Romance scammers now use face-swapping tech in video chats — all to swindle love-seekers online.

It’s finally come to pass. We indeed live in a time where that person on the other end of a video call might be an absolute imposter. The way they look and the way they sound, all a lie.

A recent article in WIRED shows just how this new form of romance scam works. With a laptop or a couple of smartphones, the cons transform their looks and voices entirely with stock-and-trade AI tools. In real time, they become someone else entirely, with AI mirroring every expression they make as they chat on a video call. It all appears quite real.

Yet a deepfake it is.

Deep feelings and deepfakes fire up AI romance scams.

Chilling as this striking new form of attack sounds, you can protect yourself. In fact, many of the same tried-and-true means of avoiding a romance scam still apply.

Even when scammers use real-time deepfakes, the heart of these romance scams remains the same. It plays out like a script. And when you know the script, you can spot the scammer following it.

Romance scams play out a bit like this …

The scammer contacts a love-seeker online, often through direct messages on social media — or by text or messaging apps as well. Sometimes the message is targeted and personalized. In other cases, the scammer might start things off with a simple “hi.” Either way, the scammer aims to kick off a conversation. A long one, where the scammer builds trust with a victim over time.

Days, weeks, and even months pass as the scammer woos their victim. Patiently, they wait for the right moment to pounce by finally asking the victim for money. Maybe it’s gift cards. Maybe it’s prepaid debit cards. A wire transfer, perhaps. Almost always, it’s a form of payment that’s tricky, if not impossible, to recover after victims realize they’ve been scammed. Scammers have even asked for cryptocurrency in some cases.

The reasons for requesting money vary. The scammer might say it’s for a plane ticket to come visit or simply a few bucks to help them in a pinch. Other scammers heap on yet more elaborate lies. Some pose as members of the military posted in a remote location overseas. They’ll say they want some extra money for a video game console or other creature comfort. Some scammers brazenly say they’re a doctor working in a remote village and that they need money for medicine. The list goes on.

As outlandish as the stories and requests might be, victims fall for them. After all, the scammer has fawned over the victim for some time at that point. The victim truly feels like they’re truly in love with someone who truly loves them. They’ll do anything for their love interest — who turns out to be a scammer and, one day, disappears entirely.

That’s how a romance scam plays out. And it happens often enough. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2023 Internet Crime Report, losses to reported cases of romance scams topped more than $650 million. ii

How not to fall deeply for a deepfake online.

Scammers have ready access to deepfake tools, ones which make them look and sound convincingly real. Moreover, these deepfake tools continually improve. With each generation of deepfakes, they get tougher and tougher to detect.

As a result, we can’t take things at face value. Everything we see and hear online requires scrutiny. And scrutiny is what it takes to protect yourself from deepfake romance scams.

Watch the person’s movements on the call.

Less sophisticated deepfake tools have a tough time tracking body movement. As such, scammers do their best to hold their heads steady and avoid turning around. Otherwise, that kind of movement ruins the deepfake effect. It’s quite obvious when it happens. With that, see if you can get a suspected deepfake to move around, stand up, turn for a sideways profile, or place their hands on their face. Lesser deepfakes will reveal themselves when they do.

Talk with trusted friends or family members.

Beyond keeping a sharp eye out for glitches, you have another detection tool at your disposal — friends and family. When a new relationship starts heating up, share the news with some trusted people in your life. Talk about your interactions with the person, even share a message they’ve sent or two. Victims often miss or overlook inconsistencies in a romance scammer’s stories, particularly as the supposed relationships develop.

Friends and family can help you spot those inconsistencies. They can also point out when parts of the relationship start to sound sketchy. Given the way that scammers pull all kinds of strings on their victims, this can help clear up any clouded judgment.

When a stranger you’ve only met online brings up money, consider it a scam.

Money talk is an immediate sign of a scam. The moment a person you’ve never met in person asks for money, put an end to the conversation. Whether they ask for bank transfers, cryptocurrency, money orders, or gift cards, say no.

End the conversation.

You might say no, and the scammer might back off — only to bring up the topic of money again later. This is a signal to end the conversation. That persistence is a sure sign of a scam. Recognize that ending an online relationship might be far easier said than done, as the saying goes. Scammers horn their way into the lives of their victims. A budding friendship or romance might be at stake — at least that’s what a scammer wants you to think. They deal in emotional blackmail to get what they want. Tough as it is, end the relationship.

How to make it tougher for a romance scammer to target you.

Scammers have to track you down in some way or other. And they have plenty of online resources to do it. Some romance scammers take an extra step. They profile their potential victims before contacting them. With info they’ve gathered online, they can fine-tune their approach.

For example, we’ve seen cases where scammers target widowers with bogus profile pics that share similarities with the widower’s deceased spouse.

While you can’t keep a scammer from reaching out to you, you can make it tougher for them to find you and use your own info against you.

Make your social media more private. Our new McAfee Social Privacy Manager personalizes your privacy based on your preferences. It does the heavy lifting by adjusting more than 100 privacy settings across your social media accounts in only a few clicks. This makes sure that your personal info is only visible to the people you want to share it with. It also keeps it out of search engines where the public can see it. Including scammers.

Watch what you post on public forums. As with social media, scammers harvest info from online forums dedicated to sports, hobbies, interests, and the like. If possible, use a screen name on these sites so that your profile doesn’t immediately identify you. Likewise, keep your personal details to yourself. When posted on a public forum, it becomes a matter of public record. Anyone, including scammers, can find it.

Remove your info from data brokers that sell it. McAfee Personal Data Cleanup helps you remove your personal info from many of the riskiest data broker sites out there. That includes your contact info. Running it regularly can keep your name and info off these sites, even as data brokers collect and post new info. Depending on your plan, it can send requests to remove your data automatically. 



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