The deepfake scam, which has been feared for a long time, is finally on social media.
Fake videos featuring celebrities selling phony products have gained some traction in major social media platforms such as Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube.
NBC News viewed last week more than 50 videos that were posted on these sites. They featured computer-manipulated audio and images of well-known individuals. All of them appeared to be created to trick viewers out of their money.
Most of the videos centered around Elon Musk. They included manipulated videos featuring several television and news personalities, including CBS News anchor Gayle Queen, former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and HBO host Bill Maher, falsely claiming Musk invented a technologically-advanced investment platform.
The videos were mostly followed by a similar deepfake Musk who encouraged viewers not to invest in the platform that did not exist. Musk, owner of X (formerly Twitter), has in the past promoted some cryptocurrencies, which led to him becoming very popular among scammers, who use his images for their own benefit. Musk has nothing to do with these videos.
Musk’s response to an email asking about the videos was: “Ugh! I can’t even believe that you sent me links from Facebook.”
Since years, deepfakes circulate online. One of the earliest went viral in 2018, when actor and director Jordan Peele collaborated with BuzzFeed News on a viral public-service announcement where Peele impersonated ex-President Barack Obama. The trickery at the time required two computer programs and took over 56 hours to process.
Experts warn, however, that these videos are not the latest version of scams. Experts warned that scammers were using deepfake real-time programs to impersonate celebrities during video calls with potential victim.
The videos didn’t make it clear exactly how the crypto scams were supposed to work or who posted them. Some videos include a link to defunct websites. One video led to a typos-ridden website which made no mention of Musk, but invited visitors to join an investment club for cryptocurrency.
A user on TikTok appeared to have reposted the deepfake interview and, following the platform’s culture for remixing other videos, added their own fake Elon Musk Google Gmail account over the top. A TikTok representative referred to a company policy that believable synthesized video should be identified as such. The spokesperson said the videos NBC News requested had been removed.
When NBC News contacted the owner of this Gmail account, he claimed to be Musk on Google Chat. He claimed, in a scam tactic common to scammers, that if cryptocurrency was sent, he would send it back two times as much. The scammer, when asked for proof of his identity sent a photo of a Musk trading card.
Many of the videos received tens or even hundreds of thousands of views. NBC News contacted Facebook and some videos were removed. Some remain online, but they are preceded by fact-checks that rate them as false.
Facebook’s spokesperson stated that they were tracking trends for AI-generated content, and that it is against their policy to trick users into paying money.
YouTube’s spokesperson confirmed that the videos NBC News enquired about did not violate their policies. The videos have now been removed.
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In recent months, deepfakes – videos that use artificial intelligent to create convincing but fake depictions – have become more prevalent online. Some websites are easily accessible and specialize in deepfake pornography , usually without the consent or knowledge of the celebrities depicted. In May, Donald Trump Jr. became viral after tweeted a fan-made deepfaking the face of Florida Governor. The body of Michael Scott from “The Office” was re-created by putting Ron DeSantis on the face of Steve Carrell.
Experts have warned that if deepfakes continue to grow unabated, the first ” Deepfake Election ” will occur next year. A large number of voters may see disinformation videos on the internet and be unable to determine whether they are real.
Technology has become more accessible for everyday users. Anyone with a computer, or smartphone, can use apps that create deepfakes in real-time, and are moderately convincing.
It’s easy to deepfake someone famous because there are already videos and audio of that person on the internet.
Kambhampati explained that the fake Obama was worked on for a few months. Now, we can use tools that are in the public domain, which allows us to do a decent job with less resources. It’s a lot easier.”
These videos hint at an increasingly lucrative internet scamming world. Cybercrime is on the rise, and has been for several years. It exploded in the wake of the pandemic. The FBI received a report from victims last year that they had lost a record $10,2 billion in scams or other online crimes. This is up from $6,9 billion the previous year.
Amy Nofziger who is the Fraud Watch Network’s fraud victim support manager, says that scammers are using deepfakes in order to make their scams seem more credible.
In fact, fraudsters have been impersonating celebrities for years on social media. Some of the biggest country stars even recorded a Facebook public service announcement warning people to not fall for fake accounts. AARP says that not only is this trend continuing, but scammers also use deepfakes to make short videos or live video calls, impersonating celebrities.
Nofziger explained that celebrity impostor scams have been around for some time, but AI could help criminals to pivot quickly and increase the sophistication of the scam. The scammers are able to adapt quickly to the victim’s request, such as “I don’t think it’s really you, I need you read me today’s headlines” or similar requests to establish validity.
She said that in recent months, AARP members were fooled by fakes of Tom Brady and Alicia Keys. They also fell for fakes of Kevin Costner, Brrie Fraser, Carrie Underwood Andrea Bocelli, and members of BTS.
David Maimon is the director of Georgia State University’s Evidence-Based Cybersecurity Research Group. He and his researchers said they have seen online tutorials on how to create real-time deepfakes.
The tutorials instruct would-be scammers how to use two smartphones. One pointed at themselves while running live deepfake applications and the other held just a few inches from their faces to video chat with potential victims.
Nofziger stated that it is difficult for victims to understand what is happening, as it may seem implausible that a celebrity wants to start a relationship online.
Nofziger explained, “When you are the victim and in the moment, your celebrity crush wants to be part of your life and is speaking to you, your cognitive thinking is thrown out the window.”