose their personal information. However, how do scammers act?
The idol Sutter, a cyber investigation
Sutter’s fake document is not exceptional. The news website Daily Record described some similar cases.
In February 2021, fans reported an online scammer spread a forged passport of the Scottish actor Gerard Butler (with his actual name) to deceive social media users in private chats.
In February 2022, another Scottish actor, James Mcavoy, told admirers a person was attempting to steal his identity: “Someone pretending to be me using this fake passport as proof”, he declared on Instagram, publishing the photo of the document. “Not me.” Again, the scammers used the celebrity’s real name and date of birth.
Forging the papers
Forging a paper online is not difficult. You can find websites, like picturando.com, that offer fake passport generator services. “Create fake international passports. Select state (US, Great Britain, Italy, Argentina, Netherland, etc.), add your picture and data, and get your free passports in minutes”, the website explains. “Free download or social sharing as a joke”.
Probably the latter scammers didn’t use the documents for identification in official controls. The details used are the stars’ ones, making any simulation difficult. Yet, in Deano Sutter’s case, the name on the passport was different, enabling damaging applications.
Opening a bank account online requires this type of document; the fraud teams checking them are unaware of the customer’s natural face or the face of a public figure appearing on the paper; they could open an account under a fake name with a fake photo.
Still, identity theft goes even beyond this.
Usual scammers and posers
Sutter also posted a story on Instagram titled “Scammers” (and added it as a highlight). He wanted to explain that people are pretending to be him on social media for several reasons. “If you are a woman, you think I’m contacting you, and you’re trying to send me money for an aeroplane ticket or visa, I didn’t ask you”, he says in the clip. “You are being scammed”.
Indeed, scammers usually steal reliable stars’ images to address unknown people and ask them for friendship, money or help. “Posers” is the label given to those individuals who use someone else’s photos and information on social networking sites, often to deceive other users.
It is also a matter for celebrities how to react to it. “Every time I contact Facebook and Instagram, they don’t do anything”, Sutter complained. So, he was working with the organization ScamHaters United. “When you get a fake person, share their profile with me,” he asked his followers, “to send them to the organization. They have a direct line to help me out”.
ScamHaters United and a Facebook group
ScamHaters United was founded in the Uk but now has an international team helping all affected by scams. Their Facebook profile describes the issue. “There are many thousands of people contacted every day by SCAMMERS. Using stolen pictures and fake names they pretend to be in love with you, want to marry you and ask for money. THESE ARE SCAMS. SCAMMERS WANTING MONEY AND INFORMATION”.
Social Media are trying to build their antibodies, too. The Facebook public group “Report fake profiles and pages – Facebook community” collects all users’ communications about fake profiles to request the removal of suspicious accounts from the platform.
On the 23rd of August, the user John Moody reported on this group a fake profile of the American model Morgan Ketzner, including some screenshots of its conversation with the fraudster: “Beware fake Morgan Ketzner scam pages on Instagram, sent me explicit pics of Morgan”.
On the 28th of March, the user Ottiero Filibustieri reported the account under “Anna Cipriani”, deploying the stolen photos of the same Morgan Ketzner. It appears to be a poser: someone abusing the pictures of a beautiful star without pretending to be her.
Is our Elbert Raie another example of this?
Deano Sutter’s post with the fake passport image has some public comments on Facebook. The user Jaclyn Swindell informed Sutter she had “just started talking to you on Tinder, and you just asked me for money”. The user Sherry Schutz told the coach, “I was recently scammed by a man using your photos. Beware, there is another one. This time with me, he used the name “Gabriel Luiz”.
A quick search of “Gabriel Luiz” doesn’t show significant outcomes. It is a widespread name in Latin countries, and the query on social networks showcases hundreds of results.
Still, Elbert Raie is less ordinary. If you write down this name-surname on Instagram, there is a list of a few accounts. Two of them have profile pictures similar to Deano Sutter. Could he be double? The coach’s icon can become a clue for our investigation.
Elbert Raie’s profiles
The first one
The first profile of Elbert Raie is “@elbert_raie_3″. It is a private account, meaning some information is not public. However, he has three posts, 0 followers, and 75 followings. The profile photo is overt.
Valuable online tools for investigating these elements are Reverse Image Searches. Different search engines provide them. Google one helps you quickly discover visually similar pictures from around the web. You drag the image you want to analyze, and the service returns the matches or even the picture origin.
The profile photo of “@elbert_raie_3” doesn’t show connections in Google Reverse Image Search. But when asking the source of the photo, it links to Sutter’s Instagram profile. The picture was posted around 23 weeks ago by the actual account of the US coach.
The second one
The second profile of Elbert Raie, “@elbert_raie_”, is public. He has four posts, five followers and 36 followings. All four posts are photos with Sutter’s face. None of them returns results from a Reverse Image Search on Google. But the profile picture does.
Indeed, looking for it on the Google tool, we are redirected to a TikTok profile: “narubertchaudon48″, with 186Following, 120Followers and 0 Likes. Its description is an explanatory statement: “I need a woman who can marry me forever”. It is another poser.
The photo of the passport
We can analyze one last image: the one pasted on Sutter’s fake passport. A Google Reverse Image Search shows some sources for this photo.
The first one is the website of Cal’s Game Night. It is “the #1 rated professional game night company in the US”, its description reads. “Over 12 years of hosting game nights for numerous Fortune 500 companies and various private events all over the country and internationally!” the website states. Cal’s Game Night is proud of showing his hosts: among them is Sutter, introduced with his picture now under analysis.
The second one is the website of a photographer: Drew Evarts. Sutter’s picture is shown with other stars’ as a sample of the portraitist’s works.
The third source is the US coach’s authentic Instagram profile. The photo was published around 430 weeks ago (about eight years). In the description, Sutter thanks Drew Evarts Photography for the great shot.
These images are easy to exploit: right-click, save, and copy-paste.
Obtaining online information about public figures is easy. Low privacy protection on their photos on social networks is crucial. Using these pictures with distinct names, incorrect details, and fictional life stories is not so tricky. But it is still a crime.
Besides, more worrying practices are viable. The US organization AARP recently detailed one, targeting teens. “The poser asks the victim for a nude picture — maybe first sending what they say is their photo (but isn’t). If the victim complies, the criminal threatens to send the compromising pictures to their family and friends unless they pay up”.
Social media platforms are struggling to face this problem. Users must be cautious about the people they are chatting with.