Only One Person on Costly Video Call Wasn't a Deepfake

Unnamed company out $25M after worker in Hong Kong falls for elaborate scam
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 6, 2024 1:25 PM CST
Only One Person on Costly Video Call Wasn't a Deepfake
Stock image.   (Getty Images/PrathanChorruangsak)

A financial worker sent $25 million to fraudsters after falling victim to a scam that made impressive but alarming use of deepfake technology. The worker initially feared a phishing scam upon receiving an email, purportedly from the UK-based chief financial officer of the unnamed multinational company, explaining the need for a secret transaction, per CNN. But in jumping on a video conference call, the worker in Hong Kong was met with individuals who looked and sounded like the CFO and other colleagues, all of whom seemed on board. The people the worker saw and heard "were in fact characters created by the scammers based on genuine online conferences held in the past," reports RTHK.

"Because the people in the video conference looked like the real people, the informant ... made 15 transactions as instructed to five local bank accounts," Hong Kong police senior superintendent Baron Chan Shun-ching tells the outlet. He notes the scammers kept in touch with the worker "through instant messaging platforms, emails, and one-on-one video calls," per the South China Morning Post. It took about a week before the ruse unraveled, per Ars Technica, which notes no arrests have been made.

Chan says authorities were aware of scams involving one-on-one video calls employing deepfake technology, but this appeared to be the first case in Hong Kong involving multi-person deepfakes in a video conference call, per SCMP. "We want to alert the public to these new deception tactics," he tells RTHK. "People must be vigilant." Police recommend authenticating a person on video by posing direct questions or making specific requests—for example, asking them to move their head in a particular way. (Taylor Swift was recently targeted with sexually explicit deepfakes.)

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