Person in Latex Mask Impersonated French Minister

Forget deep fakes. Someone wearing a latex mask fooled people on video calls for a period of two years, successfully scamming 80 million euros from rich French citizens.

Posted on June 26, 2019 at 5:46 AM • 23 Comments

Comments

Clive RobinsonJune 26, 2019 6:23 AM

@ Bruce,

successfully scamming 80 million euros from rich French citizens.

You mean "central Parisians".

A friend who is French and came to the UK nearly thirty years ago because she could not get a job in France, has an interesting take on what goes on there. I at first thought it was a little over the top..

However her views have proved to be quite accurate especially over the "yellow jackets". The view of many in France and those in the outskirts of Paris, is those in the center are out of touch with the rest of France and it's only going to lead to trouble.

But you realy have to ask about why the fraud was possible and went on for so long... The first paragraph of the Times Article says,

    Dozens of rich and powerful people were swindled out of €80 million by men impersonating Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, according to prosecutors.

Now ask yourself how the "Foreign Minister" of any country could run such a fraud?

I would suspect it's political kick backs, etc.

As for "rubber masks" we know that they can fool customs officers from less than ten feet away, so across video I would think it was easy. However impersonating the voice and spoken mannerisms would be some what harder.

DavidJune 26, 2019 6:47 AM

Every time I read this blog I get more hopeless. This was actually the first in a long time that a post made me happy. In some weird old-fashioned crime story way. Not all is lost!

DavidJune 26, 2019 6:47 AM

The minister was chosen for being obscure and little known by the public

TatütataJune 26, 2019 9:23 AM

Most of The Times article is behind a paywall, so I tried to find another source, closer to the original.

The English language media only seems to have noticed this in the last few days, but it has been out since at least 2017. According to the French Wiki entry on the perpetrator, he has been running similar scams since the early 2000s.

The minister appears to have been aware of the impersonation scam since 2015 or so, claiming that there had been at least 180 known attempts. Several of the potential marks had been diligent and checked out the story, or went directly to the police.

"Envoyé Spécial", an investigative journalism magazine running on public broadcaster France 2, ran a half-hour piece back in February. At 19'22" the reporters catch up with the main suspect, who accepted to talk on camera, with great aplomb. Near the end the unrepentant Chikli pretty much flips the bird to French authorities ("we're bosses and will remain bosses"), who has since been nabbed after his arrival in Ukraine on an Interpol warrant and extradited back to France. On his phone the investigators found Google search requests suggesting that he was looking for silicone mask specialists in Kiev.

As I was looking up references, I realized I had to be careful in what I would be linking, as some "fachosphère" sites I hadn't immediately recognized as such clearly latched onto this story.

The pitch, of which you can hear a sample at 25'35", played on patriotic sentiment, while suggesting future compensation. "Évidemment nous vous renverrons l'ascenseur"...

Petre Peter June 26, 2019 9:30 AM

They hoped they were helping the government, so that the government may help them. Maybe a form of goverment bribery gone bad.

vas pupJune 26, 2019 3:03 PM

@The Pull

Did you have a chance to know the Argo story about saving US diplomats from Iran?
The key guy was Tony Mendes CIA operative who developed and utilized those latex masks (look like at the first time) to deceive guards.

Many moons ago on this respected blog I suggested that airport (and other sensitive areas)security camera should evaluate as well level of reflection - it should not be the same from the skin of face and from mask were discussed here.

The PullJune 26, 2019 3:31 PM

@vas pup

Argo -- oh yes, I am a total spy nerd, bought the movie and read the book behind and Tony's book (which was fantastic, one of the best books on intelligence I have read).

On masks -- don't they have technology that can see through silicone/latex masks now, at airports, or no? Seen some articles that 'the technology is out there'. Not sure on how implemented it is. Would be nice if 'not so much', especially in situations like the HK protests. :-)

How would that work, reflective analysis? Just human faces have a different sheen then masks?

Clive RobinsonJune 26, 2019 3:40 PM

@ The Pull,

It was the stuff used by that Chinese guy to evade airport security:

That was the one I was thinking of in my above, I just could not remember all the details off the top of my head.

The point is if the masks are good enough to pass at ten foot or less an official who's job it is to check peoples identity, then across a "so so" video link they would pass without difficulty. That just leaves the voice and word mannerisms, which for public figures is likely to be some what harder.

The PullJune 26, 2019 5:29 PM

"That just leaves the voice and word mannerisms, which for public figures is likely to be some what harder."

Yeah, you have to be a trained actor to do that, and it is pretty difficult.

Merely replicating an accent authentically is a difficult acting task.

TomJune 26, 2019 8:49 PM

"Now ask yourself how the "Foreign Minister" of any country could run such a fraud?"

