Wary of the Web Sheriff

On September 29th, we received an email from a company called Web Sheriff, urgently requesting us to remove the name Adetayo Ayowale Onile-Ere from the Taio Cruz artist page. We investigated this request and quickly found that there were other resources on the net referencing both names.  We also found other evidence of Web Sheriff working to change the name of this artist in other venues/sites.

One of the cornerstone’s of our music database, and our principles, is to keep the data as clean and accurate as possible.  We aim to edit with due diligence.

We declined to make the change, and made the following request: If you can provide us with a birth certificate that shows Taio Cruz as the birth name, we’d be happy to make the change. Web Sheriff agreed to do that and on October 13th we received a copy of this document:

JTC - Birth Certificate


I inspected the document and quickly felt something was amiss. The document purports to be a Birth Certificate from the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, UK and the father’s occupation is listed as “Lawyer”. While I am not a legal expert, my understanding is that the term for someone who practices law in the UK is not lawyer, but rather attorney, barrister, or solicitor.  The use of “Lawyer” in this context seemed strange to me.

With this observation as my motivation, I rang up Her Majesty’s government to ask how I would go about verifying the validity of a birth certificate. I was told that the UK government could not verify the authenticity of a certificate, but that I could request a copy of the certificate myself since they are public record. For a fee of 9 pounds 25p and two weeks time I would receive a copy of the certificate in email. I thought that was a good way forward and I asked to order a copy. The lovely lady who helped me, painstakingly endeavoured to ensure that all the details related to my request were communicated correctly. I have no doubts that I relayed the data I had accurately.

And with that, I waited. On November 8th, I received mail from Her Majesty’s government informing me that no such birth certificate could be found and that my payment will soon be refunded.

This strongly suggests that the document provided to us by Web Sheriff was not a legitimate copy of a birth certificate for Jacob Taio Cruz.

Being coerced to make changes to facts in our database based on false pretences –  I find such things despicable. We felt harassed and intimidated by the efforts of Web Sheriff, pressuring us to make this change.

I hope that this blog post will remind others to be wary and vigilant, and not give in easily to coercion.  This is what I intend to do with Web Sheriff, and others, going forward and I hope you will do the same!

For more info on Web Sheriff see their Wikipedia page.


UPDATE (March 9, 2016):  This post has been edited for clarity.  These changes follow a specific request from Web Sheriff that we delete or amend the post:

we must insist that you withdraw your false allegation of forgery

UPDATE: Since posting this, sharp readers spotted more problems with the certificate:

  1. There is no “county of Westminster”. There is a city of Westminster.
  2. The hospital name is missing a “t”: Wesminster.
  3. This hospital may not have been called that in 1985. It seems to have existed in that form since about 1993.

14 thoughts on “Wary of the Web Sheriff”

  1. Also no such thing as the “County of Westminster”, as far as I know. Westminster is either a city or an area within the County of Greater London.

  2. I’ve only ever seen City of Westminster. Its on all the rubbish bins. 🙂 Yeah, this certificate was clearly forged by an american. I wonder if I should forward this to the Met Police — I wonder if they care. 🙂

  3. I fail to see how removing the legal name on an artist is going to help them enforce copyright. But why didn’t they just remove the information themselves? Chances are nobody would have noticed.

    The Wikipedia page on Web Sheriff isn’t very negative at all. It just tells me that Prince is a self-important twat. But we already knew that didn’t we?

    How does MusicBrainz defend itself against vandalism anyway? Can someone lock this information so it can’t be removed at all? I never liked the concept of data quality in MusicBrainz (and I can’t find it any more, has it been removed?) but it might just be useful in cases like this.

  4. @mfmeulenbelt, I think the voting system is meant to ‘lock’ this kind of thing, as well as being able to flag users for abusive behaviour…
    With the amount of voters we have at the moment it probably wont help much in fringe cases, but locking things might be a slippery slope to more issues later :S

  5. This certificate is absolutely 100% fake. As you know, all UK certificates are public documents and the complete indexes are actually available to view on the likes of Ancestry, Find My Past, and for free on Family Search. There is no such entry for this name.

    However, I’ve done some digging and found the following entry in 1980 which appears to be a match (note the mother’s maiden name).

    Name Adetayo Ayowale O A Onile-Ere
    Event Type Birth Registration
    Registration Quarter Apr-May-Jun
    Registration Year 1980
    Registration District Brent
    County Middlesex
    Event Place Brent, Middlesex, England
    Mother’s Maiden Name Vera-Cruz
    Volume 11
    Page 1086
    Line Number 59

    (original link – https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QV47-L83N)

    All the information needed to order a copy of the certificate from the GRO is there. Hope that is of some help!

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