Over 100,000 Instagram users and some of the world’s best known media organizations were fooled for over two years by someone pretending to be a front-line war photographer. The entire stranger-than-fiction story was revealed recently by BBC Brazil after a lengthy investigation.

According to the BBC's report, so-called ‘Eduardo Martins’ posed as a Brazilian UN photographer by using a collection of images stolen from other photographers' websites and from news organizations. Stealing with care he built a body of striking work that brought him to the attention of BBC Brazil, Al Jazeera, the Wall Street Journal, Getty Images and many others, and amassed him over 120,000 followers on Instagram.

‘Eduardo’ posted tear-sheets of his work in print and recounted stories of his encounters and ‘humanity’ in the face of chaotic and violent scenes. He was able to keep the ruse going by never speaking to anyone in person, and sending only recorded or emailed messages. His photographs were placed with Getty Images and tales of his exploits made print with some of the world’s biggest newspapers.

An interviewer at the BBC became suspicious, however, and started to ask questions that revealed other Brazilian war photographers working in the same zones had no idea who Eduardo was. As the war correspondent community is tight knit and journalists in conflict zones inevitably know one another, alarm bells began to ring.

Enquiries with the UN also established that no one with that name was on its books as a photographer, and that neither were other UN photographer friends that Martins referred to—including some that Martins mourned in his posts after they were ‘killed’. Amazingly the UN even followed him on Instagram.

Pictures from the Facebook page of photographer Ignacio Aronovich that demonstrate how Martins manipulated photographs belonging to Daniel C. Britt to disguise them from image recognition software.

It turns out the profile picture Martins used was of a UK surfer called Max Hepworth-Povey, and that the images Martins posted, distributed to news outlets and supplied for his interviews were stolen from other photographers. The images were often flipped, cropped and manipulated to disguise them from automated visual-matching services so Martins could pass them off as his own.

His technique became clear when a photographer noted that other photographers in a picture credited to Martins were holding cameras with the shutter release on the left hand side of the body instead of the right.

As news of suspicions got back to Martins via a photographer he corresponded with online he disappeared, deleting his Instagram account and shutting down the phone number he used for Whatsapp messaging. His last message said he was planning to tour Australia in a van for a year and to cut communication with the world.

Whether Eduardo is a man or a woman, or even owns a camera at all, remains unclear—and indeed whether he/she is even from Brazil and is or isn’t currently in Australia. These things may never be known, but the story does raise questions about how well news organizations vet their contributors and interviewees.