The French may run a leftist government but their business dealings, especialy in regards to trading with foreign partners, are usually very liberal in practice leaving room for lots of corruption to take place.

One should know that many rich French had already fled France due to the exuberant wealth taxes perpetrated by the leftist government to support all forms of social welfare program and god knows what else corruptions.

Those who remain obviously sees more benefit to stay with the leftist government where they could derive their riches and sustain it.

No One / Ex CathedraJune 27, 2019 4:34 AM

Some have said it the Golden Age of Surveillance. True, but it might just turn out to be Golden Age of the Fake.

Fake security products, fake elliptic curves, fake cryptographic hashes, fake information security standards, fake news, fake communities, fake internet searches (I am thinking of Jen Gennai getting caught recently and spilling the beans on how Google changes searches, changes facts), fake pseudo-random number generators--welcome to 2019.

TatütataJune 27, 2019 7:13 AM

Using the music from the French spy thriller "Le bureau des légendes" possibly wasn't a purely random choice. Season three, which was shown on Canal+ around the time the scam took place, was fully developing a thread begun in season two where the main character "Malotru" was held hostage in Syria.

Some commenters sound like certain moneyed bible-thumping relatives of mine in Murrica.

But Murricans can too be easily taken in by smooth or fast talking hucksters, especially if there is the promise of a quick buck.

Chikli was compared to Victor Lustig, a bloke who sold the Eiffel tower. Decades later one George C. Parker ran a comparable operation using the Brooklyn Bridge.

More recently, Sasha Baron Cohen, whom I find rather irksome, pranked US public figures a couple of years ago using preposterous disguises, in particular that of an alleged terrorism "expert". The appearance of the bloke probably tapped into the prejudice of the targets in what a "Mossad agent" should look like. With that kind of talent, Cohen might just as well ask his victims to run to the bank to get a bag of unmarked greenbacks. (I have no idea why he tried to go after Ted Koppel, who had the right instinct. Do journalists have a better bullshit detector?)

Plus c'est gros, plus ça passe. In English: The bigger the lie, the better it works.

The PullJune 27, 2019 10:54 AM

@No One / Ex Cathedra, et al

"Deep fake" videos, now. That is the latest burgeoning trend. People are getting good at faking video now, the bar is low. So, we are entering into an age where politicians, for instance, can be faked and said to do and say anything. Where evidence for something that does not exist or did not happen can be supplied with video. Been some of these already, for instance, with fake UFO video... but we know where this is going.

Remember how people were faked out by the loch ness monster pic, later confirmed to have been faked. Or the photograph - made by little girls - confirming the reality of faeries. Which got even the sharp mind of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

"Sasha Cohen Baron" -- OMG, he is hilarious, reminds me to finish his show. Seriously need some laughs.

"Methodology of how they do this" -- I should mention, I have observed, the main thing is simply confidence. They don't have to get the accent right or mannerisms. They just have to be really confident.

We unconsciously trade in confidence. People test confidence in conversations. The words, even, often do not matter. The confidence does.

Mix that with some sleight of hand, telling stories that captivate the imagination, and any of us can be fooled.


The PullJune 27, 2019 3:57 PM

@Clive Robinson

Probably. Often cons work on illicit desires of the person being conned.


I do think anyone can be conned by 'false backgrounds', though. Doesn't matter how honest you are.

vas pupJune 28, 2019 12:02 PM

@The Pull:
"How would that work, reflective analysis? Just human faces have a different sheen then masks?"
Sure. The only possibility (kidding!) is to make mask out of human skin, but even than the difference is between real skin, dead skin mask and latex mask reflection.

The PullJune 28, 2019 2:26 PM

@vas pup

"Sure. The only possibility (kidding!) is to make mask out of human skin, but even than the difference is between real skin, dead skin mask and latex mask reflection."

Lol! OMG. *big grin*

Images of 'Buffalo Bill' 'Silence of the Lambs'... and various crappy depictions in other cinema where someone actually 'wore' someone else's face... *sigh*

Who knows what technology for masks governments may have. They may have something superior to what is used in cinema and the consumer market these days. (I did hear a rumor from a friend in the Navy, but he is known to BS.)

I saw some solution for detecting these things, which can 'see through masks' to the underlying facial and bone structure. But, I do not recall what they used to do this, nor if it could be used affordably at mass scale. If so, that is a bit scary in a day and age where protesters, for instance, might be mass profiled and depend on masks for anonymity.

Dave AronsonJuly 12, 2019 7:14 AM

Paging Jim Phelps, Jim Phelps to the white courtesy phone... hidden in your ear....

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Mission:_Impossible_characters#Jim_Phelps)

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