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Fake online Karachi business helps Russian trolls in US

'Simple Photoshop' used to forge ID cards, passports

SAMAA | - Posted: Apr 18, 2021 | Last Updated: 9 months ago
Posted: Apr 18, 2021 | Last Updated: 9 months ago

The United States of America imposed sanctions on Russian cybersecurity companies and officials alleged to be operating on behalf of the Kremlin’s intelligence services on Thursday.

Amid this was a Karachi-based company: Fresh Air Farm House. It was run by 34-year-old Mohsin Raza. He was one of the two owners of the fake online business. According to prosecutors, Fresh Air Farm House helped Russian trolls secure a toehold in the US.

Raza operated a digital fake ID mill, producing images of doctored drivers’ licenses, bogus passports, and forged utility bills to help rogue clients pass verification checks at US payment companies and tech firms, a US Treasury statement and an indictment issued by federal prosecutors in New Jersey stated.

In an interview with Reuters, he said that he used “simple Photoshop” to forge ID cards, passports, and other important documents.

Raza said he has also played around with graphic design, e-commerce, and cryptocurrency. Denying doing anything wrong, he pointed out that he was helping people access accounts they have been frozen out of.

His customers include an employee of a Russian troll farm, Internet Research Agency, accused of interference in US elections. The employee used Raza’s services to procure fake drivers’ licenses for fake Facebook accounts in 2017.

He told Reuters that the inspiration for his business came some years back when a PayPal account which he had opened under an alias was locked, trapping hundreds of dollars he’d received for optimizing online search results.

Following this, he Photoshopped an identity document under his pseudo name. Once PayPal unfroze his account, he realized he had stumbled on a good business idea. His site, Second Eye Solutions, boasted of “6,000 & more satisfied clients” before Raza pulled it down Thursday morning.

Money earned from the fake ID business was poured into the construction of the Fresh Air Farm House, Raza said. The facility, which features three bedrooms, a playing field, a water slide, and a BBQ area, is now on a US list of sanctioned entities.

According to Michigan State University Director Tom Holt, Raza’s business is an example of how transnational cybercrime can serve as a springboard for state-sponsored disinformation.

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