Fake, universal press credentials – worthless or dangerous?

[Note: Ever since this piece was written in 2012, the number of faceless online services that sell fake press credentials over the Internet to anyone has soared and has created troubling security issues — who is authorized and who is an unknown potential threat.
David Henderson, May 2016]

The online ads for universal press credentials show up on many websites. “Gain Access to Sports, Entertainment and Breaking News Events,” touts the ads by an outfit called “US Press Corps.” Just give them $81 and ANYONE can get a fake I.D. as a “photojournalist, journalist, and more …”

Fake press credentials – worthless or dangerous?

One alleged member named Greg Coats bragged in the ad, “Imagine me … up clost (sic) to President Obama and Air Force One, thanks to IFPO US Press Corps Credentials.” There is no way, of course, to verify such a claim but there are “multiple levels of screening” of anyone who gets in close proximity to the President or any other officials, a federal law enforcement spokesman told me.

“IFPO,” by the way, stands for International Freelance Photographers Association, one of many names apparently intended to sound credible and prestigious by the company, US Press Corps.

These alleged press credentials are “no different than any fake I.D. used by someone, such as an illegal alien,” the federal law enforcement official told me. Regardless of the so-called press pass, it is the person who is screened carefully.

The highly respected National Press Photographers Association told me, “There is no such thing as universal press passes.” NPPA’s lawyers look into reports of phony photojournalist credentials. NPPA had never heard of US Press Corps, the outfit selling online press passes.

US Press Corps claims to be located in Hamptonville or Lewisville, North Carolina, according to their domain registration. The street addresses listed by the company do not exist. Such details – which appear in WhoIs at Godaddy – are supposed to be accurate or the domain can be subject to being revoked … if anyone complains.

By listing bogus street addresses and other inaccurate information when registering a domain name, the “organization” or person behind US Press Corps could actually be located anywhere in the world, and just plying on wannabe news people in the U.S.

“Talk about diluting the value of professional photographers, this takes the cake. (And you can be a lifetime member for only $81…),” laments a Pulitzer Prize winning and former White House photographer.

The Internet has opened up whole new cottage businesses for selling many kinds of official-looking licenses and certificates. Federal and local law enforcement authorities frown on any type of fake credential. But, the issue of phony press passes gets to a deeper level of security, I believe. When might a terrorist or person of violent intent use such a pass to gain access to do harm.

Footnote … four years after this column ran on my blog, a fellow who calls himself Keith Ponder wrote to complain. He asserts these bought and paid-for press credentials have worked for him to get free admittance into fun events:

“Their press passes have gotten me into every event that I’ve requested access to. Professional sporting events, concerts and press conferences.”

The fake credentials, however, do not fool the U.S. Secret Service, FBI or other such more discerning organizations.

DH May 2016