How to spot deepfake and ad fraud

May 7th · 10 min read

Rotem Tal - Senior Cybersecurity Expert |Writer & Editor|
Rotem Tal - Senior Cybersecurity Expert |Writer & Editor|

Digital deceit: The surge of deepfake scams

When it comes to work, we all aim to impress: make the boss happy, excel at our tasks, and earn bragging rights for our yearly review—perhaps even snag a raise. But imagine a typical Zoom call with your boss taking an unexpected turn, where you’re suddenly asked to wire a large sum of money. With the pressure on and your boss right there on the screen, would you hesitate, or would the urgency and authority in their voice prompt you to comply? I mean, they’re your boss, you see them right in front of you on the video call, what could go wrong… Well, as one finance worker at a multinational corporation found out (more on that later) - seeing isn’t always believing.

Just a few years ago, before the widespread adoption of video calls prompted by the pandemic, complying with your boss's demand during a video call would have been a no-brainer. But times have changed significantly. Now, with video calls becoming the norm and the rise of deepfake technology that skillfully blurs the lines between reality and fantasy, exercising a dose of caution has become as crucial as demonstrating eagerness to please.

In the past year, the use of deepfakes to try and bypass financial identity checks has increased by 3000%.

Deepfake technology is becoming the newest tool in a scammer's kit, and they aren’t only using it to hustle business but also for ad fraud, where they create false endorsements and misleading advertisements. In this article, we’ll explore the dubious nature of deepfake scams, examine how they work, and how they manipulate digital advertising. We’ll also provide essential insights on how to recognize these online scams and protect yourself using advanced cybersecurity measures like Guardio. Let’s dive in!

Deepfakes make it impossible to know whats real or not

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Reality or illusion: What are deepfake scams?

The technology behind deepfakes is both astounding and alarming. With just a few images or video clips of a person, AI algorithms can create new footage where the person appears to say or do things they never actually did. The end product is a video that both looks and sounds authentic, making it almost impossible to tell if it’s real or not. Sounds frightening, right? The thing is that advancements by companies like Midjourney, Google's Gemini, and OpenAI's ChatGPT have made deepfake technology easily accessible to just about anyone with an internet connection. While many deepfakes are crafted for entertainment, reviving classic movie scenes, or creating humorous alternate endings, the open nature of this technology means there's no telling who might use it and for what purposes. Additionally, since this technology is relatively new, it currently falls into a legal gray area with few, if any, regulations governing its use. This lack of oversight means that, for now, using deepfake technology remains entirely legal.

Yet, despite this, the potential harm caused by these videos has led many governments to consider implementing stricter regulations on the use of artificial intelligence to create them. Legal or not, scammers don’t care, and they love exploiting new technologies to prey on people's trust, transforming tools intended for creative expression into avenues for deception. This misuse has particularly manifested in the realm of ad fraud, where deepfakes add a new layer of complexity to the challenge of protecting consumers.

Ad fraud and deepfake: A match made in hell

Ad fraud is like the wildcard of the digital advertising game, covering a whole spectrum of sneaky moves that trick advertisers and pull a fast one on everyday consumers. Ad fraud operates on two distinct levels: firstly, it can deceive advertisers into placing their ads on fake websites, essentially wasting their advertising budgets on spaces that don't reach real audiences. Secondly, it targets consumers directly by creating ads that appear to feature real endorsements from celebrities or trusted brands. These fake endorsements can trick consumers into believing they're interacting with legitimate products and promotions, which can lead to financial loss. For the purpose of this article, we'll focus more on the latter aspect.

Picture this: scammers whip up fake ads boasting celebrity endorsements for stuff like sneakers or skincare. These ads are slick and super convincing, tempting you to think you’re just a click away from a legit deal. But here’s the twist — it’s more of a trap than a treat. Clicking on what looks like a sure bet can land you on some shady site that’s all set to swipe your personal info or your hard-earned cash.

Now, add deepfake technology into the mix, and you’ve got ad fraud on steroids. With AI so good at mimicking reality, these deepfakes can make it look like top-tier celebs are pitching anything from magic diet pills to once-in-a-lifetime investment chances. Imagine seeing Elon Musk hyping a crypto giveaway, but none of it’s actually legit. This kind of tech is pushing ad fraud into overdrive, making it even trickier to spot the fakes and keep our wallets safe.

Examples of deepfake ad fraud

Fake celebrity endorsements are not a new trick — they've been around as long as celebrities. However, what’s dramatically changed is the sophistication of the tools used to craft them. Today, rather than just claiming that a celebrity endorses a product, scammers can create videos that are so convincing that they appear to show the celebrity promoting the product. I mean, you could say no to free cookware but not to Taylor Swift endorsing cookware!!!!

Taylor Swift's not-so-sweet cookware scam:

If you’re a true Swiftie, you know that Tay Tay (Taylor Swift) loves her Le Creuset cookware, as seen on her home décor blog and Netflix documentary. But here's the twist: Scammers have done their research and are using that info to push fake Facebook ads, showing Taylor apparently endorsing Le Creuset. They’ve used AI to create a convincing synthetic version of Taylor’s voice, mixing it with clips of her and the cookware to produce ads where she appears to offer free Dutch ovens to her fans, the "Swifties."

