Digital Threat Assessment Toolkit
Digital Evidence

9.2 Stock or Unique Image: Implications

A key consideration in school threat assessments is whether the threat maker who posted a picture of a gun with the caption “going to shoot up a school” has access to the means to carry out that threat. Reverse image search can verify whether the image is unique or stock, or in other words, whether the image is “real” or “fake.”

Stock Images

A stock image, for DTA purposes, means an image that has been sourced from elsewhere on the internet. Look for “Pages that include matching images” in Google and “Results” in TinEye. This is definitive confirmation that the image you are searching for is in fact a stock image sourced from the internet.

Locating a Stock Image

Three categories of images that you may encounter are firearms, self-harm, and catfishing or impersonator accounts. Below are examples of original snipped images and search results from Google and TinEye for each category.

Example 1

Original Image: Firearm

Google Images Search Results TinEye Search Results


The original image referencing self-harm was found in multiple places by both Google Images and TinEye. These search results confirm that this image is stock.

Example 2

Original Image: Self-Harm Reference

Google Images Search Results TinEye Search Results


The original image referencing self-harm was found in multiple places by both Google Images and TinEye. These search results confirm that this image is stock.

Example 3

Catfishing is creating a fake online account with the intent to pretend to be someone else, usually for malicious purposes. This example is a real account that was made to solicit inappropriate photos from several middle school girls. Please note that the username and bio of this account were blurred for privacy reasons.

Original Image: Catfishing (Impersonation/Fake) Social Media Account

Google Images Search Results TinEye Search Results


The Google Image and TinEye searches returned multiple results for the original image. These search results confirm that this image is stock. The images used for this account are taken from a Danish singer.

Unique Image

An image is considered unique if no identifiable source is found, which means there is a high likelihood that this is a unique photo and the threat maker could have access to the firearm, weapon, or drug.

If no matching image results are found using Google, go back and ensure that the screenshot is the largest image size possible (not a thumbnail size), and that the image is precisely cropped (no white or black borders around the image).

If the result is the same, use TinEye as a final step.

Result from TinEye Suggesting that a Photo May Be Unique

Locating a Unique Image

Reverse image search is a remarkably accurate, but not infallible, process. Google and TinEye can only search publicly accessible photos. No search tool can access images from private social media accounts or images stored on an individual’s phone that have not been uploaded to the internet. It is possible that an image may appear to be unique when it is not.

If you believe an image of a weapon is unique and a serious or imminent threat exists, there is a need for law enforcement to make a home visit and possibly execute a search warrant on the threat maker and their residence to ascertain whether the individual has access to this weapon and to investigate the threat. To support our law enforcement partners, the following fillable template will help articulate the due diligence done in conducting a reverse image search, the results of the search, and what they mean. The completed template can then be presented to a judge for approval as grounds that there is reason to believe that this threat maker may have access to the means to carry out this threat.

Reverse Image Search – Search Warrant Template for Law Enforcement