He went by the name Eduardo Martins and portrayed himself as a Brazilian war photographer who worked for the UN, liked to help people and who had a fondness for surfing.
Along the way he developed quite a following on Instagram, with 120,000 or so fans subscribed to his updates ostensibly posted from the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere.
But Martins the war photographer never existed — the photos and videos he posted were doctored ones stolen from real photographers who risked their lives in places like Iraq.
Now the Instagram account has vanished, leaving in its place myriad question marks over who was behind the scam, which lasted several years and saw photos attributed to Martins published by prestigious news outlets including the BBC and Getty Images.
The bogus images escaped detection because they were edited and inverted to fool software designed to detect plagiarism.
Doubts over the photographer’s true identity emerged after he or she contacted a journalist named Natasha Ribeiro, a BBC Brazil contributor who lives in the Middle East, the British broadcaster said this week.
Ribeiro said alarm bells rang when it emerged that none of the Brazilian journalists working in Iraq had ever heard of Eduardo Martins — and nor had the UN or any of the organisations he claimed to have worked with, according to the BBC.
A photographer who asked not to be named told AFP that Martins contacted him out of the blue and offered to help get his work published in major media.
Fernando Costa Netto, a journalist who interviewed Martins for a surfing magazine, said the con artist described himself as a Sao Paulo native aged 32 with blond hair and blue eyes.
Martins sold pictures from war zones but also found time to teach children in Gaza to surf, said Costa Netto, who said he has received many messages from people who had also fallen for the fake photographer’s schtick.
He claimed to have survived leukaemia at 18, but avoided personal contact and always seemed to be somewhere with bad communications.
The last time Costa Netto contacted Martins was the day after another reporter told him it might all be a scam.
“Hey bro. I’m 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… I want to be in peace. We’ll speak again when I’m back,” the person wrote, according to Costa Netto.