These scam ads were so convincing that they tricked fans into paying a "small shipping fee" to snag the luxurious pots. But, alas, the cookware never arrived, and instead of receiving a free cookware set, their money and credit card information were stolen, with the bogus charges just continuing to brew. This isn't the only case of celebrities' fame and image being exploited through deepfake technology. Similarly, Tom Hanks found himself the unwitting spokesperson in a deepfake scam involving a dental plan.

Tom Hanks dental plan deception:

Imagine watching a promo where Tom Hanks endorses a new dental plan — except it’s all a deepfake. Scammers used AI to mimic the voice and image of Hanks to promote everything from healthcare plans to high-stakes giveaways. This isn't just misleading; it's a direct attack on the trust we place in public figures, exploiting this trust to orchestrate elaborate scams aimed at stealing your money.

From Jennifer Aniston promoting a nonexistent skincare line to Kelly Clarkson advocating for a brand of diet gummy bears, scammers are using deepfake technology to create realistic videos to try and dupe consumers. This exploitation of celebrity images is troubling enough, but the stakes are even higher when these deepfakes invade your work environment. Losing your money to fake endorsements is alarming, shocking, and terrifying. Yet it's an entirely different level of threat when falling for a deepfake scam can lead to devastating financial consequences, as highlighted by a sophisticated hoax exposed by Hong Kong police.

Deepfake Jennifer Anistiin ad

Falling for a deepfake scam

In a sophisticated hoax exposed by Hong Kong police, a finance worker at a multinational corporation was deceived into transferring $25 million during a video conference call that he believed included the company's chief financial officer and other colleagues. In reality, the call was orchestrated using deepfake technology to simulate the appearance of his co-workers and the CFO.

The scam unfolded when the employee received a suspicious email, allegedly from the CFO based in the UK, discussing a confidential and urgent financial transaction. Although initially skeptical, the employee's doubts were quenched during a subsequent multi-person video call. The convincing nature of the deepfake visuals and audio led the worker to believe he was interacting with genuine colleagues.

Convinced of the call's authenticity, the employee agreed to wire approximately $25.6 million (200 million Hong Kong dollars). Ouch. The entire episode unfolded over a week, from the initial contact with the employee to the moment they realized it was a scam after checking with the company's headquarters. Following the employee's realization, police investigations revealed that the meeting participants had been digitally replicated by scammers using publicly available video and audio footage of the individuals.

Deal seems too good to be true? It probably is!

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As deep fake scams become harder to spot and easier to fall for, keeping a critical eye on online content is important. As we always say here at Guardio, if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is. In the world of scammers, nothing is genuinely free, and the cost of falling for a deepfake scam can extend far beyond financial losses…

How to shield yourself from deep fake scams

Verify the source: Always check multiple sources to confirm the authenticity of a video before believing it. If you're ever unsure during a video call or receive a request that seems out of the ordinary, don't hesitate to verify it by calling your boss or the involved colleague directly. Using a known and trusted phone number, rather than any contact details provided in the suspicious communication, can confirm whether the request is legitimate.

  • Look for inconsistencies: Watch for any anomalies in the video, such as unnatural blinking, mismatched lip-syncing, or unusual lighting.

  • Educate yourself: Become familiar with the capabilities of deepfake technology to better identify potential online scams.

  • Use trusted news outlets: Depend on reputable news sources for reliable information about celebrities or public figures. If, for example, you see an ad with a celeb endorsing something, go straight to their official website or social media page. If it’s a real ad, they’ll be sure to post it there.

  • Use cybersecurity tools: When you can't trust your eyes or what you see anymore, you need software like Guardio to keep you safe. Guardio helps block sketchy ads, sites, phishing emails, and texts, providing an essential layer of protection. In an era where fake digital content is everywhere, Guardio provides online security solutions, making sure that your digital interactions are secure.

  • Link protection: If you accidentally click a link from a fake endorsement and it turns out to be illegitimate, Guardio will step in to block it. This feature helps prevent you from landing on harmful sites that could compromise your security.

  • SMS and email phishing defense: Guardio actively scans for and blocks phishing attempts that arrive via SMS or email. This includes deceptive messages designed to mimic legitimate communications from well-known brands or individuals, keeping you safe from online scams that seek to steal your personal information.

  • Blocking fake websites: Guardio can detect and block fake websites, ensuring that you don't fall victim to sites designed to mimic legitimate businesses or services. Whether it’s a counterfeit e-commerce platform or a fraudulent banking site, Guardio keeps you one step ahead of scammers.

The bottom line

Navigating the digital world today means keeping a sharp eye out for more than just spam emails; it’s about recognizing the deep fake scams that can play out right in your virtual workspace. We've seen how a seemingly normal work call can spiral into a $25 million mistake when deepfake technology gets involved, showing just how sophisticated and damaging these online scams can be. Remember, falling for a deepfake can impact more than just your bank account; it shakes the very foundation of trust we have in our digital interactions. So, whether it’s an incredible product endorsement or an urgent request from a boss, take a moment to verify the authenticity. Staying vigilant and questioning too-good-to-be-true offers is your best defense in a world where seeing shouldn't always be believing. Keep that critical eye, because in this era of advanced technology, the only thing faker than online friendships might just be that urgent call for a money transfer.

Seeing is not always believing, protect yourself from deepfake scams

Use Guardio to detect & block fake content and to keep you safe online!

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