In recent years, romance scams have undergone a chilling transformation, merging traditional tactics with advanced technologies like generative AI and deepfakes. According to the Scamwatch, in 2023 Australians reported losses of over $30 million due to romance and dating scams, with the highest losses attributed to interactions on social media.
Tenable, the Exposure Management company, sheds light on the romance scams likely to take place in 2024, revealing the sinister ways scammers will exploit vulnerable individuals.
The Evolution of Romance Scams
Over the past few years, romance scams have predominantly relied on traditional methods, incorporating a layer of generative AI and deepfaking techniques. The exploitation of vulnerable individuals has intensified through the use of original and edited videos, audio manipulations, and face-tracking webcam tools, all geared towards financial gain. This evolution includes the alarming rise of sextortion and digitally altered images, as scammers employ deepfaking to blackmail victims by threatening to expose explicit content featuring their likenesses.
Generative AI and Deepfakes Crafting Convincing Personas
Scammers are now leveraging generative AI and deepfake technologies to create more convincing personas in romance scams. Celebrity impersonations, particularly targeting older demographics, have become widespread. Online tools and tutorials make it easy for scammers to map celebrity likenesses onto their webcams, blurring the lines between reality and deception. These scams often originate on platforms like Facebook, tricking victims into a false sense of security.
Preying on the Vulnerable
A troubling trend emerging is one where scammers routinely target older individuals, especially those who are widowed or suffer from memory loss. They initiate conversations, gauging the victim’s familiarity with technology before employing pre-recorded videos or live interactions. Notable cases include a Facebook romance scam where a deepfake Mark Ruffalo was used to swindle an elderly artist out of half a million dollars.
Protecting Yourself From Cupid’s Deception
In the realm of online relationships, requests for money from newfound connections should sound immediate alarm bells. It’s crucial to scrutinise photographs and videos that deliberately conceal background details, hindering online verification.
“I strongly advocate for heightened vigilance when coerced away from established platforms into private conversations, where the protective layers of the initial site are forfeited. Regardless of the involvement of generative AI or deepfakes, the watchword is caution,” said Chris Boyd, staff research engineer at Tenable.
“While social media platforms may lack explicit guidance on romance scams, I urge users to report any suspicious activities using the available reporting tools. Awareness and vigilance are our best defences against these heartless manipulations, ensuring that love seekers don’t fall victim to the tangled web of AI-enhanced deception.”